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The government negotiations have been going on for a week now between the negotiator-leader Juha Sipilä (Centre), Alexander Stubb (NCP) and Timo Soini (Finns).
The outlines of the “minor things” have now been drawn and the trio will be able to focus on slicing and dicing the budget.
The most significant decision reached during the week, from the point of view of a foreigner, is the policy of starting to charge tuition fees from students arriving outside the EU and EEA regions. In 2013, almost 20,000 foreign students were studying in the Finnish schools of higher education. The amount has tripled from the beginning of 2000.
The student unions have fought against even talking about tuition fees ever since it was first brought up a few years ago.
Here’s why: the unions dive straight into the core by drawing examples from Denmark and Sweden, where the tuition fees caused a severe loss in the amount of students and the fees failed to bring enough euros to the government’s chest.
If we for a moment forget the fact that the Finnish free education is a subject of national pride, appraised and envied around the world, we can also observe the subject in the light of pure mathematics.
According to VTT Techical Research Centre of Finland, an international student arriving in Finland to study uses about 10,000 euros while living in the country. When, and, if, the international student is not entitled to Finnish social security, the 10 grand will be funded from abroad. A foreign student is not entitled to student aid if he or she resides in the country with a temporary student residence permit.
According to Jari Järvenpää, the chair of SYL’s board (National Union of University Students), the tuition fees are likely to choke the flow of students and at the same time choke the incoming cash flow from the students and that will keep the economic significance of the tuition fees on the level of plus minus zero, or at worst could sink the income into the negative.
Järvenpää said that at present about half of the foreign students would be willing to stay in Finland and the country is strongly dependant on exports – that is – if we want to succeed.
The policy, however, decided by the government negotiators is as of current as vague as a shady campaign promise.
We don’t know whether the tuition fees will be mandatory for all schools at the level of higher education, or whether the academies are able to decide of the fees by themselves. We also don’t know either, if the fees would be applied to primary education as well. It’s also interesting to note that the policy of tuition fees was decided in a working group handling immigration issues and not in a one focusing on education. There’s also no indication, whether the tuition fee would be applied to students already studying in Finland.
Järvenpää makes a clever point by saying that instead of forcing fees in the Finnish education system, the benefits should be based on research.
“The studies don’t support tuition fees,” he said.
Another policy that was agreed upon was the subject of Nato military alliance.
According to the new policy, “Finland is a country which doesn’t belong to the military union but implements a practical partnership with Nato and upholds a possibility to seek a Nato membership.”
This is an updated view on the security politics. “Before, the Nato membership was totally ruled out,” said prime minister Alexander Stubb. The Nato policy is now the same that prevailed during the governments of 2007-2011. A working group on security will conduct an evaluation of what possible effects a Nato membership could have on Finland.
Late on Friday afternoon, Sipilä stepped in front of the media to announce that the negotiators have found some ‘Aha! moments’ between the discussions. The government will instead from focusing on cutting with the cheese cutter, focus on brave renewals.
Sipilä will reveal more about that and the Aha! moments in the middle of next week.