MINISTER of Science and Culture Antti Kurvinen (Centre) has announced his intention to take over the finish line a proposal that would forgive student loans for professionals such as physicians and teachers moving to sparsely populated areas of Finland.
“The goal is that the legislation is finalised by the end of the electoral term. We can hopefully also get this reimbursement scheme up and running during this term,” he stated to YLE on Tuesday.
Reimbursements for student loan repayments, he gauged, could be a way to attract physicians, psychologists and social welfare professionals away from population centres, toward less populated parts of the country.
“It’s starting to be pretty tricky to get many professionals critical for the welfare society to come to rural areas. It’s threatening our well-being promise – that the elderly get help both in Jakomäki [Helsinki] and Sevettijärvi [Inari],” said Kurvinen.
“This would offer a carrot for highly educated couples and young families returning and moving from other areas to Lapland,” he added. “It’s clearly visible that higher education provides vitality and positive buzz to a region. The highly educated are capable of, for example, becoming entrepreneurs.”
A scheme consisting of tax breaks and student loan reimbursements has yielded some results in Norway.
YLE on Tuesday wrote that the proposal was met with some scepticism by students, some cautious optimism by regional officials.
“[Sodankylä] is a bit too far up north and too small. Maybe if I moved to a small locality in the south, the incentive could support that decision,” analysed Katri Mure, a teacher student at Lapland University from Sodankylä, Lapland.
Pentti Malinen, the Mayor at the Regional Council of Kainuu, stated that although it remains difficult to project the effectiveness of the incentive, it would be a welcome tool. Kainuu has in recent years suffered from a shortage of not only nursing and medical professionals, but also information and communication technology professionals.
“We’ve noticed that an extremely low number of university students originally from Kainuu have come back in recent years. It’s absolutely worthwhile to try the incentive,” he said.
His assessment was echoed by his counterpart from the Regional Council of Lapland, Mika Riipi.
“This alone wouldn’t be enough to solve anything, but it’d be an important part of the palette of tools to attract and hold on [to professionals]. We’ve got a labour shortage in the tourism sector, but it’s equally important to secure public services.”
The proposal is part of a series of measures drafted by a parliamentary working group set up to promote the development of sparsely populated areas. It states that professionals moving to such areas could be forgiven up to 2,600 euros in student loan a year but would have to pay the interests themselves.
Kurvinen told YLE that the details of the proposal are presently being ironed out at the Ministry of Education and Culture.
“I can’t comment on any of the details,” he stated to the public broadcaster. “For example, what regions would be included and whether it’d apply to all fields of education or just people in education and health care.”
Aleksi Teivainen – HT