At SYL’s office, we have been looking forward to the draft of the Government Programme. Last week, this draft was published, and it was then confirmed later in the same week. For the next four years, education policy will be based on Antti Rinne’s Government Programme. So, what does the new Government Programme say about higher education?
More flexible continuous education
Among the education policy entries, ones that particularly stand out are an increased use of platform models and promoting continuous learning. The Government Programme paints a picture of a higher education system where different kinds of learners can study regardless of organisational and geographical boundaries. The entry bears a pleasing resemblance to the platform model Finland’s University, which was created by SYL, Social Science Professionals and the Finnish Business School Graduates.
Based on the Government Programme, a continuous learning reform will be carried out in the next few years. The opportunity to develop one’s skills and knowledge throughout one’s lifetime is a valuable benefit to both current and future university students. The entry does not however specify how this reform will be organised and who will pay for it. Recent debates show that the development work will not be simple. The fact that the reform is planned to be tripartite, including education providers, is also proof of this.
The Government is going to invest 5 million euros in promoting continuous learning and creating a collaboration and platform model for higher education. An additional 15 million euros has been promised to continuous learning in 2020–2022. Both of these investments are important, because particularly when it comes to continuous learning there is a worry that the resources required to organise it will impact degree education.
Necessary investments in education
In addition to the platform model and continuous learning, the Government Programme also promises additional funding for higher education. The Government plans to increase the universities’ core funding by 40 million euros annually, and the index increases that were frozen last term will be reinstated in full. The Government is investing 150 million euros over three years in the research and development unit led by Business Finland.
The entry on strengthening the role of the foreseeable core funding for higher education is also promising. In future, this is likely to have a positive impact on students’ everyday lives as the universities can invest in research and teaching in the long term instead of short projects.
On the other hand, the Government’s goal to increase the number of available student places at universities and universities of applied sciences significantly is not allocated any earmarked funds. The entry is based on the aims of the Vision for higher education and research in 2030 to increase the number of higher education graduates to 50 per cent in the young age groups by 2030, and thus to turn around the long-term decrease in the level of education and reduce the backlog of applicants. This is a necessary reform. There is, however, the danger that the promised additional investments in education will not be enough to cover the resources needed for providing education after the number of available student places in higher education has been increased.
Investments in education are refreshing and highly necessary after the cuts that have taken place in the past few years. Even though the additional funding will not make up for the cuts, it still shows that the value of education is being recognised.
Tuition fees remain, but residence permits are extended
A particularly valuable entry is that degree education will remain free of charge, even though this does not completely correspond to the current situation. Finnish higher education institutions charge non-EU and non-EEA students tuition fees, and the Government Programme is not abolishing those. The monitoring and assessment of the introduction of fees will, however, continue. SYL wants degree education to be free for all.
A positive reform is that in future, students will be granted a residence permit for the whole degree study time, and for two years after graduation rather than one. The permit practices will also be simplified, and the process will be made smoother. The Government programme mentions treasuring university democracy, which is also a pleasing detail. Student representation is important in all decision-making organs of a higher education institution and should be promoted. The entry on assessing the state of the universities’ administrative autonomy provides an opportunity to strengthen university democracy.
Education policy should continue to be addressed as a whole
In the division of labour within the Government, higher education policy has been placed with science and culture policy, separate from other levels of education. Annika Saarikko from the Centre Party is the new Minister of Science and Culture, and from August onwards Hanna Kosonen will be substituting for Ms Saarikko for a year. Li Andersson has been appointed as the new Minister of Education.
The redistribution of portfolios could be a welcome change. It is however important that education policy continues to be addressed as a whole (including student admissions), because the measures taken on one level of education will inevitably affect the others.
During this term of Government, SYL is still happy to be involved in all the reform and development work relating to university education, and for the first time in a long time, the Government Programme comes with some positive notes in terms of education policy. We now have the opportunity to do some good.
Education Policy Adviser at SYL