Finland could introduce university tuition fees if a proposal by the Finance Ministry gains support.
The proposal was part of a report on budget adjustments the ministry thinks are necessary in the coming years, with officials arguing that a total of nine billion euros of austerity measures are necessary over the next eight years.
One specific measure they suggested was to allow higher education institutions to charge tuition fees, and university managers asked by Yle said it could work for some students.
The rectors of the University of Eastern Finland, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences (JAMK) told Yle they would be ready to consider the proposal, with some reservations.
At present Finnish university courses are free of charge to students from Finland, the EU and EEA, with tuition fees for some courses for students from elsewhere.
There is a desire to raise education levels among Finnish youth, after the country slipped in OECD rankings. But the ministry's austerity warnings make clear that there's little extra funding on offer.
The ministry is therefore suggesting that students themselves take on greater responsibility for funding their studies.
"Now there is a great need for more higher education, but the state finances are unable to increase funding by much," said Jukka Mönkkönen, rector at the University of Eastern Finland.
"It is important that we find ways to strengthen our basic funding," said Riitta Konkola, rector at Metropolia. "This could be one method among others."
No desire for two-tier higher education
The rectors were positive about a tuition fee model that would see students pay for their second degrees.
"Quite a large proportion of our student places are filled by students who would have even finished their degrees," said Mönkkönen. "Even though the number of places is larger than the number of students finishing school, there are still a large number of young people every year who don't have a study place."
"In some cases it would be justified for the student himself or his employer to pay for tuition," said Vesa Saarikoski, rector at JAMK.
According to the ministry's proposal, universities themselves would decide whether they charge tuition fees and how large the fees would be. Institutions could also levy different levels of tuition fee for different courses.
Mönkkönen does not want institutions divided into quality and "cheaper" schools. He says that Finnish universities are quite even in quality terms, as everyone receives similar quality education regardless of where they study.
Konkola agrees, saying it would be important for universities to collectively agree on the principles on which tuition fee regimes exist.
"There shouldn't be much difference, that would be difficult from the applicants' point of view," said Konkola.
Fees should be fair
The rectors all noted that Finnish education has always been free at the point of use and based on equality.
If tuition fees are introduced, they cannot be allowed to create inequality and social exclusion — that is, university applications would only come from those who could afford to pay.
"It is to the benefit of Finnish society that a citizen has the chance to complete their education from primary school to doctoral level, free of charge," said Vesa Saarikoski.
The rectors also said they would use the extra funds for basic costs: improving the quality of tuition, and developing alternative modes of teaching.
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