Students in higher education asked about the commitment of the parliamentary candidates to fund an increase in education attainment level. The majority are committed to fully funding an increase in education attainment level, but the degree of commitment varies.
The electoral debate has been full of concerns about the state of Finnish education. Many have expressed concerns about stagnating educational standards and the future adequacy of the highly educated workforce. The situation is acute because, according to the latest OECD Education at a Glance report, Finland’s educational performance is lagging behind international developments. Cuts in higher education and the failure to increase the number of study places in higher education have worsened the skills shortage in Finland, which needs to be addressed in the coming parliamentary term.
During the election spring, higher education students across Finland picked up the phone to ask the candidates to commit to raising the education attainment level by increasing the core funding for higher education. It turned out that 89% of all candidates are ready to increase the amount of core funding. The Ministry of Education and Culture aims to raise the education level of the young generation to 50% by 2035, which will require an annual increase of €177-190 million in higher education funding.
Responses indicate that most candidates are committed to this target, but the level of commitment varies
During the election campaign, the SDP announced that it would raise the education attainment level to a staggering 60% of the young age group. In the calling round, 94% of SDP candidates also said they support core funding to the extent required to raise the education attainment level. Higher levels of commitment than SDP candidates were found among Left Alliance, Greens and SFP candidates, all of whom were close to 100 per cent in favour of increasing core funding for higher education. The Centre Party candidates ranked in the middle of the party spectrum with 85% support for increased funding.
The most negative candidates were the Finns Party, the Christian Democrats and the Coalition Party. Nevertheless, there were only a few candidates who were against increased core funding, which reflects the commitment to educational investments of the whole party field. As many as 76% of the Finns Party’s candidates are in favour of increasing core funding, even though the party is not in favour of this objective. Support for the target among the Christian Democrats candidates is slightly lower at 75%, while 83% of the Coalition Party candidates want to increase funding for higher education.
Candidates’ real priorities will be revealed in the next parliamentary term
However, increasing the number of study places will not be achieved through commitments, but requires staff, equipment and facilities, which in turn require predictable and full funding. The cut lists and adjustment actions that have dominated the election debate raise the question of whether the parties are genuinely committed to a substantial increase in core funding.
Around a quarter of the Finns Party and the Christian Democrats candidates were ready to throw the education target, and with it Finland’s future, under the bus. Annika Saarikko, chairwoman of the Centre Party, has even announced that educational funding could be cut in the coming term. Raising the level of attained education is an expensive goal that requires genuine prioritization and investments of around EUR 1.5 billion over the next decade or so. But it is clear that not investing would be even more costly in the future.
Raising the educational attainment level is important, as more study places in higher education will ensure that more people have access to higher education. Addressing the skills shortage is a question for the future of society as a whole. Demographic change must be responded to by increasing the size of the highly educated workforce if we are to maintain a broad welfare state.
Board Member, SYL
Education Policy Adviser, SYL