The working group for tuition fee monitoring and evaluation of the Ministry of Education and Culture has published an interim report on the effects of tuition fees. The report shows how the principle of free education and the internationalization of universities have been eroded in Finland for insignificant economic gain.
Tuition fees for students from outside the EU and EEA countries were introduced in 2017. The fees range from 5,000 to 18,000 euros and are one of the highest in Europe (Bologna With Student Eyes 2020). The minimum level set by law is only 1,500 euros.
The report confirmed the previously noted impact. Tuition fees have led to a higher proportion of international students coming from EU and EEA countries. This effect is at odds with the fact that, in previous years, the best-performing applicants have come from Russia, Asia and North America. In the past, there has also been demand for Finnish higher education in these areas, with higher education institutions now increasingly targeting them as part of their marketing. In many cases, increasing marketing has also required additional resources.
And what have been the costs of the tuition system? The report does not answer the question, as comparable information on implementation costs is not available from higher education institutions. Cost estimates range from 4,000 to 1,800,000 euros. Various costs related to, for example, marketing, administration and the development of electronic systems have been included in the calculations.
The scholarship system eats up a large portion of the fee income. More than half of the higher education institutions grant scholarships to almost all students subject to tuition fees. Scholarships are mainly financed by income from tuition fees. When the tuition fee revenues of all higher education institutions are added together, the amount is slightly under 43 million euros. After deducting scholarships and tuition waivers, the remaining sum is just over 14 million.
Thus, after all this senseless circulation of finances, the remaining amount is entirely negligible at the university scale. The figure is also unevenly distributed. The required investments in, e.g., administration and marketing are also deducted from this amount. In some higher education institutions, the return is clearly negative. And if the proposed solution to this is to weaken the scholarship system, it does not make any sense at all, as the scholarship is one of the biggest competitive factors when an international student is choosing their host university.
Milking money from international students for insignificant financial gain must stop. It is not worth putting obstacles in the way of the internationalization of universities and damaging Finland’s reputation as a model country for free education. A more sensible solution would be to increase the basic funding of higher education institutions and to develop services and international marketing that is not dependent on tuition fees for international students. Finland needs more international professionals, and the choice should on the basis of competence, not solvency.
It is now high time to admit the facts and give up tuition fees.