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Students across Finland protest cuts to vocational education

Students across the country took to the streets Monday to protest government cuts to education programmes. Organisations representing institutions, students and teachers are calling on the government to postpone or soften plans to slash up to 190 million euros from funding for the schools next year.

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Teachers and students from in Kymenlaakso fall in line for a protest march on Monday. Image: Petri Lassheikki / Yle

Thousands of staff members and students across Finland gathered on Monday afternoon to demonstrate against proposed government cuts to spending on vocational education.

Teachers and students of the southern Kymenlaakso Vocational College in Kotka, southeast Finland organised a protest march to vent their opposition to the cuts, with students saying that the austerity measure runs too deep.

"Emotions have been strained. Many students have complained that we can no longer use the [school] printers, all documents have to be printed at home," said student association member Eveliina Elsinen.

Organisations representing the institutions, teachers and students have condemned a government proposal to de-fund education by an estimated 190 million euros next year. They said that the measure should either be postponed or tempered. According to their calculations the planned cuts would either eliminate 18,000 study places or 3,800 jobs at Finland’s vocational colleges.

"The course offering would shrink and the number of institutions would decline. Less sought-after, more expensive fields are coming under closer scrutiny. For example it has become difficult to attract students for courses in industrial professions," said Petri Lempinen, chair of the Finnish Association for the Development of Vocational Education and Training AMKE.

Brain drain for small towns

According to AMKE, thinning student ranks would strike hardest in small municipalities.

"The number of study places correlates with how many young people stay in their local municipalities. The fewer study places, the smaller the number of young people. The average age of the municipality will increase," remarked Jasmina Khabbal, head of the National Union of Vocational Students, SAKKI.

Organisations are calling on the government to moderate the blow of the proposed spending cuts, for example by prorating them over several years. It argued that staggering the cuts would ensure that new legislation would offer many new ways to adjust to the change.

"The law will change in 2018, but the money goes in 2017. The order is all wrong. Politicians talk about changing our modes of operation but that's not possible if the law doesn’t allow it," AMKE head Lempinen pointed out.

"It’s not fair because there will be many tools coming that would help student compensate for the funding cuts and implement them in their daily lives," SAKKI’s Khabbal added.

Some 40 vocational colleges across Finland participated in the protest activity.

Edited at 11:54 am August 23, 2016 to reflect government cuts are being made to vocational education, not universities of applied sciences.

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