The beginning of every academic year is always exciting as some Ghanaians living in Finland gather at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport in Finland to wait patiently for their love ones who have gained admission to study in various universities. There is joy from both sides especially the new comer who has high hopes but no idea of what lies ahead.
Finnish Universities offer tuition free degree programmes for qualified applicants from all over the world. This has attracted many Ghanaians to move to Finland and their number increases every year. According to official figures from Statistics department, the number of Ghanaians living in Finland at the end of 2014 was 1,308 out of which 104 of them had student status. However, all these will change in the beginning of August 2017.
From the beginning of August 2017, Finnish universities will charge a minimum tuition fee of 1,500 euros per year. This decision is agreed by the Finnish Parliament to impose tuition fees on non-European Union (EU) citizens and citizens outside the European Economic Area (EEA). It will affect Bachelor and Master degree courses that are taught in English language. This is likely to affect not just the Ghanaian community in Finland but also Ghanaians who intend to apply for universities admissions from Ghana or elsewhere.
According to the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the decision to charge tuition fees is “to advance the university institutions’ opportunities for education export and also expand their funding base”. Until now Finland has not charged tuition fees from any nationalities or in any level of education, however students are required to take care of their living expenses.
The Finnish Parliament agreed on a minimum tuition fee but universities are permitted to increase the amount if they so decide. University of Helsinki has published their fees and it is the highest so far, ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 euros depending on the type of programme an applicant chooses. Metropolia University of Applied Sciences is the second institution with the highest tuition fees ranging from 10,000 to 12,000 euros for Bachelor programmes and from 11,000 to 13,000 for Master programmes. The new education scheme will also give both full and partial scholarship to selected students, the criteria of which are not yet known according to the universities. The introduction of tuition fees is expected to reduce the number of Ghanaians who will apply for a study place in Finland, especially for those who intend to apply from Ghana.
The tuition fee will not affect foreign nationals who hold permanent residence permit in Finland or whose family member (spouse or child) holds a EU or EEA citizenship. This is a relief to some Ghanaians who fall in this category. However, Patrick Osei Gyimah, the organiser of the Ghana Union Association in Finland, believes that the burden of Ghanaians who are not exempted from paying tuition fees will also extend to their relatives who are back home in Ghana.
Osei Gyimah estimates that, a Ghanaian in Finland depending to their income sends between 100 to 400 euros per month to their families in Ghana. The estimate also includes students who have to work alongside studies to be able to pay for their living expenses.
Victor Abedi-Lartey, a Ghanaian student at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Espoo – Finland, believes that the high tuition fees together with expensive living costs in Finland will lead to a situation where people like him are not willing to study in Finland at all. He believes that Ghanaians will rather pay for tuition in an English speaking country than in Finland.
According to Finnish authorities cited by the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (Yle), the average time needed for a foreign national to integrate and become part of the Finnish working and cultural life is seven years. After the estimated seven years of integration, the foreign national is assumed to be able to work with the gained qualification with sufficient skills in Finnish language. This means that even after four years of Bachelor degree a student still has three more years to fully integrate and if lucky, find work in his own field.
A four-year Bachelor degree programme would cost an average of 40,000 euros. According to Aalto University in Espoo – Finland the living costs of a student are approximately 800 euros per month, which makes the total costs of both tuition fees and living costs for the entire degree programme at over 78,000 euros. Majority of Ghanaians will not be able to afford the cost. Abedi-Lartey does not see how students can defray some of the investment they have made on their education after they graduate.
According to the Finnish Immigration Services, anyone with a student residence permit is only allowed to work for “25 hours a week on average during the academic term”. The StudyinFinland website says this regulation only affects non-EU students. With a minimum wage of 9,20 euros as stated by the Finnish Statistics department, a student is only able to earn 900 euros per month. This will make it difficult for students with no strong financial support to cope. Osei Gyimah estimates, that in such situations Ghanaians studying in Finland would have to rely on their families in Ghana for financial assistants.
By the above calculation, the question is now how much financial support a Ghanaian student living in Finland will receive from Ghana? However, Abedi-Lartey thinks that since many students come from low-income families, the chances of getting support from Ghana are limited.
Students with a work permit on the other hand can work for unlimited number of hours per week without restrictions. However, a student would need to work full time to cover for all the costs, unless he or she has savings. Degree programmes are, however, most often offered full time, which would make extensive working times challenging.
Similarly, Finland’s closest neighbour, Sweden provided completely free higher education for students from other countries until 2011 when tuition fees were introduced. In the same way as Finland, the decision to charge tuition fees only affected students outside of the EU/EEA. According to The Local news, in the first year of implementation of the tuition policy, enrollment of non-EU/ EEA students dropped by 80 percent from 7,390 students to 1,450 students. ICEF estimates “the greatest fall-off among African and Asian students”. Since then Swedish universities have face a lot challenges in enticing fee-paying foreign students, which has forced some degree programmes to be shut down because of luck of students. However, few Swedish universities have recorded a slight increase in fee-paying international students in the past year.
It is most likely that Finland will face similar sharp drop of fee-paying students as recorded in Sweden. Jari Järvenpää, the president of the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYK) as cited by The Pie News, believes that the introduction of tuition fees will see the end of many international programmes.