Finland’s new Government Programme will make significant cuts to universities’ state-allocated funding in the upcoming years. In addition to reforming our structures and activities, we need to seize every opportunity we find in order to safeguard jobs at the university in the future.
The greatest potential, perhaps, lies in transnational education. Academic education is a one-billion-euro business worldwide, and for example the UK and Australia have turned it into a significant industry.
Competition is tough, but not impossible – especially if we were to invest in such strength of our education as teacher training, forest sciences and the bioeconomy, for example.
The Finnish Government’s plan to introduce tuition fees to non-EU/EEA higher education students opens up great potential for transnational education. If Finnish universities succeed in attracting students to fee-charging programmes expectedly, that will translate into significant additional resources for universities and export revenues for Finland.
For some reason, the discussion around tuition fees is often fuelled by distorted ideas: tuition fees are seen as a gateway to introducing tuition fees to Finnish students as well, or as fees preventing exchange students from coming to Finland.
However, in all its simplicity, the proposed amendment to legislation would only allow the collection of tuition fees from non-EU/EEA students for degree-awarding programmes. At the same time, the amendment would facilitate transnational education. After all, at least the traditional economic theories regard the exchange of products against no fee as something not very profitable.
Another voiced concern is the potential drastic decline in the number of international students, as has happened in Sweden and Denmark after they introduced tuition fees. This is a likely first scenario here, too, when those who are attracted to Finland only by our free education choose not to come.
In the future, we need to be able to compete by quality, not by price. Finnish education is of such a high standard that we have every possibility to succeed. By focusing on our strengths and further improving the quality of the education we offer, the student numbers that are likely to decline as an initial reaction, will bounce back to their current level, and likely even higher.
Instead of focusing on the possible downsides of transnational education, we should seize the opportunities it offers. As our resources are getting scantier and our age groups smaller, transnational education may bring Finnish higher education institutions interesting, and international new jobs.