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Tuesday's papers: Berner hits brakes on transport reform, fewer foreign students, fast treatment for depression

Front pages on Tuesday morning are dominated by an announcement from Transport Minister Anne Berner that she is suspending a controversial plan to incorporate the nation's road network. We also look at reports on the impact of university tuition for non-EU/EEA students, treatment for depression, and upcoming chances to see the Northern Lights.

Anne Berner liikenneverkkoyhtiön selvityksen julkaisutilaisuudessa Helsingissä.
Transport Minister Anne Berner. Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

Transport Minister Anne Berner announced late Monday evening that her ministry is suspending a controversial and sharply criticized plan to incorporate the road network and impose road-use fees. At the same time it was made clear that the government is cancelling plans to eliminate a tax on new car purchases, writes the daily Helsingin Sanomat.

Under the proposal, a state-owned company would hold and administrate the road network. As part of the plan, the tax on new cars would have been dropped and replaced by a road-use fee paid to the road company.

The paper quotes Berner as saying she had now agreed with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä that the car tax will not be eliminated, a move that would prevent the proposed state road corporation from gathering in the needed operating revenues. This being the case, planning has been suspended.

Prime Minister Sipilä told the commercial broadcaster MTV3 that on the basis of feedback on the plan, it was clear that eliminating the new car tax could not be a part of the current government's programme.

According to Helsingin Sanomat the controversial reform was prepared by a small team under the direction of the Centre Party Transport Minister. It did not have the support of the other government partners, the National Coalition and Finns Party.

The newsstand tabloid Iltalehti  reports that the plan was also largely opposed by the public. The results of a poll it commissioned showed that 70% of the public were against the transport reform package.

Although 71% of the over 1000 people surveyed were not in favour of the taxation and fee changes in Berner's plan, more than half agreed that the current model of taxing motorists has "come to the end of the road".

Fewer foreign students

The imposition of tuition fees on non-EU/EEA students in Finland, set to be rolled out next year, has already slashed the number of applications from abroad to Finland's universities, reports Savon Sanomat.

The paper says that the number of applications for international programmes at the University of Turku has fallen by half and is down by 40% at the University of Jyväskylä. The number of foreign applicants for programmes at the University of Eastern Finland dropped from 1,460 last year to 906 for new intake. Currently free to all students, next year the University of Eastern Finland will charge students from outside the EU or EEA 8,000 to 15,000 euros in tuition.

Birgitta Vuorinen, an official at the Ministry of Education and Culture, told the paper that she expects application figures to rise again following an initial dip. The aim of charging tuition, she says, is to finance the development of education programmes, not to keep students away.

Depression jab

Tampere's Aamulehti reports on what is being claimed as the fastest and most effective means of treating depression.

Referencing an article in the medical journal Duodecim by Turku University Hospital doctor and adjunct psychiatry professor Tero Taiminen, the paper says that intravenous doses of ketamine 1-3 times weekly generally bring relief to people suffering from depression within a matter of hours and almost always within the first 24 hours.

The long-term effects of ketamine treatment, however, are not well known. Possible side-effects include an increased risk of psychosis, lowered cognitive performance, and substance dependence.

The longest treatment periods reported have been 18 months during which no serious side-effects were observed.

Taiminen's conclusion is that short-term use of ketamine to treat depression should be more widely used while long-term use should be restricted to specialized psychiatric treatment facilities.

Northern Lights

Finnish Lapland has seen some spectacular displays of the Northern Lights, aurora borealis, this winter. The freesheet Metro today reports that more are on the way, and it's possible that they will light up the skies across the country this coming weekend.

Tiera Laitinen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, told Metro that last winter and this winter have been the best for observing the Northern Lights during the current 11-year solar cycle that creates the dancing colours in the sky.

The chances of the Northern Lights appearing over the next few days are not very high, except in Lapland, but will significantly improve on Friday and Saturday, and the forecast is for clear weather.

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