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Monday’s papers: Big business vs SMEs, crime and punishment, education and inclusivity

Monday’s Finnish newspaper press survey includes reports that big business continues to be the main driver in the economy, sentencing for crimes varies by region, different approaches to education and we may have a milder than normal winter in store.

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Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

The daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that a new study by the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy Etla shows that the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises in the national economy is less than has been generally believed.

SMEs do have an important part to play in innovation, but the overall benefits to the economy provided by start-ups, for example, are slow to show.

In contrast, this new Etla study indicates that the impact of big companies is even greater than has been previously understood.

Researchers found that there are an "astonishingly small" number of  companies in Finland that employ more than 250 people, only 600 of them. That translates into a mere 0.2% of all companies registered.

Even so, these enterprises employ 33% of all personnel in the commercial sector and account for 42% of all business revenues. A group of just ten companies generate up to 7.5% of Finland's gross national product.

The biggest of all is the network technology company Nokia that brought more than 2.2 billion euros into the economy in 2015. It is followed by the big players in the financial sector, OP and Nordea, with the forest industry company UPM in a distant fourth place.

Official national and EU statistics show that small and medium-sized companies are responsible for 34% of the export of goods from Finland. However, these researchers point out that this figure is distorted by the fact that smaller subsidiaries of big corporations are listed as SMEs. Genuine, independent small and medium-size companies account for only 12%.

According to Etla, there are 4,000-5,000 new start-ups in the country each year. This study indicates that their chief role is not short-term economic growth, but as motors for innovation in the economy.

Crime and punishment

If you're in Finland and thinking about embarking on a life of crime, it's well worth considering where you break the law in case you get caught.

This morning's Turun Sanomat reports that people convicted of crimes in southern parts of the country are more likely to get prison sentences than those who come up before courts elsewhere.

The organisation responsible for the enforcement of sentences in Finland, the Criminal Sanctions Agency, has now commissioned a study to find out why.

What is known is that in southern Finland courts hand down fewer sentences requiring community service, or probation as an alternative to jail time.

The study now being launched is to investigate whether or not there are regional differences in the ways in which prosecutors, police, courts and the Criminal Sanctions Agency itself operate in different regions. Another question to be explored is whether the differences in sentencing reflect regional variation in the types of crimes committed, or if it is more arbitrary.

The Criminal Sanctions Agency wants to see an increase in sentences requiring community service as an alternative to prison. According to the agency's chief inspector Ilppo Alatalo, sentences of community service provide a significantly better basis for criminals to reintegrate into society. In addition, it brings down costs in the prison system.

In 2015, community service sentences were handed down most often by district courts in eastern Finland and least often by courts in Helsinki. 

Education: specialist vs generalist

The Oulu-based daily Kaleva looks at how schools in Finland are moving down two distinctly different paths.

On the one hand, there are municipalities that have a firm belief in the advantages of neighbourhood schools providing a general curriculum, and then there are local governments investing in specialised schools that emphasise particular subjects in their teaching.

Educators have long debated whether or not pupils who need greater attention and support in their academic studies do better with a general curriculum or in schools with a particular focus.

Schools with specialised curriculums often stress studies in math, music, sports or the arts. Their student bodies tend to be made up more of the children of better-educated and higher income parents.

Some municipalities though, have decided to invest in neighbourhood schools, to reduce the level of focus on particular subjects, and to hire special education teachers and train other teachers to better understand diversity and inclusion among pupils.

Sonia Lempinen, who has looked at this issue for her doctoral dissertation at the University of Turku, says local governments have interpreted education legislation in very different ways.

So, which path is the right one, asks Kaleva? That's a question Lempinen was unable to provide a simple answer to.

"It depends on what you want to achieve and what kind of system you have. Do you want polarisation or a common effort? It's a question of ideology."

Let it snow

Depending on where you woke up this morning, you may not need the papers to tell you that Monday's forecast is for rain, sleet or snow. This week will likely see all three, with rain in coastal areas and cold, snowy weather in the far north.

But, what about the winter as whole? And that white Christmas?

The newsstand tabloid Iltalehti notes that the mid-term forecast indicates that the next two weeks will be slightly colder than normal in Finland, but not exceptionally so.

Meteorologist Ville Siiskonen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute told the paper that the forecast for early December is very difficult to make right now, one way or another.

Even so, modeling on present conditions a very tentative outlook for December through February indicates that this winter will be milder than average, according to Siiskonen.

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