A person walking into Porthania, a building on the city-centre campus of the University of Helsinki, on 22 August 2023. Faculty at Finnish universities have called for a timeout to a reform that would dramatically change the entrance examination system in Finland, reports Helsingin Sanomat. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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UNIVERSITIES are divided over a proposal that would dramatically overhaul university entrance examinations in Finland, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

The proposal would reduce the number of entrance examinations from roughly 120 to 9 and enable people to apply to several academic fields and universities through a single examination as soon as in the spring of 2025.

Helsingin Sanomat on 25 April wrote that the over month-long comment period for the proposal had drawn feedback from 48 private individuals and organisation representatives a day before the deadline. About half of the them gauged that the proposed system would be functional as such or functional with minor tweaks, and the other half that the system would be dysfunctional.

Some 400 university staff, mostly from the fields of humanities and social sciences, have also argued in a petition that a reform with such a profound impact on the nature of university education should not be rushed.

Arto Laitinen, a professor of philosophy at Tampere University, echoed the concern in an interview with the newspaper, calling for a timeout on what would signal a significant change in dozens of fields and degree programmes at universities in Finland.

“A transition as significant as this should be both controlled and justified. It requires a proper discussion about the principles, and it shouldn’t be rushed,” he said.

Today, entrance exams to many programmes in the fields of humanities and social sciences make use of materials and essay assignments in order to assess the skills of applicants more deeply than multiple-choice questions. Universities have also developed joint nationwide exams to certain fields, with trials in history and social sciences taking place this spring.

“Shouldn’t we first see what we can learn from these?” asked Laitinen.

Hanna Kuusela, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Jyväskylä, argued to Helsingin Sanomat that the reform would reduce the diversity and undermine university education in Finland.

“The ease argument is undeniably appealing, but the ease of applying isn’t necessarily beneficial also to applicants in the long term,” she said, elaborating that field-specific entrance provide applicants a better understanding of what is to come.

An exam that provides access to sociology and law or communication would inevitably be very generic.

“If an applicants gets in with an exam like this, they may be surprised to find out what the studies really entail,” cautioned Kuusela. “Is there a risk that a terribly high number of young people end up in wrong fields because the exam is so generic or general?”

Critics have also drawn attention to the proposed contents of the joint exams: the proposal indicates that the exams would consist almost entirely of multiple-choice, matching and fill-in-the-blank questions.

While such exams are widely used in natural sciences, students in humanities and social sciences require solid reading and writing skills, reminded Kuusela. Not testing for such skills in the entrance exam, she added, could both result in surprises later in studies and demotivate students to develop such skills before university.

“If you can get even into university without having to know how to read and write, how does it motivate you to invest in the skills in high school?”

Finnish universities have previously published new scoring guidelines for certificate-based selection, placing greater emphasis on mother tongue, said Laitinen. The guidelines are to be implemented in the spring of 2026.

“It’d be contradictory and undesirable to introduce another model that assigns no value to the ability to generate text,” he viewed.

Marja Sutela, the chairperson of the Rectors’ Council of Finnish Universities (Unifi), told Helsingin Sanomat that carrying out the entrance exam reform as soon as next year has been deemed realistic because universities have collaborated on student selection for some time in many academic fields.

“We have good experiences in economics, education and technology,” she said.

She also clarified that essay questions and maths questions could be part of entrance exams also in future. “It’s rather a question of using machine scoring to check the exams quickly enough,” said Sutela.

Representatives from different academic fields will start preparing the contents and question types of the entrance exams in more detail in the autumn, according to her. A proposal on the entrance exam system is to be submitted by early June.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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