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OECD: Finland should revamp uni admission criteria, student benefits

The new report says access to tertiary education and support services must be expanded to prevent youth marginalisation.

nuori poika kävelee kadulla vastavalossa
One third of young Finns currently receive unemployment benefits. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

A fresh OECD assessment says that while the Finnish education system ranks among the 36-member-country group's best, inefficiencies in employment and social policies are keeping many young people from gaining a decent foothold in the labour market.

The report advises Finland to ease the transition from upper secondary school to higher education by simplifying student financial support and making changes to its tertiary admissions practices that would offer more young people the opportunity to study.

The recommendations are designed to reduce the number of people under the age of 30 who are currently without a study place or work in Finland.

One of Europe's toughest university admission rates

One way the OECD recommends that Finland could make it easier to continue studies is to reform the entrance criteria for university admission, which the group points out are currently one of Europe's most highly selective. Assessors point out that low acceptance rates delay the start of higher education for many young people and forces many applicants to take a gap year against their will.

The report stated figures that showed that only a quarter of graduates of secondary education in Finland were able to continue their studies at an institute of higher education straight after finishing upper secondary school, for example.

In addition, the report recommends expanding the capacity of Finland's universities and developing financial aid for students.

Anna Salonen, a 23-year-old Helsinki resident, says she would like to see an equal playing field.

"Everyone should have the same starting point when it comes to studies, although I think that those who can afford it will be able to study, just as those who already have work experience will get jobs," she says.

Iita-Mari Ruponen, a youth worker in Helsinki, says young people need support with things like buying a flat or finding mental health services.

"There are plenty of services available in the capital city area, but it is sometimes hard to find information on how to access them and what all is available," she says.

Compulsory schooling should be extended

The report points out that almost all children in Finland complete compulsory education, which in Finland extends to the age of 15 or 16. Some 55 percent then continue on to upper secondary school and 45 percent enrol in vocational education and training.

Overall graduation rates tend to be quite high, comparatively, but one out of every four vocational students does not complete their studies within two years of their expected graduation. A 2018 reform of the vocational system hopes to introduce a more customer-oriented system, but the OECD advises adding cross-age peer counselling, which has proven successful in Denmark and the US.

The report says that new results-oriented financing models discourage Finnish higher education institutions from investing in lower-performing students, and recommends a separate budget for special support services, for example.

The assessment also recommends increasing Finland's compulsory schooling age to 18 years, saying that free upper secondary education would encourage less-fortunate segments of the population to continue their studies. The development of digital services would also make it easier to reach young people in distant areas, the report concludes.

One in three young Finns receives unemployment benefits

In 2017 Finland had an an employment rate of 53.3 percent for people aged 15-29, slightly above the OECD average but below the rates observed in Norway and Sweden.

Salonen says that financial problems can affect students' continued study prospects, while a lack of work experience can keep young people from securing steady work.

"That's the dilemma: Where are you going to gain work experience if you can't get a job in the first place?" she says.

The report says that one-third of people between the ages of 15 and 24 receive some form of unemployment support in Finland, the second-highest rate in the OECD. It surmises that this support creates disincentives for young people to seek work.

It advises Finland to streamline its system of benefits and strengthen the provision of integrated services to encourage young people to actively seek employment.

The assessment is part of the OECD’s Action Plan for Youth, and contains recommendations on developing youth services. Similar assessments have been carried out in other Nordic countries, and have so far extended to nine countries in total.

The assessment of youth services in Finland took place in the spring of 2018 and was jointly commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

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