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Education ministry, universities weigh admission rate increases

Some 100,000 applicants were turned away by Finnish universities in 2019, amid calls to ease access to higher education.

Birgitta Vuorinen
The education ministry's higher education policy director Birgitta Vuorinen Image: Yle

Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture says it is prepared to improve access to the country's network of academic and applied sciences universities with more study positions.

"We are currently in discussions with the universities about where increases are needed and in which lines of study the amount of study places could be boosted," said Birgitta Vuorinen, the ministry's director of higher education policy.

She says decisions won't be made on specific admission rates until the next performance agreement is drawn up. This is when the ministry and the educational institutions will jointly define the quantity and content of the next term's educational objectives.

"We also need to look at what kind of education is in demand and what kind of knowledge our society needs," she said.

Selection criteria reform comes into effect next year

Finland has already made changes to its university admissions policy, with the aim to ease the transition from secondary to tertiary education. Whereas most applicants in the past had to show both their high school diplomas and sit for a department-specific entrance exam, the reform will allow some applicants with good grades on their school-leaving certificates to be admitted directly to some fields of study, with no exam. These changes will come into effect in 2020.

Vuorinen said the reform will lower the threshold for applying to higher education and allow applicants to apply to several institutions simultaneously.

"Those who have done well in upper secondary school or vocational education and training will have the ability to be admitted on the basis of their school-leaving certificates alone. It will be considered suitable proof of their ability to succeed in university studies," she explained.

Education minister Li Andersson went on record in mid-June to say that if Finland wants to attract more young people to start tertiary studies, it will have to do more than just change its selection criteria.

"If we really hope to achieve an ambitious goal, then we also have to be ready to examine the adequacy of starting study positions," the minister said in an Yle interview.

Some 150,000 students applied to university in Finland this spring, with less than 48,000 accepted, leading to an overall acceptance rate of less than a third. Only 8,000 of the incoming students were first-time applicants. This means that over 100,000 applicants were not enrolled.

One of Europe's most highly selective countries for uni admissions

The economic organisation OECD recently called on Finland to make changes to its admissions criteria to tackle growing youth marginalization.

The 36-member-country group deemed Finland one of Europe's most highly selective countries in terms of university admissions.

The group pointed out that low acceptance rates delay the start of higher education for many young people in Finland and force many applicants to take a gap year against their will. Its report included figures that showed that only a quarter of secondary education graduates were able to continue their studies at an institute of higher education straight after finishing upper secondary school, for example.

The OECD also recommended expanding the capacity of Finland's universities and developing a clearer system of financial aid for students.

More funding in the pipeline

Finland's new government has announced that it will put an end to eight years of austerity – particularly in the education sector – with plans to increase government spending by 1.2 billion euros.

Among other things, the Government programme seeks to raise the age for compulsory education to 18, strengthen vocational training, and increase budgets for both academic universities and universities of applied science.

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