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Report: Finland trails EU, OECD averages for highly-educated millennials

Countries with similar levels of tertiary education include Latvia, Austria and Slovenia.

Sisäkuva kirjasto Kaisasta.
The Rinne government has promised to invest in higher education. Photo from the Caisa Library, Helsinki. Image: Arcaid Images / Alamy Stock Photo / AOP

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report on Tuesday suggesting that the ratio of highly-educated people in Finland aged 25 to 34 remains below the average among similar groups in EU and OECD countries, at 41 percent. The OECD average is 44 percent educated at university level.

The study found that while Finland's proportion of tertiary-educated citizens has risen along with the other countries studied between 2008 and 2018, Finnish higher education has not caught up with the rest of the 35 OECD member states.

Countries with the same proportion of highly-educated citizens as Finland include Latvia, Austria and Slovenia.

Nordic countries Sweden and Norway, along with English-speaking nations such as the United States and Australia, continue to exceed the OECD average.

Finland's long-term goal is to have about 50 percent of the population educated at a university or technical college by 2030. To reach that objective, it must increase the number of university-level graduates by 9 percentage points in a decade. The growth rate of Finland's tertiary graduates from 2008 to 2018 was three percentage points.

The Ministry of Education and Culture said that Finland's low score is due to the fact that tertiary education usually begins at a later age (24 years old) than the OECD average (22 years old).

"It is more important than ever that young people learn the knowledge and skills needed to navigate our unpredictable and changing world," OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said in a release. "We must expand opportunities and build stronger bridges with future skills so that every student can find their place in society and achieve their full potential."

Government programme promises boost

The Education Ministry tapped professor Jussi Kivistö from the University of Tampere to make an expert assessment of the OECD report. Kivistö said that comparisons are difficult to rely on, because different countries have such different education systems.

The government under PM Antti Rinne states in its programme that it means to increase the number of starting places in institutes of higher education significantly during its term to raise the level of education, ease the jam-packed applications system and get more professionals to fill gaps in the job market.

Professor Kivistö said that Finland's target of 50 percent, or indeed any target, oversimplifies the concept of higher education.

"I believe we should look at sectoral supply and demand, as there are huge discrepancies between sectors," he said. "And how do we know we can offer highly-educated people jobs in 10 years? On the other hand, we are in a reasonably good position with respect to highly-educated professionals in Finland. Their employment has improved in recent years."

Ministry calls 5K new admissions

The report also found that Finland actually invests more of its national budget in higher-level education (1.7 percent of GDP in 2016) than the OECD average (1.5 percent of GDP). The Netherlands and Sweden, for instance, provide about as much funding for tertiary education.

The United States invests far more, some 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product, but Kivistö said that private funding is far more prevalent there than in Finland.

"Finland commits a great deal of public funds to higher education, almost more than any other country except Denmark, Norway and Austria. We only get 2-3 percent private funding here."

Kivistö said that only private donations could possibly help raise Finland's standing in the OECD metric, because compared to international levels public funding in Finland has already been "played out".

The Ministry of Education and Culture suggested in its budget proposal that Finnish institutes of higher education should increase the number of first-year student places by at least 5,000. The ministry proposed spending 40 million euros on that effort next year; 24 million for academic universities and 16 million for universities of applied sciences.

Altogether, the ministry recommended earmarking 3.5 billion euros in funding for tertiary teaching and research in 2020, an increase of 257 million euros.

Negotiations on the funding specifics are still ongoing, and plans for the additional millions will be finalised in autumn's budget talks.

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