Tuition fees have no political support in Finland
Tuition fees for higher education appear in public discussion from time to time, especially in the run-up to elections. The proponents of tuition fees try by all means to embellish and present the introduction of tuition fees as a rational solution. However, the opinion of a vocal minority is not the whole truth. Students made phone calls to candidates in the parliamentary elections and it became clear that there is no political support for raising tuition fees in Finland.
Tuition fees are a familiar proposal in the speeches of civil servants. As recently as December last year, the Ministry of Finance proposed tuition fees to be covered by loans for all higher education students. People often try to frame these proposals as common sense, where graduates, the wealthy people of the future, participate in covering the costs of their education themselves. In fact, this already happens in the form of progressive taxation in Finland.
Others dream of a more even distribution of education among the population through tuition fees. For example, Sivista has recently proposed that a degree at the same level as a previous degree should be subject to a fee. However, fees for the second degree are unlikely to generate significant additional income for higher education institutions, and making it more difficult to change fields or accumulate diverse expertise does not fit the legal concept.
In a party survey of higher education students, most parties supported the current fee model, where international students from outside the EU and EEA pay for their studies. Finland has set a target of tripling the number of international students and employing 75% of them in Finland. While digging money out of students’ pockets to fund the target may seem like an attractive solution, is it in line with our values to restrict study in Finland only to those with a substantial ability to pay?
Only a very small majority, 46.4%, of respondents in the student survey supported the current model, where fees are charged to students from outside the EU and EEA. A full 44.5% of responding candidates favoured abolishing the current fees as well, although only the Left Alliance and the Greens had previously announced this as their policy. It is therefore fair to say that even if the parties are more reluctant in their policies, candidates, i.e. future MPs, are not enthusiastic about fees.
Proponents of tuition fees often make them sound as if they are a mere necessity. However, this is not the case. The introduction of fees and their abolition are political decisions. It is therefore pleasing to see that there is strong support for free education among the candidates in the parliamentary elections. Perhaps the next Parliament would have the courage to put an end to flirting with tuition fees and even regulate the fees for international students so that they are voluntary for higher education institutions. The change would be a significant step towards fairer, more equal and more accessible higher education.