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How much do foreign students cost Finland?

The Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) says that foreign students are costlier for Finnish universities than they are for polytechnics. So far higher education is free for all students in the country.

Opintotukimielenosoitus Helsingissä.
Students protested against planned cuts in education grants in Helsinki earlier this month. Image: Yle

As Finnish officials debate tuition fees for foreign students, a new study indicates that non-Finns cost universities more – but other institutes of higher education less.

The costs of tertiary education for foreigners are difficult to determine. A study published on Friday by the state-supported Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) aims to provide some idea of what educating foreigners costs Finland. The report was carried out for CIMO by the VATT Institute for Economic Research (VATT), which is also state-funded.

The study’s most surprising finding is that at universities of applied sciences and polytechnics, "foreign students have a lower cost impact than Finnish students". However the researchers stress that the data is not reliable enough to calculate exact price tags. For universities, foreign students may be significantly more expensive than Finnish ones.

Price estimates vary greatly

If the cost of education at all tertiary institutions is divided by the number of students, the average price is around 7,000 euros a year. At polytechnics, costs are slightly higher.

Colleges and universities have permanent overhead costs that remain steady regardless of how many people attend them, though. When these are taken into consideration, VATT estimates that each full-time basic degree student costs an average of 2800 euros annually. By this same yardstick, the cost at polytechnics is some 2300 euros.

Besides costs, foreign students bring Finland economic benefits in terms of consumption and work. Students may receive study grants from abroad, which they spend here on housing and food, for instance. They may also work part-time and pay taxes here. Those who live on student aid from overseas are generally a net gain for Finland, the paper suggests.

Tuition plan on the shelf for now

In December, the government abandoned its plan to charge university tuition fees for students from outside the European Economic Area studying in English.

It had proposed that universities would charge at least 4,000 euros a year. The plan had been promoted by some higher education institutions as well as business groups – but opposed by many student and lecturers’ associations. It was sent back to a working group for reconsideration. It remains to be seen whether the idea will be revived by the next government, expected to take office a couple of months from now.

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