Educational Schizophrenia in Finland

While the public nature of the secondary education in Finland is praised, the universities are under increasing privatization pressures. Finnish high schools have become world-famous for their lack of tuition fees, fairly non-hierarchic atmosphere and the relative freedom of teachers. For the universities, however, many key decision-makers have been offering privatization, tuition fees, army-style command structures and increasingly strict time control over teachers.

I have a very simple hypothesis about one of the reasons for this tensions. It is the seeming incapacity to read rankings. This incapacity seems to characterize a significant number of the people in charge of the Finnish educational system.

First they see the country of Finland high in the PISA rankings. Thus, they would therefore never dare to suggest that the secondary education of the country be privatized.

Then they see individual Finnish universities with much lower status in the rankings. Only the University of Helsinki tends to hang among the top-100. So something surely needs to be done. Thus, many of them seem to conclude, let us start a privatization process of the universities.

It took me a while to understand that this kind of sloppy reasoning does exist. The hypothesis is based on my conversations with various decision-makers in the Finnish educational sector. It is of course just a hypothesis for now. To the extent it holds, it is in any case only one reason behind the increasing eagerness to move toward an increasing privatization and commodification of Finnish universities.

In the world there are many excellent private high schools. Thus, privatize Finnish high schools? For the universities, this seems to be the logic today. Perhaps in the future the educational thinking will be made more coherent by offering privatization all over the educational system.

An alternative road to coherence could include paying attention to the strengths of the public dimensions of the university system of Finland, instead of being blinded by the rankings of individual universities.

As medical analogies can be tricky, let me add that I use schitzophrenia in the title of this text in the very generic and metaphorical sense of “splitting of the mind”.

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5 thoughts on “Educational Schizophrenia in Finland

  1. Great analogy! In Australia, though universities are still public, they are student fee dependent. Few months ago the Australian government cut the budget for higher education and the universities have been pushed to ferocious marketing campaigns. Australian University management concern on ranking is ridiculous. I do hope that the university system in Finland doe not go in that direction.

    • Dear Malba, Many thanks for your comments. The Australian model is one that we certainly need to observe. In recent years, various post-doctoral researchers I know have relocated in Australia, so the academic job market seems to have had some power of attraction or at least openings. If you want, feel free to explore the reasons for that. Un gran saludo, Teivo

  2. It invariably will, unfortunately. I think the moderate success of VTT in surviving on external funds have given the politicians the idea that the universities can be run in the same way. So, they try to transfer the VTT model to universities. Unfortunately, they forget that VTT does not have teaching responsibilities but for universities that’s a large part of their duties! Also, humanities cannot be judged the same way as science or technology. So, either they have to change the model or the Finnish universities are soon going to be running the other way in terms of rankings.

    • Dear Himadri, Many thanks for your insights. Perhaps to our non-Finnish readers we might clarify that VTT is the Technical Research Centre of Finland. “A globally networked multitechnological applied research organization”, as it says in the VTT website. http://www.vtt.fi/?lang=en.

      Do you remember of specific comments by particular politicians that have used the VTT model to justify the need to transform the universities?

      Best, Teivo

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