More money and teaching

The new government programme promises more university funding. Conversely, a higher number of starting places is desired.

Text juha merimaa images istock english translation Marko saajanaho

The government is committed to implementing the parliamentary RDI working group’s suggestions on how to increase the funding of R&D activity in Finland to four percent of the GDP by the year 2030.

The biggest news in Petteri Orpo’s government’s programme can be found in the second paragraph of the section on higher education and science. Despite the fact the government is otherwise embarking on extensive fiscal adjustment efforts, research and development funding will be increased according to the proposal of the parliamentary working group operating during the previous legislation.

The four-percent goal includes both public and private funding. The public sector is committed to its part regardless of whether private parties increase their investments in the expected manner, new Minister of Science and Culture Sari Multala (NCP) assures Acatiimi.

“If you take a look at the government programme and the parliamentary RDI working group’s proposals, they are practically a match”, Multala notes.

The minister also states that the university index-based increases are to be implemented in full during the parliamentary term.

How much for basic research?

Commitment to the working group’s proposals means an increase in RDI investment by approximately 700 million euros by 2026. However, the government programme does not specify a policy on how the funding will be shared between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment’s and the Ministry of Education and Culture’s administrative branches, or between business subsidies and the entire higher education sector in practical terms.

Centre Party MP, the Sanna Marin government’s Minister of Science and Culture Petri Honkonen (Cen) hopes Multala will look out for basic research. Honkonen commented on the government programme’s science and higher education policies at Acatiimi’s request.

According to Minister Multala, the distribution of funds will not be decided until the budget proposal. She states both basic research and the applied side will get their share.

“Both are needed”, Multala comments.

Multala suggests one way to distribute RDI funding to the universities would be to increase strategic funding for the universities and various flagship projects. This would also facilitate the goal of supporting the profiling of higher education institutions, which is outlined in the government programme.

More freshmen incoming

The second major university-related goal is to reverse the decline of Finns’ level of education into an upturn. The programme outlines the government’s commitment to measures meant to increase the number of highly educated young adults to as close as 50 percent as possible by 2030. One part of this commitment is the increase of staring places at higher education institutions.

Thus, one could assume the universities are also under pressure to increase admittance numbers.

Multala notes that the universities choose their starting place quantities themselves. One likely incentive would be the funding paid for graduates. However, the minister does not directly address how the increase in study places might be seen in university funding.

Increasing the level of education also pertains to an increasing number of staring places going to students working on their first academic degree, if possible. The specific measures have not yet been decided. According to Multala, increasing first-time student quotas could be a potential solution.

More paid studies

While the universities are not suffering from any cuts in the new government programme, the national economy’s adjustment programme can be seen in the efforts to increase paid university education. Basic education would remain free of charge, but tuition fees for students from outside EU and ETA countries are meant to be increased in such a way that these charges would cover the tuition expenses. A nominal application fee is also planned for review. 

As a counterpoint, the government programme mentions developing grant systems and offering special incentives to encourage graduates to remain in Finland. No specific methods are identified in the government programme, but Multala suggests permanent residence permits for students who complete master’s degrees or higher polytechnic degrees and possible tax reliefs as potential solutions.

“One could think those who stay in Finland to work would get tax reliefs for what they paid for their degree.”

Open university tuition fees are also being discussed. Again, these fees are weighed against the tuition expenses.

Freedom of research is safe

In terms of principles, another rather important part of the government programme is the section which states the universities are to be developed according to the educational university model. Fostering critical and analytical thinking is mentioned as a core university mandate. The government programme states that even small disciplines have their place and academic research has a value of its own.

Out of the government parties, we have heard the Finns party talk about researchers in rather blunt terms and accuse constitutional experts of politicisation. However, Minister Multala insists the government has no desire to interfere in the freedom of science or how researchers choose their research subjects.

“We are more interested in improving the level of research than what the subject might be.”

As a whole, the government programme’s section on science and higher education institutes is also received with cautiously optimistic comments from the opposition’s Honkonen.

“I would not start blasting them just yet, we should give them a chance first”, Petri Honkonen comments.

FUURT: Hoping for responsibility

The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers calls for responsible increases in research, development, and innovation funding – research funding requires stability and long-term consistency, which are not achieved with project funding alone.

For example, the union believes basic funding for higher education institutions, research facility budgets, and Academy of Finland resources could be increased. According to FUURT, proper allocation helps avoid fragmenting the research system and adding financial instruments.

The union also hopes for improved research quality and sustainability when the continuous pressure to seek funding is reduced. FUURT would like to note that long-term development of education and research also requires permanent employment.

During the previous parliamentary term, undergraduate student residence permits were updated to allow residence for the duration of the entire academic degree. FUURT hopes for postgraduate students to also be included in this reform. According to the union, doctoral researchers should obtain a residence permit for the full duration of their degree studies.

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