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Finland’s high schools under threat

Cuts to the education budget are expected to force the closure of some upper secondary schools in the coming years, and the Education Ministry is urging local authorities to plan ahead to ensure efficient use of resources.

Tikkakosken lukiolaisia koulun ulkopuolella.
Pupils at Tikkakoski high school in Jyväskylä protest against the planned closure of their school. Image: Jani Ilola / Yle

Finland’s Education Ministry is planning a cut of 260 million euros in the schools budget, and wants municipalities and schools to start planning for the changes. Their plans will not go through without a fight—there have already been protests against school closures.

The changes are expected to affect upper secondary schools, or high schools, the most. These institutions teach 16-19-year-olds, and could be ripe for some of the biggest savings. Smaller high schools are on the chopping block, but the goal according to the ministry is to ensure that schooling is available in the places where it’s needed. They see an over-provision in Finland's urban areas as more of a problem than small schools in rural areas.

"Of course there are a lot of education providers here in southern and western Finland," said Anita Lehikoinen, permanent secretary at the Education Ministry. "Where there are lots of people, there are also lots of education providers."

Efficiency drive

The ministry calculates that high schools with around 400 pupils are the most efficient. At present, more than half of all upper secondary schools in Finland have fewer than 200 pupils.

"Common sense and the economic situation suggest that when municipalities’ finances are this poor and when funding is to be cut, then it doesn’t make it any easier to maintain high schools," said Terhi Päivärinta of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (Kuntaliitto).

"If you want upper secondary education in your area, it would pay to look for partners with whom you’d organise it," said Päivärinta.

The high school students association is following the situation with concern, according to the association’s chair, Tatu Koivisto. There have already been protests among high school students in Tikkakoski and Pielavesi, but according to Koivisto the national association representing pupils is not yet heading to the barricades.

"It shouldn’t be seen as just a lack of money, because education is an investment in the future," said Koivisto. "It’s really stupid to cut school spending. Education is the only way to get the economy to start growing again."

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