Two opinion pieces about tuition fees and international students

    puheenvuoroInternational students need more than translations in English

     

    We Finns like writing instructions, updating guides and webpages, sending emails. We get annoyed when students ask for info that is written down somewhere. We don’t like customer service – or do we?

    Customer service will be even more important in autumn 2017, when we start charging tuition fees from non-EU students. Five universities and four universities of applied science have so far published their fees (studyinfinland.fi): TAMK’s fees are 9800€/year for Bachelor, 10800€ for Master’s. TUT’s are 10000€ and 12000€. UTA’s fees are not yet published. The fees cover tuition (i.e. teaching) only, so in addition students must have 6720€/year for rent, meals, transport, etc. to get a Student Residence Permit.

    I am personally worried that we will not have any international students from next year onwards. It feels like the internationalisation we have done for years is going down the drain. Even many of the European students don’t come to Finland for education’s sake, more often for family reasons.

    When tuition fees were introduced in Sweden, the number of non-EU students dropped by 80-90%. Numbers have since then slowly increased. However, the Swedish government offers a significant number of scholarships to international students. The Finnish government does not. Each university must come up with a scholarship programme, but we don’t yet know any details.

    Yes, Finnish education is of high quality. But with the tuition fees we will compete with other countries that have less arctic climate, more widely spoken languages and more jobs to offer.

    Those who do not work with international students often think: “it’s the same thing, just in English”. Much more is needed: more background info, explaining how things work in the universities, the city and the country. Awareness of students’ own cultures, time to listen and understand what the student really means, interpersonal and intercultural skills – to name a few.

    According to a European study done by StudyPortals (stexx.eu), the study programme is the single most important factor (25%) in student experience satisfaction. Noteworthy is that 75% is other factors: city, culture, social life, university services, personal and professional development, surroundings and cost. Luckily, Tampere is already an attractive city to study and live in. Still, we should not think we don’t need to do more.

    At TAMK, we have full-time social counselling for international students: advising students on how to settle down in Tampere, to find affordable housing and furniture, to find winter clothes, to get through the bureaucratic challenges of embassies, immigration, police, KELA, court, employers, etc. Many students also feel lonely in our society which emphasizes individuality and socializes mainly by drinking. Students appreciate having a person to talk to and to ask any non-study related matters. This frees teachers to teach, study counsellors to advise on studies, administration to handle paperwork, student nurses to concentrate on health issues, etc.

    TAMK, UTA and TUT also help international students feel at home though the Friend Family Programme: local families ‘adopt’ a student for one year to introduce Finnish way of life. Families and students agree on how often and where to meet. Some students say they have lived here for 3-4 before seeing a Finnish home!

    Tampere3: we still have some time to make sure our services and processes are ready.

    Mirja Onduso
    Author is an International Coordinator at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK)

     

    puheenvuoroWe have to talk about tuition fees!

     

    Starting in the autumn, 2017, the University of Tampere is preparing to institute tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students commencing their studies in Bachelor’s or Master’s degree programmes offered in English. The Board of the University of Tampere has decided that the fees will be in the range of 8 000 – 12 000 euros. Doctoral studies, or degree programmes offered in Finnish or Swedish, will not include tuition fees.

    Finnish universities have been forced to introduce tuition fees in order to comply with the new national legislation. It is now important to ensure that the University of Tampere not only reacts to the legislation but plays a proactive role in its implementation.

    Putting a price tag on a higher education degree is a major change to the Finnish higher education system. It is thus important to ensure that this does not jeopardize some of the key ideals of Finnish higher education, or the heritage of the University of Tampere.

    Yet, we have heard very little official public discussions or debates among the university community over the tuition fees. This is surprising given the significance of change in principle, even if not in scale.

    Rather than just react to top-down edicts from the state, the University of Tampere – as an institution that seeks to make an impact on society – should foster internal discussions and take the lead in the societal debate, not forgetting proactive international communication.

    Quite obviously, this discussion has to be conducted in a language that those targeted by the new tuition fees policy can understand, which is English. And while the Tampere3 process can complicate the discussions, the intention among the three institutions working together to establish a new “globally attractive university” should be the same.

    According to the strategy of the University of Tampere, “the university thrives on the mobility of ideas and people.” A key university strategy is also to recruit more international students and instructors. The tuition fees may be seen to compromise these goals. Yet, there are ways to implement the fees in line with the strategic goals of the University of Tampere, which are to “promote justice and equality in society, to enhance the well-being of citizens at home and abroad, and to advance multiculturalism.”

    Firstly, a discussion on tuition fees alone is inadequate. These fees should be seen as one side of a coin the other side of which is the development of a scholarship system. The new law dictates that the higher education institutions must set up a scholarship scheme to support some of the fee-paying students.

    The scholarship system is an area in which the University of Tampere also has a lot of autonomy. It can institute fee waivers which reduce the amount of fees a student needs to pay for their degree, and may go up to full tuition fee waiver. A set of maintenance grants may also be made available. Such grants would provide new opportunities for students who are not entitled to Finnish or other study grants

    A key goal for the University of Tampere should thus be to design an ambitious, fair and well-functioning scholarship system. The grants are an area in which the University of Tampere can demonstrate commitment to its stated objective of creating a sustainable world in which all people have the equal right to well-being. Given this these grants should also be communicated explicitly.

    Secondly, tuition fees should not be expected to become an income-generation mechanism for the university. It is a delusion that fee-paying students would become “cash cows” for the university budget. It is possible to make various kinds of calculations about the costs of a university degree – and to get quite different sums as the outcome. Fortunately, the 8 000 – 12 000 euros fee has not been determined solely on the basis of the “price” of a degree. Rather is corresponds to the level of tuition fees in the neighbouring countries with similar higher education and social systems as well as to the planned level of fees in other higher education institutions in Tampere and Finland.

    Thirdly, it is crucial to recognize that tuition fees carry a lot of symbolism. There is a real danger that the fees will be interpreted as a sign that a certain group of foreign students are no longer welcome to study in Finland or at the University of Tampere.

    The stated rationale behind the fees targeted at non-EU or non-EEA students is the dynamics of European integration, attempts to create a European Higher Education Area, and the EU-level legislation. One may also argue that this reflects the fact that Finnish and EU students and their families have paid the relatively high taxes that provide the basis for investments in higher education.

    The university must thus put a lot of effort into communicating to different audiences that this is not an exclusionary mechanism and that the university remains committed to the vision of an international academic community and an open Finland.

    The university must thus play its part in ensuring that international students from different parts of the world feel not less but more welcome to the campuses of the University of Tampere and Finland than before! Beyond this, and perhaps even more importantly, there have to be mechanisms – such as an ambitious and fair scholarship system – that make certain that this is the case.

    Putting a price tag on a degree is a major change in the Finnish education system. It is also true that there are many uncertainties related to how the decisions that are now being made impact the university community and its internationalization dynamics. It is also crucial to ensure that the establishment of tuition fees for a segment of the student population does not represent an intention to implement similar fees for all students in the future.

    For these reasons alone it is crucial for the university community to discuss about the tuition fees and closely monitor that the changes that are now being made do not jeopardize the values of openness, democratic decision-making and the equality of its community members which are essential parts of the university strategy.

    Anni Kangas and Mikko Poutanen
    Kangas and Poutanen are teachers and researchers at the School of Management. Kangas also took part in the university’s working group in charge of determining the level of tuition fees.