Why interest in Finnish universities has hit an 'all-time low'
A spectacular fall from grace or a temporary hitch? Source: Shutterstock

Throughout the last decade, the world hasn’t been able to get enough of Finland and its education system. It’s where top teachers deliver a refreshing curriculum (or lack of) with no homework, but its students still come top in international assessments. Here, schools are even removing classroom walls so learning takes place in an open plan environment.

Naturally, global interest and applications to its universities have grown. Interest among students considering either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree within continental Europe exceeded the supply of programmes offered in the country’s universities.

Finland’s education system has been touted as revolutionary. Source: Shutterstock

That is, until 2017. What happened?

For a long time, Finland was one of the few countries offering free tuition to international students. Together with the prospect of living in an Insta-worthy Nordic location as well as its many universities lauded for academic performance, this proved a highly attractive combination for many students looking to further their studies abroad.

Last year, the Finnish government removed one significant element of that winning combination. It introduced tuition fees for students from non-EU/EEA countries. At a range of around EUR4000-18000 per academic year, a Finnish education is still, for the most part, relatively cheaper than more traditional study destinations like the US, UK and Australia. Doctoral programmes still allow PhD candidates to enrol for free.

But for many international students, this is simply not cheap enough to warrant their interest anymore.

Data from StudyPortals – based on student online search patterns translated into “market demand” for degree programmes – shows that supply of Finnish programmes outstripped relative demand starting this January.

The main countries of origin for international students in Finland are Russia, Vietnam, Iran, India, Pakistan and Germany. In 2016, they made up 40 percent of the cohort and 53 percent of interest in the country’s universities. Since the fees were announced, interest gradually fell from 2016. Today, it stands at less than half what it was, at just 16.3 percent.

It’s a trend that will continue downwards, according to Edwin van Rest, CEO and founder of Studyportals.

“Studying abroad is a complex decision for our students, and costs are a major factor for some. We clearly see the recent introduction of tuition fees for Finnish universities influencing non-European students’ interest to study there. Projected applications and enrolments will also be affected over the next 2 years,” Van Rest said.

While he calls this an “alarming” trend, it’s not one without a solution. Van Rest points to another Nordic country as proof of a nation’s ability to recover from falling interest in its universities.

“Sweden is a great example of a country whose institutions recovered their position by acting strategically and effectively. I personally am confident that Finland has a strong education sector and, with the right strategies and with time, it can look forward to increase its international applicant numbers in the post-fee era.”

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