The clock reads 10:30 on a Saturday morning and I am already too late to find an open table at the Helsinki University library. Every one is full of students, headphones wedged firmly in their ears as they flip through academic tomes on politics, biology, and everything in between. It would appear that Finnish students take their education much more seriously than I imagined, a change in perspective for this Yankee who spent the last 2 years 'studying' at a university in the United States. But as the crowded library indicates, I am not in Kansas anymore.
The Finnish work ethic is not only impressive but also genuine. Whereas I studied for one standardized test for college admissions, Finnish students complete both secondary and university matriculars. It is not unheard of for Finns to devote 6 months to full-time studying in order to gain acceptance to university or even to devote the time and be rejected in the end. A university degree is valued in Finland, whereas it is increasingly becoming a rite of passage for American university students. As a result, degree inflation coupled with an already-lacking US job market has left many of my fellow college students with considerable personal debt and no employment prospects. The Finnish economy is also facing a downturn but without diminishing the value of an education in the minds of Finnish youth.
With government subsidies for study-related expenses, it's easy to see why Finnish students opt to continue directly into their master's studies after completing their bachelor's degree, versus entering the labor force directly.
The government's financial blessing and the respect given to those admitted into institutions of higher education contrasts the complacent attitude towards financial aid and college studies in American society. Finnish reverence for those who spend the time and effort to educate themselves celebrates education as a necessary evil despite the amount of effort given to university matriculation.
Back home in the States, disillusionment with the university system in addition to the considerable cost of attendance has lead to diminishing of the value of a degree. Although I do not wish for the US to adopt a similar model, I believe American students should adopt a Finnish perspective on education in order to examine its true value. Taking the Finnish example, I have been able to re-examine my perspective on my own education and the privilege of learning. And if that means being there promptly when the Helsinki University library opens its doors, you will know where to find me.