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OECD warns Finland over education cuts

The head of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development advises the Sipilä government to tread carefully when it comes to cost savings in education and research.

OECD:n pääsihteeri Angel Gurria OECD:n hallintoministerikokouksessa Helsingissä.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria visited Helsinki on Wednesday. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

In a report issued on Wednesday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) praises Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government for its budget cuts and plans to shrink the state debt. The head of the group of 34 industrialised nations, Secretary-General Angel Gurria, warned in Helsinki on Wednesday against cutting too much from education, especially for too many years consecutively.

Gurria, chairing an OECD ministerial meeting in Helsinki, told Yle that the Sipilä cabinet's actions to reduce state debt and balance public finances are on the right track.

"This government is better equipped to see its targets through than the previous 'rainbow coalition,' which had to please people in so many different directions," he says.

In Gurria's view, billion-euro savings and structural reforms of public finances allow room for new solutions.

"In particular, population ageing makes it essential to have room to manoeuvre and space to operate," he says.

Danger lurks in education cuts

Gurria points out that Finland has frequently been at the top of the world education rankings based on Pisa test results. He see this as a strong bonus in creating competitiveness and productivity.

"Therefore cuts in education are a bit worrying. You can't cut too much and for too many years in a row," Gurria advises, noting that "the skills of school leavers do not necessarily meet the needs of the labour market. That is a big problem."

Concern over education and research cuts

OECD Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi – a former Finnish prime minister – not surprisingly praises the government led by her Centre Party colleague Sipilä.

She says everything depends on how soon how quickly its government programme can be put into practice.

"Regulation must be reduced, competitiveness must be improved, and in particular the social and health care reform must be carried out," says Kiviniemi, who is also a former minister of social affairs and health.

Kiviniemi, too, is concerned about the education cuts.

"Cutting education and research arouses concern from the OECD's standpoint. Cuts must be aimed at increasing efficiency. They must not weaken the quality or level of education," says Kiviniemi.

Finland, which has been a member of the organisation since 1969, is now hosting its first major OECD meeting.

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