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A furious protester tries to stop Alexander Stubb, who was the finance minister at the time, from speaking in an event at the Helsinki University on November 12, 2015. According to the protesters, Stubb was not a welcomed speaker at the university after the government decided to cut financing from the institution for 106 million euros by the year of 2020. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

By: Georgina Gaskin

A new era is about to launch itself upon Finland’s shores. A foreign concept that seems to go against the core values of the country: the introduction of paying for education. University staff rooms across Helsinki are full of intense discussion as to where will this lead? A U.K. style system where the user pays for all?

Finland places a high priority on education for its citizens. As per many aspects of Finnish life, all have the right to an education, therefore universities are free. This is the case across many of the Nordic countries. Up until August 1, 2017, this opportunity has also been open to the broader international community, encouraging students from across the globe to obtain a degree while experiencing the Nordic lifestyle. This applied to bachelors, masters or Ph.D. qualifications, offering education in various languages and all free of charge.

However, change is in the air. As of August 1, all universities in Finland must charge international students a minimum of 1,500 euros per year. Most are charging 10,000 euros per year for bachelor degrees. These changes apply to international non-EU students wanting to study in English. Tuition remains free of charge for all studies in Finnish or Swedish. Some exemptions apply, for example, students who are part way through a degree or citizens from within the EU community don’t have to pay . . . yet.

The government has also decided to introduce study fees for international students, a minimum of 1,500 euros per year. Most are charging 10,000 euros per year for bachelor degrees. The Act on Universities of Applied Sciences obligates the universities of applied sciences to charge tuition fees from students outside the EU/EEA area who start their studies on August 1, 2017, or later. In the picture, a student protesting against the government at the Senate Square in Helsinki in June 2015. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A study conducted in 2014 showed a massive increase in international students studying in Finland. In 2005, the students from abroad numbered 2.9 percent of the academic population which soared to 6.5 percent in 2014. This translates to 1 in 15 students being from other countries. They most commonly originated from Russia followed by China and Vietnam.

Finland is a very popular destination for students globally which was proved by the International Student Satisfaction Awards in 2014. 7,000 students were surveyed voting Finland as the best country to study.

So, what is the future for the Finnish education sector? Will these changes adversely affect the Finnish economy, decreasing the previously well-worn path of students towards Helsinki and other Finnish cities? Is this just the first step towards a full fee-based university system for Finns and internationals alike? Only time will tell.