The Board of the University of Helsinki: Ensuring the prerequisites for studying is essential for Finland's success

The Board of the University of Helsinki considers that students' financial opportunities to focus on their studies contribute to the achievement of the university's strategic goals, to raising the national level of education, and to improving students' well-being. The University Board aims to make international students and researchers feel welcome at the University and in society. However, national education policy has been partially at odds with these objectives.

The Universities Act states that the mission of the universities is to promote independent academic research as well as academic and artistic education, to provide research-based higher education and to educate students to serve their country and humanity at large. For the university to be able to realize its mission it is important that students have the financial means to focus on their studies.

The unprejudiced curiosity essential to university studies, the increase of culture and the solving of the great challenges of the future need time. Cultivating education requires long-term investment. From the point of view of education and competence the most essential thing is the quality of the degrees completed, not the time spent on achieving graduation. Every completed degree is a valuable investment for our civilized nation regardless of how long it took to complete it.

Finland's national goal is to raise the level of education in the country so that by 2030, half of the age group would have a higher education degree. The University of Helsinki is also committed to doing its part to achieve this important goal. In order to achieve the national goal, the current steering process of the universities emphasizes reduction of graduation time for students, and according to the government programme, the same direction will continue during the term of this government. The strategic goal of the University of Helsinki is that by 2030, the progress of studies has been improved so that more and more students are able to complete their degrees in the normative time, and special attention has been paid in recent years to breaking down delays to graduation. A rise in the level of education can be achieved if sufficient resources are guaranteed for both higher education institutions and students completing their studies.

Today, more graduates, more high-quality degree education, and more high-quality research are expected of universities without funding increases corresponding to increases in expectations.  In this situation, indicators in the steering process weigh heavily in the planning of the university's finances. Reductions in the prerequisites of studies appear as contradictory to the national goals to the universities. The cuts planned in students' subsistence do not contribute to a reduction of graduation times as students work alongside their studies, and at the same time, the steering process system fines universities if students do not graduate within the normative time. The situation is particularly challenging in Helsinki, where the cost of living is higher than in the rest of Finland. Improving the prerequisites for studying would contribute to achieving the university's strategic goals and raising the national level of education, not to mention solving the major challenges of the future.

Finland has been successful thanks to its education system that strives for equality. In its strategy, the University of Helsinki states that access to degree education that is free of charge is an important part of Finnish democracy and social equality. According to the university's strategic choice, knowledge and learning are for everyone. This is promoted by maintaining higher education free of charge while at the same time improving the accessibility of studies for groups that are currently underrepresented in university education.  However, higher education is still heavily inherited, and the declines in income for the most vulnerable students do not ease the situation. The University of Helsinki alone will not be able to make higher education more accessible to those from different backgrounds unless the inequality that bursts during the entire educational path is addressed more extensively at the level of society as a whole.

Research and higher education are international by their nature. Finland must be a society in which international students and researchers are welcome as respected and equal members. Complicating permanent settling in Finland does not contribute to integration. For example, the three-month time limit in connection with a work-based residence permit causes unnecessary uncertainty due to its ambiguity. Finnish society needs international experts to meet the challenges of the coming decades, and the integration of these experts into society needs support.

The strategy of the University of Helsinki recognizes that our success will hinge on a thriving University community. From numerous studies we know that the Covid crisis clearly weakened students' well-being and there were challenges even before the pandemic. Although it has been more than a year since the last restrictions were lifted, the need for mental health services for students has remained greater than before. However, no amount of therapy is enough unless the root causes of the problems can be addressed. Conflicting incentives for both faster graduation and work during studies do not contribute to solving these root causes. The pressure to combine goal-oriented study and work is not for everyone and creates a threat of exhaustion.

The Board of the University of Helsinki considers that, from the perspective of Finland's success, the accessibility of education and the well-being of students, the weakening of the prerequisites for studying works against national education policy objectives.