The open university route to higher education must be made free

In recent years, the student admissions system in Finland has undergone a major overhaul. The reforms aim to make the transition to higher education smoother and improve the allocation of study places. One route to becoming a degree student is to study at an open university – that is, the system that provides teaching based on a higher education institution’s own syllabus – and then apply for a degree through what has become known as the open university route.

The number of students taking courses in the open university system in Finland has increased dramatically in recent years, and there has been a drive to give this system an increasing role as a route for students to study for a degree. The role of the open university system is changing and expanding.

But amid the flurry of changes, the most important value and strength of the Finnish education system is being forgotten: free education.

In the public debate, the open university route is seen almost exclusively in a positive light. It is of course a good thing that there are many different routes to higher education, as this allows applicants to demonstrate their abilities in different ways and ensures that there are no blind alleys in the education system.

However, there are significant problems with the open university selection process. For those who are aiming for a place in university, it can be a long and expensive path to getting in. In some cases, it takes years and can cost hundreds of euros.

The fact that it’s fee-based is enough to put it beyond the reach of many potential applicants. Timetable pressures put some students at a disadvantage in terms of how much time they have available to complete their studies. In addition, students need to be able to support themselves financially during their studies, which also puts some in a weaker position than others.

According to Chapter 2, Section 8 of the Universities Act, studies leading to a university degree and entrance examinations relating to student admissions must be free of charge for the student unless otherwise provided for by law. From a legal point of view, it is an interesting question how the law deals with the open university route, since in practice it amounts to a year-long entrance examination that the applicant must pay to take. Although the open university route does give students a chance to get a study place in an institute of higher education, it is not an option that is free of charge.

It is of course a good thing that there are different paths to university. However, it must be ensured that the open university pathway is changed to make it short, free and accessible to all. Free education is the cornerstone of the Finnish higher education system.

Read about SYL’s proposals for reform of the open university system here (in Finnish only).

Elina Kuula
Board Member, education policy, working life, organisations and culture

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