Will Finland pay the cost of charging international students for tuition?

Finland is currently the only country in the EU that does not charge tuition fees, but this may change as Helsingin Sanomat recently reported that the Ministry of Education and Culture is preparing a report to be discussed in budget talks. The report proposes that tuition fees be charged to students from outside the EU/EEA who undertake courses in languages other than Finnish or Swedish.

A disclosure – as an international master’s student, my opinion may be slightly biased, but here are some points to consider when discussing the implementation of tuition fees.

Should tuition fees be implemented, it can be expected that the number of international applications, and therefore the number of international students accepted to Finnish universities, would drop. The same has happened in other Nordic countries. According to a study commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers and conducted in 2013 by Oxford Research, the number of international students significantly dropped in Sweden since it implemented tuition fees for undergraduate and master’s students in 2011, as well as in Denmark, which started charging tuition in 2006. Both countries have since increased marketing campaigns and scholarship initiatives to boost the numbers.

If the number of international students drops here in future, what kinds of consequences would this have on the internationality of Finnish universities? The University of Helsinki, for example, is continually on a mission to increase its world ranking, but if it can’t boast a high number of international students, will this help its goal? Moreover, should the number of international applications drop, the pool of quality applications would diminish accordingly.

The rationale for introducing tuition fees is, of course, saving money, but what saves money in the immediate future, may not do the same in the long run. Investing in a bunch of young, smart, ambitious, culturally diverse people might certainly be financially beneficial for Finland in the future. Let us not forget that Finland is currently experiencing difficulties with economic growth and needs all the taxpayers and job providers it can get. And although many international students come to Finland for the free education, many decide to stay. After all, Finland is a great place to live with an equal society, a welfare system, and free education for all.

Tijana Stolic