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Universities increase intake to tackle unemployment

Finnish higher education institutions promise more admissions as Covid-19 abates

Universities in Finland will accept more students during the current application period, after an appeal from Jari Gustafsson, a permanent secretary in the ministry of economic affairs and employment.

Gustafsson called on higher education institutions to accept more applicants to help stem rising youth unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic. He said the crisis had increased the number of unemployed young adults in Finland from 30,000 to 40,000.

Another 45,000 are set to graduate from university and enter the job market this year, he said.

Gustafsson added that in normal circumstances 10,000 young people would be employed in summer jobs by now. However, because of the crisis, employers will not be hiring anywhere near that figure this year.

Keijo Hamalainen, chair of UniFi, the Finnish university body, responded by saying that higher education institutions would help. He said there was already a plan to significantly increase study places for 2021, and that some of the additional places that had been planned for next year could instead be filled this year.

“We are actively investigating if it would be possible to make some of those places available this autumn,” Hamalainen said.

However, Hamalainen raised the issue of funding as one of the biggest challenges in growing student numbers. Higher education institutions are looking to the government for a decision on additional funding during budget talks in June.

“You cannot deliver quality education without investment. Investing in education would be the best form of coronavirus stimulus,” Hamalainen said.

There are also other challenges involved in hiking the number of students. In Finland, entrance quotas are usually decided years in advance and are used to plan for future academic programmes.

As a result, university staff are already fully occupied administering ongoing entrance exams set up for the expected number of students and selecting candidates. “We would need to work out how raising the number of students would be administratively possible with this current schedule,” Hamalainen said.

For some fields of study, such as those which require small-group tuition, it might be impossible to increase admissions, even if additional funds were forthcoming from the government, he said. “Competent teaching staff simply aren’t available at short notice.”