Mika has made himself comfortable in his designer deck chair, taken off his shoes, and is reading in his book. For those who do not know the University Library in the heart of Helsinki, it could be taken for a design museum: An ultra-modern building with an elegant interior design and excellent learning conditions for students that make the learner’s stay in the library as pleasant as possible. The Finnish school system has received worldwide attention due to the top academic performances of Finnish school pupils in the PISA studies. Can Finland be also a role model for other countries in the field of higher education?
Equality in higher education
It is remarkable that Finland’s education policy seems to offer all citizens equal opportunities to receive education, even on a higher education level. Statistically, more than a quarter of all students coming from families without college degrees have access to higher education, a peak value in Europe (Eurostat 2015: 54). One reason could be the fact, that there is a strong support by the Finnish government for students in need through “Kela”, a Finnish government agency in charge of settling benefits under national social security programs. Financial aid by Kela is provided in the form of the following benefits: Study grants, housing supplement and student loans.
Education & culture as a fundamental right
In Finland, education and culture are regarded as a fundamental right. There are no tuition fees for students from Finland and from foreign countries.
Education in Finland is mostly financed by public funds. While public expenses for higher education in Finland takes up 95.9% of total funding, the value in Germany – for instance – is 84.6% according to the Federal German Agency for Education (2015). The rest is financed by private funds.
According to Eurostat (2015) the public expenses for education at the rate of the GDP are especially high in the Nordic countries compared to the European average. In Finland and Sweden the expenses were 6.8% of their GDP, and thus higher than the EU average of 5.3% (Eurostat 2015).The cultural offerings in Finland, and especially in Helsinki as World Design Capital 2012, are diverse and are very much appreciated in Finnish society. In Finland, there are about 160 museums, 50 theaters and more than 20 orchestras that receive a funding by the government (Foreign Office 2016). In regard to the country’s size with only 5.5 million inhabitants, there is a lot you can do.
International study programmes in English
Among foreign students Finland is no longer a secret. Many courses – even entire study programmes- are offered in English by the universities in Finland. A good example is the recently introduced STEP programme of the University of Helsinki. The STEP programme is a Subject Teacher Education Programme in English that it is offered for both Finnish and international students. According to the University of Helsinki, the programme gives official qualifications for teaching in basic and upper secondary education in Finland and the STEP qualification can be recognized by other countries in the EU. Thus, it is no wonder that more and more students from abroad are attracted by the ‚land of the thousand lakes‘.
 GDP=gross domestic product