Student admission mangle leaves wrinkles in education

On the streets of university cities, it has been possible for a few weeks now to spot advertisements attempting to attract new university students. The appearance of the advertisements is a tell-tale sign of the spring’s second round of joint university application, which starts today. Once again, over 50 000 study places are open, and hundreds of thousands of prospective students are put through the grinder while applying for them via the process also known as student admissions.

In recent years, student admissions has been a regularly debated topic. The most significant reason for this is the reform of certificate-based admission launched in 2020, which further increased the importance of the matriculation examination certificate in student admissions. The reform was intended to reduce duplication of work for secondary education students and to make student admissions more effective, but neither of these objectives seem to have been achieved. Fortunately, efforts are being made to develop the widely criticised certificate-based admission system. However, developing the system does not solve the fundamental problems of previous study performance plaguing certificate-based admission.

Based on research, one in three applicants do not believe that they will continue studying in the field for which they will be admitted if it’s not their primary choice, and that is saying something. Increasing the emphasis on certificate-based admission has also significantly increased the number of university students changing fields. Since the intra- and inter-university transfer does not work sufficiently well, students keep applying for a study place more to their liking via certificate-based admission, which certainly does not help achieve the goal of people starting their higher education studies at a younger age or better targeting of study places. The effectiveness of certificate-based admission can therefore rightly be questioned.

One of the goals of the reform of certificate-based admission was also to help students graduate sooner. Even though no study results are available yet, it is already a known fact that both upper secondary school graduation and the studies of students accepted via certificate-based admission have been postponed or slowed down. Thus, the efforts to improve the completion rate seem to be failing, as one in three students utilising certificate-based admission think about changing fields, and a significant number of them end up doing so or postponing their graduation. With changing student demographics and more and more students changing fields, universities need to streamline the transfer application process and provide adequate student support services.

The admission reform has been used in an attempt to achieve things that could be achieved more effectively by other means. The best way to help students graduate more quickly is by guaranteeing sufficient income for their studies and providing them with comprehensive guidance and support services. To make the group of new students more diverse, the number of fully-funded starting places should be increased and equal access to education should be ensured for all from the beginning of the study path. In turn, student admissions should primarily be a free entrance exam, course or other route independent of upper secondary school study performance.

Jenni Suutari
Board Member, education policy and ESU

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