Tuition fees – on what cost?

Now that the government has decided to charge non-EU/ETA students for their degree, the University of Turku is discussing what the appropriate tuition fee would be and what kind of pressures for the development of international degree programmes the introduction of tuition fees brings along. In general, Finnish universities are talking about a fee of ca. 10 000 euro. In the discussions, the ranking of the university as well as the (Nordic?) competition have been taken as criteria for defining the fee; very seldom one sees discussion on if the fee should somehow be compared with the employment prospects in the field and the level of income of the profession that the students get by taking the degree in question. Yet there is a difference in these prospects depending on whether the student gains the Master of Arts degree or the Master of Laws, for instance.

No matter if the fee is 7000 or 12 000 euro, it is a huge amount of money the pay of which, from the viewpoint of the student-customer, can be seen as a legitimization of the demand for the very 1st level quality education. The customer needs to get his/her money’s worth. Unfortunately, the experience from tuition fees shows that most of the tuition income goes into admin costs, not in the development of the programmes or the recruitment of the best possible staff. But the fact is that, as a degree programme becomes a product for the university, it cannot be the same programme which used to be without cost. The product needs to be innovative and appealing to the customers, and, therefore, money and effort needs to be invested in teaching which actually forms the core of the product that the students pay for. More staff in general and more English-speaking staff recruited from abroad in particular, and more pedagogical support for the teachers. (I am not sure if these concerns and pedagogical needs have been taken into account when calculating the profitability of the charged programmes.)

Even if the challenges of 1st quality offering were met, it is still precarious whether the introduction of the tuition fees actually creates more costs than income for the universities in Finland. The costs may also be immaterial: the interaction of foreign and Finnish students in the framework of international master’s programmes has served as an easy way of internationalization for the Finnish students.  Accordingly, the decreasing number of foreign students which is to be expected as a result of the tuition fees decreases the possibilities of Finnish students for gaining international experience during their studies. In the times of economic difficulties which make going abroad a less probable option for a Finnish student, this is sad.

Further read about the tuition fees in Finland: