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Finland

Finland

6. Education and Training

6.10 Current debates and reforms

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  1. Forthcoming policy developments
  2. Ongoing debates

Forthcoming policy developments

Based on the ‘Current issues’ published by The Ministry of Education and Culture on January 17th 2020, the Government is to prepare a report on education policy in the run up to 2030. The Ministry of Education and Culture has opened an online survey for everyone to collect feedback to supplement the preparations. The report, which will include the aforementioned comments, is based on, like the Ministry describes: ‘…the policies ensure that: The level of education and competence among the population can rise at all levels of education, differences in educational  achievement can diminish, and educational equality can increase; children and young people can feel well; education and training can enhance gender equality and non-discrimination in society; and Finland can be an internationally attractive place in which to study, to conduct research and to invest.’

Ongoing debates

As previously mentioned in the overview (Youth Wiki/Finland 6. Education and training overview), the Government Programme for 2019-2023, has instigated much domestic discussion among citizens, experts and the media, especially over the suggestion to raise the minimum school leaving age to 18 years since the programme was published in June 2019. The extension in compulsory education became effective in 2021, and the related new Act was applied for the first time to those subject to compulsory education whose compulsory education under the current Act terminated in 2021. As a part of the reform the secondary education will be economically covered for young people born in 2005 and later (in Finnish).   

The necessary costs of secondary studies consist of study materials, work clothes and equipment, computer, calculator and degree fees. The total costs of studying in vocational education and basic upper secondary education vary depending on the field of study and degree from 400 in vocational studies to an average 2,500 euros in basic upper secondary education. With the reform, secondary education will be truly free of charge for students.  

One widely debated reform in the last years has been student admissions reform in higher education institutions. From 2020, certificate-based admission will be the main route to studies, meaning that just over half of the places will be filled through certificate-based admission. However, applicants who cannot be admitted based on their certificate because they do not have a suitable certificate, or their grades are not high enough may continue to take an entrance test. The reform aims to decrease the economic unfairness of student admissions and give equal opportunities to graduating students to apply to higher education immediately after their matriculation examination without years of training, with or without paid prep courses.  

The Ministry of Education and Culture is monitoring the development of student admissions in cooperation with higher education institutions. The Ministry ordered a follow-up study (2021) of the student admissions reform, and it was organised by VATT Institute for Economic Research and The Labour Institute for Economic Research LABORE. According to the study, the extensive student admission reform achieved its main goals, and did not cause any significant unwanted side effects to the student selection of higher education institutions. Nevertheless, the study also points out that higher education is still strongly inherited in Finland. On the other hand, the reform has been criticised for creating more pressure and stress for secondary education students, and for making the transfer from one major subject or high educational institution to another more complicated than before. VATT’s researcher, professor Tuomas Pekkarinen emphasises in VATT’s press release (3.6.2022), that "the impact of the student admission reform on study stress and its timing is an important topic for further research”.  

After the reform started the National University Student Admission Development Project 2022–2025, which is operated by Research Foundation for Studies and Education ‘Otus’, VATT and LABORE. In two separate studies, an extensive analysis of the current entrance exams, their development needs, and the role of entrance exams in the future are being carried out, as well as the effects of the current scoring model for certificate selection on high school students, university students and the final result of student selection are being examined using various register analyses. The aim of the project is to support the universities to develop a better-suiting and more equal scoring model for certificate selection in 2023. The new scoring model will be introduced in 2026.  

The University of Helsinki has also started the UUSVALU –project in 2022, which deals with the effects of the reform specifically from the perspective of high schools and high school students. The leading research question is how the student admission reform has affected students' course and matriculation exam choices, well-being and future plans. In addition to this, the research provides information on the views of high school teachers and study counsellors on the reform and its effect on the quality and scope of the education students receive on the one hand, and on their well-being and possible burnout on the other hand. In addition to these, previous research collected in connection with the project will provide comparable information about the nature of secondary school final exams in Finland and other countries, as well as their influence and utilisation in the selection of students for tertiary education.  

Covid-19 pandemic has strongly affected the field of education and training during the last two years and its consequences have been widely debated in Finnish society. According to various studies, the ability of both teachers and students to cope has weakened during the pandemic. Teachers have been burdened by the time-consuming measures to prevent the corona virus, the organisation of simultaneous local and distance education, the fear of getting sick, and concern about the well-being and learning of children and young students. On the other hand, pandemic time strengthened the digital skills of teachers, according to a study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (in Finnish).   

The effects of Covid-19 pandemic on students' well-being have been studied extensively and many research projects are still ongoing or in the planning phase. According to the preliminary research results of professor Katriina Salmela-Aro, who has studied the well-being of the students in the University of Helsinki in 2020, more than half of the students were either completely exhausted or at risk of exhaustion. The Student Union of the University of Helsinki stated in 11.3.2021, that “almost a full year of distance teaching has increased loneliness and exhaustion among students as well as endangered their subsistence. Students’ grasp of their studies has weakened, while uncertainty about the future has increased.” Like the National Union of University Students in Finland, The Student Union of the University of Helsinki demanded that access to low-threshold mental health services be expedited by implementing the Therapy Guarantee, but as we presented in Youth Wiki/Finland 7.5 Mental Health, the Therapy Guarantee does not yet guarantee all the services that the interest groups wanted to implement.  

The gendered educational choices of young people in Finland have also been widely discussed in recent years. According to the Council of Gender Equality by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (in Finnish), gender-based segregation is evident in the choices made by children and young people concerning basic and upper secondary education in Finland. In the Finnish upper grades of comprehensive school, girls and boys start making different choices regarding optional subjects.  There are also differences between girls and boys when it comes to applying for post-comprehensive school education, in other words upper secondary education. In 2018, 65 % of the girls who completed grade 9 of comprehensive school applied for general upper secondary education as their first choice and 54 per cent of the boys applied for upper secondary vocational education and training as their first choice. To promote gender equality, municipalities must not, according to the Council, only develop monitoring but also make information and effective tools available for practical work.