Finnish universities have become significantly more international. Universities have thus fulfilled the demands placed on them by the state in the university reform. In addition to the change to the Universities Act, the internationalisation strategy for institutes of higher education in 2009– 2015, created by the Ministry of Education and Culture, defined the direction of internationalisation. One of the goals set by the strategy was a significant increase in the number of foreign teachers and researchers by 2015. Universities have acted accordingly.
In 2010, foreigners made up 11.5% of all employees in teaching and research positions (2,110 man-years). By 2015, this figure had already risen to 19.7% (3,496 man-years). During the same period, the proportion of foreign recipients of doctoral degrees had risen from 13% (202) to 21% (393). (Vipunen database.)
Universities have thus fulfilled the demands of the state. One of the reasons for highlighting internationalisation was the desire to increase the proportion of highly educated international experts in the Finnish labour market, which was viewed as a way to benefit Finnish industry and commerce.
In order to better utilise the academic expertise of foreigners in the Finnish society, a change was made to the Aliens Act in 2015, according to which a person who has been granted temporary residence permit for their studies could receive a one-year residence permit following the completion of their degree in order to seek employment. “Foreigners must be able to utilise the education they have obtained in Finland on the Finnish labour market. The goal is for students to find work corresponding to their education in Finland.” (HE 219/2014)
The prolonged recession in Finnish working life has, however, revealed a clear flaw in the amendment to the Act over the past year. Residents permits only really apply to people coming from outside the EU and ETA, or so-called third-country citizens. For a person who has received a residence permit for job-seeking purposes, the problem lies in the wording of the Act: a person who has been issued a temporary residence permit for studying.
In practice, this means that if a person has completed their doctoral dissertation while living on a student’s residence permit, they can remain in Finland and look for a job for one year after completing their doctoral degree. If, however, the person has been recruited to do their dissertation for a salary, for example as a junior researcher, and completes their dissertation while living in Finland on a residence permit issued for research purposes, they will not receive a residence permit for their job search. If, upon completion of their doctoral degree, they do not get a new employment contract or find new funding for which a new residence permit could be granted, the PhD must immediately leave Finland once the residence permit has ended.
It was never anyone’s intention that completing a doctoral degree while employed would lead to this completely absurd situation. As the economic situation gets tougher, this situation has, however, become a reality for many researchers from third countries. Both trade unions and universities have become aware of the problem, and have communicated about its existence to the ministry in charge of lawmaking.
At the European level, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union have become aware of the problem with residence permits for students and researchers from third countries. A directive on the matter (EU) 2016/801 was passed in May of this year. According to Article 25 of the directive, “After the completion of research or studies, researchers and students shall have the possibility to stay on the territory of the Member State that issued an authorisation [...] for a period of at least nine months in order to seek employment or set up a business.”
The directive also requires Finland to take measures to amend its national legislation for this part by 23 May 2018 at the latest.
The problem with remedying the acute situation is that as of writing this, no working group had been established to prepare the necessary changes to the legislation. The directive also contains other parts requiring amendments, but it is imperative that the third-country nationals who have completed their doctoral dissertations for a salary have the same possibilities to seek employment or start a business as those who have completed their dissertations with a student’s residence permit.
This change must be implemented quickly, or, alternatively, universities must think of ways to prevent the situation in which PhDs are forced out of Finland after four years of paid work.
Text Antero Puhakka
Chief Shop Steward
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