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Brexit dents UK's popularity among Finnish students

Young Finns seem to be losing their enthusiasm for studying at universities in the UK – partly due to worries about higher tuition fees due to the British departure from the EU.

Opiskelu Britanniassa voi vaikeutua mahdollisen EU:sta irtautumisen takia. Kuvassa Oxfordin yliopisto rakennus.
Brexit may make studying in the UK more difficult for foreign students. Image: Andy Rain / EPA

Britain has traditionally been young Finns' favourite foreign destination for university-level studies, with the number of students growing steadily year by year. This year, the number of applications has dropped by some 16 percent.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that whereas last January 910 Finns applied to study in Britain, this year that number shrank to 760.

"That's a dramatic decline," says Samu Seitsalo, who's responsible for internationalisation at the Finnish National Agency for Education. He suspects that the reduction is partly due to Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. Finnish youth are primarily worried about possible rises in tuition fees at British universities, Seitsalo tells Yle.

One of those who has applied to study in Britain despite Brexit is Ada Ala-Härkönen from Espoo, who wants to pursue architecture.

"I applied to three universities in the UK and am also planning to apply to one in the Netherlands," she says.

Still, Ala-Härkönen's first choice is Aalto University, based in her native Espoo on a campus designed by its namesake architect, Alvar Aalto.

Kaksi abiturienttia kirjastossa.
Espoo students Ada Ala-Härkönen and Katri Keltikangas Image: Lenni Kuivalainen / Yle

Ala-Härkönen agrees that Brexit is causing uncertainty.

"The Dutch option may turn out to be sensible at the end of the day, particularly now that the British government and parliament seem to be pushing a 'hard Brexit' policy," she says.

Brexit may re-shape plans

Katri Keltikangas, who recently graduated from an IB high school in Espoo, wants to study psychology in Britain.

"Next year I'm going to do volunteer work in Asia or Africa, and then I'm hoping to head to Scotland," says Keltikangas.

She, too, admits that Brexit could re-shape her plans.

"Especially since I'm not planning to apply until a year from now. By then the situation may be much more serious," Keltikangas points out.

At the moment, some 2,000 Finns are pursuing higher education in Britain, nearly a quarter of all Finns studying abroad.

However among first-year students, Sweden edged past the UK as the most popular destination last year, according to study grant data from Finland's Social Insurance Institution (Kela).

Seitsalo notes that in general the number of Finns attending foreign universities has grown briskly over the past five years.

"All of the Nordic and Baltic countries have been gaining popularity," he says.

For instance the number of Finnish students in Latvia has multiplied more than tenfold in the past five years, although the total is still modest at around 120. More young Finns are also heading to the Netherlands and Germany, he adds.

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