Despite broad commitment throughout society to raising the number of students in higher education, we still do not seem to be able to find the necessary resources. Starting places have been increased with funding that does not come even close to the actual costs. SYL demands that the number of students in higher education not be increased at the expense of quality.
There is broad support for and commitment to increasing the level of education and skills throughout Finnish society. The educational level of the younger age groups is at risk of remaining lower than of those born in the late 1970s. This is why Finland wants to increase the higher education level of the young generation to 50 per cent by 2030. This target is based on the Vision for higher education and research in 2030, completed during the previous government, and this government’s Education policy report. It is obvious that decisive political action must be taken for this target to be reached. One of the key decisions is to increase the number of starting places in higher education, which SYL has also supported, provided they are backed by sufficient funding.
In addition to being deeply concerned about skills levels in Finland, we find it alarming that more and more potential students are being left without a study place. In spring of 2021 also, two-thirds of applicants did not secure a study place, so the problem has not gone away by any means. A decision was made to increase the number of starting places in the 2020–2022 period by 6,300. And there are plans are to increase this figure by various means, such as funding from the European Recovery Instrument and strategic funding by universities themselves. The target of tripling the number of international students also calls for more starting places.
However, the increase in the number of starting places is based on an insufficient average funding of 6,000 euros per starting place. This has been criticised by Universities Finland Unifi, the Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences Arene and Finnish Education Employers, as the actual expenses are closer to 10,000 euros per starting place. This shortfall in funding will certainly affect the quality of education and studies. Although the higher education funding model provides retrospective rewards to students who complete their studies within the target period, competition between universities for funding will only intensify if basic funding and student intake are not increased. Earlier cuts and the problems at universities are still reflected in teaching.
Many university students had trouble coping already before the pandemic, and the situation has only got worse since. Higher education institutions must be able to provide high-quality teaching and guidance to all students. This requires sufficient resources for staff and teaching aids. Raising the number of students in higher education at the expense of quality simply isn’t a wise policy. If there is no political will to increase the funding, maybe we should consider not increasing the number of starting places. But this is a course of inaction that Finland certainly cannot afford to take.