For release on 21 October 2021
Cuts to the sciences have been suggested. New student places are created at universities without sufficient resources. Demands are made on students to graduate quickly. The framework of the public finances is creaking.
Whenever the discussion turns to the resource deficit, the pressure to make cuts and balancing the public finances, before too long someone always has the idea that reaching into the pockets of degree students would be an easy way to get some money for the universities. This is a suggestion we can expect from the Ministry of Finance, from the private sector, or, most offensively of all, even from within the universities.
The universities are suffering from a funding gap which originated in the harsh cuts made by previous governments. To make matters worse, universities are also given new and necessary, but underfunded, responsibilities. The situation is unsustainable, and solutions must be found. Namely to increase the basic public funding for universities.
Tuition fees would be a senseless solution to the funding gap.
Firstly, the fees go against equality and the success story of Finnish education. Research has found that socio-economic status has an impact on a person’s willingness to get into debt. So, the problem lies in the backgrounds of those who would go into paid higher education. Equal opportunities to get an education are fundamental in ensuring that a person’s background does not define their future.
Secondly, the claim that higher education is an investment that only benefits the individual themselves does not hold water. Education always has an external impact. It is vital for our society to increase the education level in the future. As we will all benefit from it, it is fair that we all also participate in the costs through our taxes. Labelling free higher education as the privilege of the future middle classes, which is paid for by those who don’t have a university degree, is preposterous.
Thirdly, it is dishonest to claim that once tuition fees have been introduced, the basic public funding for universities wouldn’t be seen as an easy place to make cuts while there is pressure to make savings. It seems likely that the universities’ stretched financial situation would remain unchanged even if there were money coming in from the students. That is, unless the fees were made extremely high.
It is understandable that increasing the number of people with a university degree will also require savings to be made. The decision-makers want students to graduate quicker. This could, however, be promoted through measures that don’t increase inequality based on wealth or push students deeper into debt. This year, the student loan stock exceeded five billion euros, and no one knows what impact the fast increase in the loan stock will have. It isn’t sensible to continue down this road. When discussing debt, we should also not forget that the young people of today will also have to pay for climate change and the deteriorating dependency ratio.
Safeguarding free education and increasing access to it have been included in the latest Government Programme. We must continue to defend these values, as equal opportunities make up the backbone of our society. We must take responsibility of increasing the education level together.
More information: Annika Nevanpää
tel. 044 906 5007