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Universities in Finland to hike admissions to dam youth unemployment

The number of young people out of work has grown from 30,000 to 40,000, because of the coronavirus crisis.

Helsinki University library. About 45,000 people are expected to graduate from local universities and enter the job market. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Universities in Finland are preparing to increase admissions and accept more students during the current application period.

The move follows an appeal by Jari Gustafsson, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment during Yle's A-studio discussion show on Tuesday evening.

At the time, Gustafsson called on institutions of higher education to join a community effort and accept more applicants because of the coronavirus crisis. He said this would help stem rising youth unemployment.

The high-ranking civil servant said that the crisis has increased the number of unemployed young adults from 30,000 to 40,000. In addition to this figure, another 45,000 are set to graduate from university and enter the job market.

Coronavirus banishes summer jobs

He added that in normal circumstances, 10,000 young people would be employed in summer jobs. However because of the current situation, private and public sector employers have not hired anywhere near that number this year. Moreover traditional employment promotion mechanisms such as service vouchers cannot be used in a situation where jobs are at risk.

Keijo Hämäläinen, chair of UniFi, the organisation representing universities in Finland, said that higher education institutions want to discharge their responsibility to society. He noted that there was in any case an intention to significantly increase study places during the 2021 admissions campaign. Some additional places to be granted next year could instead be assigned this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"We are actively investigating if it would be possible to advance some of those places on a limited basis so that they would be available in autumn 2020," he explained.

Hämäläinen said he could not yet evaluate how many additional places would be up for grabs. He noted that a 10-percent increase to the intended quota would be too steep a goal.

Additionally, universities decide on intake independently, so it is possible that not all institutions would add the same number of study places next autumn.

All about the money

Increasing university admissions comes at a price though. Responding to Gustafsson's call, Finnish Education Employers (FEE) said that increasing the intake of new students without additional funding would effectively mean a spending cut for universities.

"Spending per student would then fall," FEE's business policy director Laura Rissanen observed.

Unifi chair Hämäläinen also raised the issue of resources as one of the biggest challenges to hiking new student numbers. The sector is looking to the government for a decision on additional funding during supplemental budget talks in June.

"I believe that there is understanding for the fact that you cannot deliver quality education by a community effort. Investing in education would be the best form of corona stimulus," Hämäläinen declared.

He said that that the crisis could possibly affect the quality of entrants who will receive additional study places or entrants already studying as well as candidates entering institutions as part of original quotas.

Impossible to implement in some fields

Apart from money, there are many other challenges to be overcome if universities are to accept more than their usual number of students. Traditionally, entrance quotas are decided years in advance and they are used to plan for future academic programmes.

University staff are already fully occupied administering ongoing entrance exams and selecting candidates.

"We would need to check how this it would be technically possible with this schedule," Hämäläinen pointed out.

He added that for some fields of study it might be impossible to abruptly increase admissions, even if additional funds were forthcoming from the government.

"The fields with the highest admissions usually require clinical instruction, statutory internships and small-group tuition. It might be impossible to increase intake because competent teaching staff and good internships simply aren't available at short notice," he said.