MINISTER of Science and Culture Sari Multala (NCP) on Wednesday stated to Helsingin Sanomat that it is premature to estimate how much of the 280 million euros earmarked for research, development and innovation in the newly unveiled budget draft will go to universities.
“It’s impossible to say in advance because a large share of the funding goes through competitive funding at both at the Academy of Finland and Business Finland. Universities can benefit from the funding through both channels,” she elaborated.
Finnish universities expressed their concern before the budget session that most of the funding could be channelled to companies, primarily through Business Finland.
The 87.9-billion-euro budget draft includes an appropriation of 40 million euros for launching a pilot programme to produce 1,000 new doctorate-degree holders in three to four years, 41 million euros for increasing student intake at universities over the entire electoral term and 40 million euros for expanding the flagship programme of the Academy of Finland.
The government programme, meanwhile, states that funding for universities will decrease by seven million euros and that for universities of applied sciences by 12 million euros.
The cuts have been linked to increases in the fees charged from students at open universities and students from outside the EU and EEA. The government believes the raised fees will result in higher revenue of universities, possibly to the extent that the raises more than offset the cuts in state funding.
“We’ve now only made a decision on next year. The estimate is that foreign student numbers could initially drop when tuition fees are raised but that they’ll rebound in a couple of years,” Multala said to Helsingin Sanomat.
The government has also decided to freeze the cost-of-living-based increases in student financial aid for the entire electoral term, possibly generating cost savings of up to 300 million euros. The maximum amount of aid would rise from 279.38 euros to 295.01 euros per month next month without the freeze.
Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) told Demokraatti in the spring that student financial aid would not be affected by the freeze.
The government is nonetheless set to reform student financial aid in order to secure the livelihood of students, improve the incentive effect of the aid and encourage students to complete their studies on time.
“We chose to invest in the quality of education on all levels,” said Multala.
Minister of Social Security Sanni Grahn-Laasonen (NCP) on Wednesday reminded Helsingin Sanomat that the cost savings agreed on by the government will be beneficial especially for younger generations.
“If there was an alternative to cuts, I’m sure any government would prefer not to make cuts or adverse adjustments to social security and student aid,” she said. “But the government is running up debt at such a rapid rate.”
“Leaving students outside the cuts, given the scale we’re talking about, would be very difficult. And it’d also be difficult to justify why students were excluded from the index [freeze] when it applies to almost all other benefits,” said Grahn-Laasonen.
The freeze also applies to unemployment security, labour market subsidy, basic daily allowance and housing allowance, but not to pensions, income assistance or disability benefits.
“It was the government’s joint decision,” Grahn-Laasonen retorted when asked why the government decided not to adjust pensions despite the savings potential they have. “The government didn’t want to make the decision to slash pensions that had already been earned.”
Aleksi Teivainen – HT