Sometimes life impacts the complexity of the education path

This spring, The National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) commissioned a survey from the Research Foundation for Studies and Education Otus. The survey is the first of its kind to look into why students acquire multiple rights to study.  The phenomenon is familiar, but the reasons behind choosing more than one right to study have not been studied before.

The results show that unlike it is commonly believed, only few students opting for a second right to study are affected by a desire to prolong their studies on purpose. According to the survey, the benefits of a student status are found to be secondary in this respect.

Instead, students feel there are several reasons as to why they acquire a second right to study. These reasons vary depending on the stage of study and the phase in a student’s life. Often there are structural factors behind the choice, which is why the phenomenon should be tackled by addressing them rather than guilting the individual.

Around half of the students acquire a second right to study before they have finished their first degree and during their studies. The reason is often the development of one’s interests and “finding one’s thing”. The survey shows that many who apply for their first right to study do not yet feel they know what they want to do when they grow up. This is not surprising, given that finding one’s own path can be difficult without trying things.

The survey shows that existing channels to move between student places are either not seen as practical or they are not known well enough. In many cases, a student would have wanted to utilise the transfer application procedure when switching to another study programme or higher education institution, but it has been more reliable and easier to get a place through the joint university application system.

Some settle on acquiring a second right to study out of necessity, since they believe their competence to be lacking or they do not see possibilities for employment or career advancement in their field. The competitive working life is seen as tough, and especially students who are close to graduating feel uncertainty about their status.

Outline of factors leading to the acquisition of more than one right to study.
What the colours mean: blue – finding and developing one’s own interests; purple – factors relating to the future and the working life; red and yellow – factors relating to the studies, where red describes factors more directly relating to the studies and yellow describes secondary factors; green – social factors; grey – general factors relating to the life situation. 

Instead of forcefully trying to restrict multiple rights to study, there should be a focus on developing what we have now and on addressing the reasons as to why students may acquire multiple rights to study. One solution would be to make it easier to pursue supplementary studies in other higher education institutions, for instance with the help of a common platform for higher education (document in Finnish).

It would also be important to invest in study guidance and informing students of all stages: during the application phase, the student should get as realistic a picture of the studies as possible, whereas at the end of the studies, the student should get help conceptualising their own competence and expertise. By investing in these matters before and during higher education studies and close to graduation, we would achieve better results for both higher education institutions and the students themselves.

Sometimes life impacts the complexity of the education path, and, as we know, changes in one’s personal life are impossible to predict. These social reasons surfaced in this survey as well. We can, however, support those who contemplate accepting a student place and streamline moving from degree to degree and from a higher education institution to another, but investments in these are necessary. The cuts made to education during the last government term reduced the resources that universities require to offer the supportive measures and guidance that students need.

Ultimately, finding one’s path in life is difficult without thinking about it and trying different things. Unfortunately, the efficiency-oriented study culture of today does not always afford enough opportunities for this. This is why we need to ask ourselves if the demands our culture places on young students are reasonable any longer.

Source: Monta opinto-oikeutta. Tutkimus useamman opinto-oikeuden hankkimiseen johtaneista syistä ja tekijöistä. The Research Foundation for Studies and Education Otus, 6/2019.

 

Jani Kykkänen,

SYL Education Policy Adviser