The education system in Finland has been subjected to numerous cuts since the 1990s, and higher education has been struggling to keep up with the demands on it. Consequently, the standard of education in Finland is not improving, a fact that is clearly indicated in a recently published education review. The funding gap can also be seen in quite concrete terms in the lives of students, in the form of an ever-increasing need for counselling and other support services. Short-sighted cuts in education are beginning to reach a sum that must be paid back during the next parliamentary term.
Students, higher education institutions and labour organisations have been warning decision-makers for some time about the long-term repercussions of educational cuts. Some years back already, Nobel prize winner Bengt Holmström warned the Sipilä government about the billion-euro cuts that were made to education. So far, however, all the warnings have been simply ignored.
Raising the education level requires more funding
However, the debate during the last few weeks about education raises some hopes that the politicians are gradually beginning to listen to the warnings. No party denies the detrimental effects of the cuts. Quite the contrary, they all recognise that the cuts have reduced Finland’s educational level and created a shortage of experts. This became evident in the panel discussion organised by Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland. All the parties said they were committed to getting more funding for education.
Everyone studying the statistics in the education review published by the Ministry of Education and Culture is concerned. However, voicing your concern is no longer enough, we simply need more funding. Extra funding for higher education is the minimum requirement in order to increase student intake and to solve the problem of a shortage of experts. We also need extra funding to ensure that students have the necessary support and counselling services and enough financial stability to be able to focus on their studies.
If educational cuts continue to be made in the next parliamentary term, if decisions are made not to invest in education or if payment obstacles are put in place to make access to higher education more difficult, this will effectively mean that the parties are prepared to accept that Finland’s education level is low and that we have a shortage of properly skilled employees.
Quality matters too
Finland’s shortage of skilled labour and a lower level of education can easily be measured quantitively, but there is a serious underlying qualitative problem. Finland does not have enough skilled people to meet the needs of a changing labour market. Our society needs more highly educated people. However, we must not compromise on the qualitative goals of higher education. Education must be of high quality, and the problem cannot be solved with quantitative goals alone. The level of education and the intrinsic value of an education must not be trampled under cold figures.
Debaters tend to stress the importance of higher education, but the goal of having 50 per cent of the population with a higher education is only one side of the coin. We should also bear in mind the people with a secondary education. We are all needed. In raising the education level of Finland, we should also focus on the transition from vocational to higher education, because people at all levels should be encouraged to reach their full potential. The education system must be considered as a whole, with sufficient resources being provided for each level.
Board Member, education policy, working life
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Board Member, education policy and ESU
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