Published on 2013/09/17

How Do Adults in Finland Pay for Higher Education?

How Do Adults in Finland Pay for Higher Education?
While tuition in Finland is free, adult students must seek out pathways to finance their costs of living so they can study full time.

In Finland, studying in bachelor’s, master’s and PhD programs is basically tuition free for the student (as I discussed in previous articles on The EvoLLLution). Since Finland´s financial situation is very difficult, and we have to weigh the different services provided by our welfare society, maybe now the time is right to start thinking about whether there could be some limitations to these rights. As Finland´s future is heavily dependent on education and innovation, it can be very difficult to have the discussion about potential limitations to tuition-free education.

There currently exists a one-place-per-student provision. According to the provision, a student may accept only one study spot in a degree program included in joint applications leading to a higher education degree during any one academic term. The purpose is to ensure admission to higher education institutions for as many students as possible. The provision applies to all degree studies in higher education included in joint applications, regardless of how the studies are provided.

In Finland, the law forbids tuition in BSc, MSc or PhD programs designed for Finnish or EU citizens. This is why universities have limited options to redesign these programs to make them suitable for adult students. The programs are not meant for part-time studying, and it is difficult to study in these while working full time. In addition, pedagogically, the studies are designed for young people. Even though the studying itself is free (no tuition), adult students must find ways to finance their own living costs.

As mentioned, Finland’s emphasis on education means there are several possibilities to seek financial support while studying, for the young but certainly also for adults.

The Education Fund is administered by the social partners of the Finnish labour market. Its purpose is to support employees’ studies by granting them financial assistance (Adult Education Allowance) and to support the development of the vocational qualification system by granting scholarships for competency-based qualifications (Scholarship for Qualified Employee). The Fund also provides information and advice on benefits and makes proposals for the development of legislation within its field. In 2012, the Education Fund paid out a total of EUR 103 million ($137 million USD) in benefits, of which adult education allowances accounted for EUR 94.7 million ($126 million USD) and scholarships for qualified employees for EUR 8.3 million ($11 million USD). In 2012, the allowance was granted to 13,456 students and the scholarship to 23,179 people.

The purpose of the Adult Education Allowance is to support employees’ and self-employed persons’ voluntary vocational studies. To qualify for the allowance, the applicant must participate in studies leading to a degree, or in continuing education organized by a Finnish educational institution. The applicant must live permanently in Finland and his or her full-time employment relationship with the same employer or pension-insured entrepreneurship must have lasted for at least one year. In addition, the applicant must have been employed by a Finnish employer or have worked as a self-employed person in Finland for at least eight years. In some cases, the allowance can also be granted to an applicant who has a working history of less than eight years. The applicant must be on unpaid study leave of at least two months due to his or her studies. Allowance may also be paid to an applicant whose periods of study leave last less than two months, or who studies part time on the basis of a study-leave agreement made with the employer. The maximum allowance period is 19 months. The amount of the allowance is equal to the amount of the earnings-related unemployment allowance. The adult education allowance is considered taxable income.

If, during the period of study leave, the studying is part time, the allowance shall be applied for in retrospect each calendar month. The amount of allowance paid will be affected by the income earned during the month.

When an employed adult wants to study full time, he or she can apply for a study leave.

Basically it means the employee will stay employed, but does not earn a salary during the leave. One can apply for a maximum of two years of study leave within a five-year period. A student is entitled to apply if his or her employment period has lasted a minimum of one year. The employee’s right to apply for study leave is specified by law, as are the employer’s reasons for rejecting applications for leave.

There are also various scholarships and grants for adult students, given by different foundations and associations. Like everywhere else, there are grants available for medical studies, but Finland also has some interesting exceptions not to my knowledge existing anywhere else. For example, some grants are meant for specific groups, like people living in a specific place. Also, if you are a Finnish Swede, there are additional possibilities.

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Readers Comments

Vera Matthews 2013/09/17 at 11:13 am

At first glance, the Finnish system appears to be years ahead of the American system in terms of providing free tuition to students. However, the fact that students still have to pay for their own living costs shows there’s work to be done in making higher education more accessible, as research shows that living costs contribute more to overall student loan debt than tuition costs.

Lauri Nieminen 2013/09/17 at 1:41 pm

The United States should adopt a “study leave” policy similar to what’s offered here in Finland. This creates a low-risk opportunity for adult students to return to school, as their jobs will be guaranteed while they’re studying. Having this type of policy in place might encourage more adults to pursue higher education, be it skills upgrading (which would be beneficial to the current employer) or a degree.

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