European students stand firmly against tuition fees in Finland
HELSINKI – International students residing in Finland might have to pay thousands of euros in tuition fees if a motion supported by a majority of the national parliament becomes reality. An on-going trial project on tuition fees for certain Master’s programmes in Finland has already revealed that some universities have charged up to twelve thousand euros per annum.
The trial project has also showed that tuition fees are economically inefficient as only twelve students out of 110 actually paid in full for their studies while the others received scholarships that covered their tuition fees partly, fully or even living expenses in addition.
Eight countries plus ESU oppose the proposal
The Finnish national unions of students SAMOK and SYL have been actively lobbying against the motion since the first news of it were out. They have met members of the parliament to explain their argument against the proposal and will continue their fight. Student unions from eight countries in Europe have supported the claim of SAMOK and SYL, namely from Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden and the European Students Union (ESU), which represents 47 national unions of students from 39 countries. Additionally, most political student organisations in Finland have been against the proposal excluding the National Coalition Party.
Some parliamentarians, including the chair of the education committee, have already declared publicly that they will withdraw their support for the motion that has received harsh criticism from main stakeholders in the past three weeks. The proposal would introduce severe changes to the higher education system in Finland if approved imposing tuition fees on students coming from outside the EU/EEA area. These fees would include Bachelor programmes and would range from 3500-12.000 euros per annum. The Finnish government will likely make a decision on this issue in February following its mid-term review. The Finnish Green MP Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto submitted a written question to the Minister for Education on 28 January in which she asked the government about its intentions and drew up comprehensive studies on the issue from Norway and Netherlands.
Worrying development in Europe
This proposal has been a part of a worrying development in Europe where governments have decided to make a difference between those students that are from within and outside the EU in their move to establish a tuition-based system for higher education. Supporters of the proposal claim that international students have to contribute to the national economy of Finland but evidence shows that it would be enough if only a portion of international students would remain in Finland for their studies to pay off. Three quarters of foreign students stayed in Finland after their graduation in Finland in 2009 and half was able to find work within one year while a majority of the other half was studying or on maternity/paternity leave. SAMOK and SYL have argued that the number of international students studying in Finland would decrease drastically if they would have to pay tuition fees as has already happened in Sweden.
Statements from National Unions of Students
The national union of students in Switzerland said in a statement that: “The introduction or increase of tuition fees for a particular group, and especially for students of different nationality is not only socially unacceptable, but also a discrimination of foreign students and is hindering the desired international mobility.”
Sweden’s students union SFS said: “Internationalization is vital for higher education in general, and international students must not be treated as financial instruments. Introducing tuition fees creates extensive barriers to international mobility, and fees specifically targeting international students can be seen as nationality-based discrimination. Moreover, fees have been shown to dramatically decrease the number of incoming students, not to mention homogenizing the student body.”
Norway’s student union said: “Finland and Norway are the only countries in Europe where neither EU nor non-EU students are required to pay tuition fees to gain access to higher education. Free education for all students is a fundamental principle in the Norwegian higher education system, as access to education must be based on students’ merits and competence, not the size of their wallets.”
Slovakia’s student union said it considered the introduction of tuition fees to be a: “Harmful step for the Finnish economy and socio-political potentials.”
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