European and Finnish higher education policies in comparison: tracing the impact of the European Union’s Modernisation Agenda in Finland

By Mikko Vieltojärvi (SAMOK) and Jarmo Kallunki (SYL)

Over the recent decades international education policies have increased in importance in higher education policy. The European Union is an example of an international organisation that has gained influence. Finland, in turn, has been labelled as a model pupil when it comes to taking account of international developments. On the other hand, international trends and initiatives are implemented in mediated forms, and hence the question arises: in what way the European recommendations influence the Finnish national education policy? We approach this question by focusing on higher education. We compare the European Union’s Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education and the Finnish National Development Plan for Education and Research 2011-2016, and ask: in what way the Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education has influenced the Finnish higher education policy? Our findings confirm that national contexts shape the interpretation and implementation of international initiatives in various ways. Based on this, we formulate some recommendations for the EU level policy-makers.

Introduction: International and Finnish education policy
Education has traditionally been considered as “the most national of activities”, but recent decades have shown that in the era of globalisation we cannot maintain this image anymore. On one hand, internationalisation both as a discourse and as a set of policy initiatives has been brought into the education policies of nation states more forcefully than before. On the other, different concrete forms of internationalisation have been implemented in the contents and structures of education at intensifying pace. These developments take effect on all levels of education, but especially in higher education (Rizvi & Lingard 2010, Dale & Robertson 2007, Ozga & Lingard 2007, Mundy 2007, Ball 2007).

Nation states nevertheless retain (most of) their power in controlling education, and thus, following Green (2006), we should talk about “partial internationalisation” rather than “full-scale globalisation”. Also, education is part of the wider national cultural and political contexts which influence and orient policy-making in education (e.g. Crossley et al. 2007). Thus, it follows that international trends and initiatives do not land into a political vacuum. An important consequence of this is that international policy trends or initiatives are not implemented in a straightforward manner, but they undergo complex national negotiations and policy brokerings before approval and implementation. Their impact is therefore dependent on national political conditions and interests within it. Often international trends and initiatives get mixed up with national ones, resulting in hybridization of international and national elements (Maroy 2009, Ozga & Jones 2006). While certain convergence of policies occurs, path dependency of national policies, which supports the continuity and stability of policy-making, may prevent changes from taking place (Simola, Varjo & Rinne 2010). This opens up opportunities for research: why do particular trends or initiatives get approved and in what form?

An important medium of internationalisation are the international organisations, such as the EU, OECD, BFUG and the like. Since the 1990s, the impact of international organisations on education policies has increased significantly, and a substantial proportion of changes in education policies can be attributed to them. The international organisation that has most remarkably increased its influence in education policy is the European Union (Leuze et al. 2007). The EU has stepped up especially in higher education policy by gaining prominence in the Bologna process (Balzer & Rusconi 2007, Keeling 2006), even to an extent that arguably the agenda of the Bologna process and the EU’s Lisbon strategy converge completely (Lehikoinen 2006). The EU’s influence is restrained in the founding treaty by both the subsidiarity principle and the fact that the competence given to the Union in education is rather narrow. The main sources of power for the EU are the Open Method of Coordination, informational steering and funding. (Blomqvist, 2007).

Finland, a member state of the European Union, has traditionally been interested in international education policies. The OECD’s recommendations are especially taken into account and put into use in Finland, in such extent that Finland has been labelled as a “model pupil” (Kallo 2009, Rinne et al. 2004). There are also indications that the European Union education policies and Finnish education policies go in concert (Naumanen & Rinne 2008). Regarding higher education, Finland has implemented the Bologna reforms mostly successfully (see e.g. Sursock & Smidt 2010, Teichler 2012) and, in the past, pushed for a stronger role for the EU in the process (Lehikoinen 2006). This invokes us to ask further questions in relation to recent developments: what kind of links and concurrences can we find between EU’s higher education policies and Finnish higher education policies?

This article analyses the similarities between the European Union Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education (Council Conclusions on the Modernisation of Higher Education) and the Finnish Development Plan for Education and Research (Education and Research 2011-16. A development plan). Our research question is: in what manner are the European level higher education policy initiatives embedded into Finnish national higher education policy?

Research material
Our primary research material consists of two policy papers: the European Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education and the Finnish Development Plan for Education and Research (Reports of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2012:3). For the Modernisation Agenda we refer to the European Council’s Conclusions (3128th Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council meeting, Brussels, 28th and 29th November 2011). As a supportive material we will use Europe 2020 strategy, the European Commission’s Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education and the Finnish Government Programme (See Appendix 1 for details.).

The Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education is one form of an informational steering used by the EU. It is derived from the Europe 2020 strategy. The Europe 2020 strategy itself is concerned with the advancement of the economy of the European Union, paying special attention to eight flagship initiatives. The Europe 2020 strategy follows the Lisbon strategy and its aim is to make Europe “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”. The Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education is mentioned in the Europe 2020 strategy under the flagship initiative “Youth on the Move”, and it follows-up on the Modernisation Agenda approved in 2006 (see COM (2006) 208 final).

The European Union does not have jurisdiction over education policy, which means that the European Council can only invite and encourage member states to follow the aims and initiatives of the Modernisation Agenda. The main targets of the Modernisation Agenda are to widen access to higher education and to improve the quality and relevance of higher education. The education, youth, culture and sports meeting of the European Council, adopted conclusions on the modernisation of higher education in November 2011. The European Council’s conclusions are agreed upon by the ministers of education of the member states, so they can be seen more obligatory for the member states as compared to the Modernisation Agenda set by the European Commission.

The Finnish Development Plan for Education and Research is based on the Government Programme of the Finnish government. The Government Programme is an action plan negotiated and agreed upon by the parties represented in the Finnish government. It sets out the main functions of the government for its term in the office. Since the economic recession in the 1990s, the governmental programmes have had increased importance as wide-based governments have agreed on the policy-choices in more detail than previously. After elections were held in spring 2011, a six party “rainbow” government was formed. The new government comprised of parties across the political spectrum: from Left Alliance to Coalition Party. Other parties involved in the Government are Social Democrats, the Greens, the Swedish People’s Party and Christian Democrats. The governmental negotiations were difficult, and it took historically a long time for the parties to agree on the Government Programme. Partly due to a lacking mutual ideological background, the Government Programme is even more comprehensive and detailed than before, composed of 79 pages, compared to e.g. a 56 page programme from 2003 to 2007.

The Government Programme of Jyrki Katainen’s government aims at making Finland the most competent nation in the world by 2020. This success is to be measured by various OECD comparisons and data on, for example, the share of people with a higher education degree and the decreasing number of early school-leavers. The implementation of the Government Programme’s objectives for education and research are described in the Development Plan for Education and Research, which is the main instructional government-approved document for the Ministry of Education and Culture regarding education policy.

The Development Plan for Education and Research covers all education from early childhood education to adult education. In addition, research conducted by higher education institutions is covered in the Development Plan. Particular development targets in the plan from 2011 to 2016 are to alleviate poverty, inequality and exclusion, to stabilise the public economy and to foster sustainable economic growth, employment and competitiveness. The development plan will be implemented within the scope determined in the government decision on spending limits. The implementation of the plan will be evaluated in 2015.

In this article, we the European Council’s Conclusions will be compared to Development Plan. Both documents were published at the end of 2011 but because the key contents of the European Council’s Conclusions were mainly known beforehand, the Finnish government has been able to use them during process of drafting the Development Plan. Thus, it is valid for us to make the inference that the Modernisation Agenda could have influenced the national development plan.

Henceforth, we will use the following abbreviations: Council Conclusions (CC) and Development Plan for Education and Research (DP).

According to Ball (1993), a policy is a complex phenomenon and in order to analyse a policy the researcher needs a whole arsenal of analytical devices, a “toolbox” if you will. This article has a much more simplistic view of certain policies and defines them to be specific policy initiatives and ideas put forward by defined actors, namely the European Council and the Finnish government. Thus, we are clearing out, for example, the discursive elements of policy-making (For more sophisticated definition of policy see also Rizvi & Lingard 2010, p. 4-8).

Simplifying a policy into a set of initiatives we can narrow down our methodological choices significantly. We will not use a discourse analysis or (methodical) hermeneutics usually used in policy analysis (Palonen 1988, Ball 1993). Instead, as a method, we will use content analysis (Silverman 2006, Tuomi & Sarajärvi 2009). While doing this, we acknowledge, that selecting initiatives, categorising them and analysing them is indeed an act that involves interpretation (Miles & Huberman 1988). Therefore our analysis can be regarded as partial and as only one possible interpretation, but according to Kari Palonen (1988) this is true of all policy research (see also: Varjo 2007).

We will take as our starting point selected initiatives put forward in the CC in which the European Council invites member states into action. In our analysis we will track down the initiatives put forward in the DP that deal with the same policy issues as the pre-selected initiatives in the CC. Note that there can be several initiatives in the DP corresponding one CC initiative. After collecting all these corresponding statements in the DP, we will compare the initiatives in CC and DP respectively, in order to find similarities in their content. This, we claim, can show how Finland has embedded the European level policies into its national policies.

The CC has 18 initiatives in total, of which we selected three for our analysis. Our choices were based in part on our judgment of the political importance of the initiatives, and in part on their theoretical attractiveness as examples, when it comes to our theoretical understanding outlined in the introductory section of this article. Thus, from the CC, we selected the initiatives number 1, number 11 and number 18 for our analysis.

The first initiative set by the Council of the European Union for the member states in the CC is to:

1. Step up efforts to increase higher education attainment levels to achieve the Europe 2020 education headline target of 40 per cent of 30-34 year olds in the EU having completed tertiary or equivalent education, given the estimate that - by 2020 – 35 per cent of all jobs in the EU will require high-level qualifications.

When investigating the DP, one corresponding initiative was found. The first aim of the DP is:

1. Objectives regarding the level of education: The aims set for the education supply and other measures raising the level of education presented below are estimated to bring about the following results (Percentage of higher education graduates in 2020 on 30-year-olds 42%).

We can find a strong similarity between these two initiatives. Both the European Council and Finnish government are aiming to increase participation in higher education, even aiming at roughly the same number. The target set by the Europe 2020 strategy for higher education graduates is 40 per cent while Finland aims have 42 per cent of thirty year olds acquiring a higher education degree.

The similarity is explainable due to the fact that this initiative found in the CC is one of the main aims put forward in the Europe 2020 strategy, one of the so-called headline targets. This aim is thus pushed forward into member states’ policies through several EU steering channels, and it was agreed upon by the member states and the EU as part of the national reform programmes linked to the EU2020 strategy (see: EU2020 -Strategy. Finland’s National Programme). The exact target percentage has been negotiated between the national government and the EU, taking into account the current situation. Thus, the initiative had been agreed upon already previously, and the DP only consolidated this. Furthermore, the Finnish governmental programme’s aim to make Finland the most competent nation by 2020, is in line with this CC initiative.

Accordingly, we can conclude that the European steering has influenced the national policy-making, but this influence goes further back in history, not just to the connection between the CC and DP. The CC initiative also represents one of the headline targets of the EU, therefore carrying a significant political importance. It is also noteworthy, that in this case the policy steering is taking place also through economic policy and the ministry of finance.

The second CC’s initiative we took into our analysis was number eleven, according to which the Council invites member states to

11. Stimulate the development of entrepreneurial, creative and innovation skills in all disciplines and in all cycles, and promote innovation in higher education through more interactive learning environments and a strengthened knowledge-transfer infrastructure.

We found two entries from the DP that resemble these aims:

25. Measures will be taken at all levels to increase education on the rights and duties of the citizen, the employee and the entrepreneur.


113. Measures will be taken to improve conditions for basic research in universities and for innovation and product development in polytechnics in particular. Universities and polytechnics will increase research cooperation which supports their own profiles.

Unlike from the case of the initiatives number 1, we cannot find direct absorption of the initiative number 11 in the DP. But there is a certain resemblance between the DP initiatives and the CC initiative.

Especially the aim of promoting innovation in higher education is clearly considered important in the DP. It is noteworthy here, that while the Finnish higher education system is composed of research universities and polytechnics (also known as the universities of applied sciences) – the dual-model –, the measures for the improvement of innovation practices are set only for the polytechnic sector. The reason for this might be the clarification of the roles of different higher education sectors in the research infrastructure and in the innovation system in general. It is customary in Finnish higher education politics to consider research universities as responsible for basic research and the polytechnics responsible for regional development and innovation. Still, the role of the polytechnics in research and innovation system of Finland is still somewhat unclear after twenty years of history, and there is not clearly allocated funding for research, development and innovation operations of polytechnics. Currently, the polytechnic sector is going under a reform that will give them more autonomy and also state funding for actions in research, development and innovation. The university sector had its own reform in 2009 so there are no national pressures for major changes at this time.

The CC initiative on strengthening the knowledge-transfer infrastructure is quite similar with the DP initiative number 113 on increasing research and development cooperation between universities and polytechnics. The DP initiative emphasises the Finnish dual-model of the higher education system in that the research and development cooperation is designed to support the individual profiles of part-taking higher education institutions.

Another interesting point is aim number 25, according to which “measures will be taken at all levels to increase education on the rights and duties of the citizen, the employee and the entrepreneur.” This initiative does not state the need for development of entrepreneurial skills in as straightforward manner as in the CC. The initiative is made broader by including an aim to increase individual’s knowledge on working life in general. And what is more, it includes a dimension of citizenship, presented as a dimension of equal importance alongside the social statuses of employees and entrepreneurs. Our interpretation is that this DP initiative is maybe the most obvious example of the influence of the “rainbow” government that has six different parties without a common ideological background. The CC initiative is translated to national initiative by adding the citizenship and employee dimension, which in Finland are traditionally important to the left-wing parties. The DP initiative might have been more similar to CC initiative without the Left Alliance and Social Democrats in the government.

Thus, by comparing these initiatives we note that the CC initiative has not penetrated the national policy debate in its original form, but it has transformed. This transformation can be explained by three main arguments: First, the structure of the Finnish higher education system, namely the dual-model, directs the application of the CC initiative in the DP policy. Second, an explaining factor is the structure of the government, and the third, is the national policy environment, in which entrepreneur and employee are considered to be of equal importance as models of behaviour. Overall, therefore, the national policy context transforms the CC initiative, before some of its content is embedded into national policy.

The third initiative we chose from the CC is number 18, according to which the European Council invites member states to:

18. Facilitate access to alternative sources of funding, including - where appropriate - by using public funds to leverage private and other public investment.

Two entries can be found in the DP that resemble this initiative:

106. With a view to securing the prerequisites of the structurally reformed higher education system:
- The Government is prepared to make discretionary financial investments in universities on the basis of the quality and impact of university operations.
- Preparations will be made for strengthening the prerequisites of the reformed polytechnics by means of financial investment with a view to the vitality, competitiveness and welfare of the regions.
- Private persons’ donations to higher education institutions will continue to be deductible in taxation.


117. Polytechnics will create closer contacts between education, research development and innovation and the world of work and diversify their funding base by making more efficient use of funding allocated by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES).

We can find certain similarities between the CC initiatives and the DP initiatives. Alternative funding is interpreted here to mean other sources than direct core funding that the Ministry of Education allocates to higher education institutions. TEKES, even though being a public agency and under public finance, is considered to be an alternative source. The other external funding specified is the private persons’ charity donations. TEKES funding may be interpreted here as concurrent with the CC initiative, as TEKES funding can be seen as leverage to increase private (corporate) funding.

The remarkable difference here is, that while the European Commission’s communication specifically mentions tuition fees as an option for alternative funding sources, the CC (p. 6) states that “public investment, supported by additional sources of funding, should remain the basis for sustainable higher education”. This does not directly refer to tuition fees anymore, but it does allow one to interpret that fees can be an option. Also, the DP does not refer to any kind of tuition fees. It is noteworthy though that the DP does not deny tuition fees either, despite the fact that the Finnish Government Programme does. If we bear in mind, that the DP is the operationalisation of the Government Programme, we could infer that implicitly the DP turns down tuition fees.

The possible explanation of these differences is, that education is seen as a public good in Finland, which should be funded by the state. In general, tuition fees are seen unfair and harmful to the equality of the education system. Equality has been the core value of Finnish education system at least since the 1960s (e.g. Lampinen 2000), and despite the claims of its eroding relevance, it still stands strong (see e.g. the general part of the DP).

Thus, when comparing the CC initiative and the DP initiatives, we see that the CC initiative has been transformed into a form which has no traces of tuition fees. Even if the European Commission’s original intention is not approved of, the CC initiative is still not neglected altogether either. We could say, thus, that the CC initiative has been interpreted to fit the national context and there has been a rejection of some aspects or interpretation possibilities of the CC initiative.

To sum up this analysis of those initiatives, it seems quite clear that implementation of the CC by Finnish government varies and is adjusted to a national context. In the first case we found strong similarity between the CC and the DP initiatives, which can be explained by the Finnish governmental programme on the one hand and the EU economic policy steering on the other. The first CC initiative is also easy to adopt because of a strong national consensus on the importance of higher education.

In the second case we could see that the CC initiative was not implemented in a straightforward manner, but on one hand it was interpreted according to the parties represented in the government, and on the other, the implementation was configured according to the structure of the Finnish higher education institution system (the dual-model). This was a clear example of effect of the national context.

In the third case, there has been a rejection of some aspects of the CC initiative. Once again, it has been implemented in a Finnish way according to national context and a long tradition for education as a public good with regards to bringing alternative funding sources without introducing tuition fees.

The research question outlined in the introduction was: in what manner are the European level higher education policy initiatives embedded into Finnish national higher education policy? The broader question concerned why particular trends or initiatives do get approved and in what form?

We have seen that the EU policy initiatives and the national policy initiatives do have resemblances. We have also seen that the EU initiatives are not always accepted in a straightforward manner, but they undergo a national interpretation, through which the national context and political interests effect on what passes and what is turned down. Some factors that could be identified are: the structure of the education system, the principles present in the national policies, and the parties represented in the national government. Our findings thus confirm the importance of the national, institutional and political context.

On the other hand, we could recognise that the Europe 2020 headline target that was negotiated through the Ministry of Finance, has been implemented without national reformulation. This evokes us to ask whether the EU is strengthening its role in education policy through strengthening its influence in national economic policies. This is an especially crucial question nowadays when the strengthening European economic policy coordination is underway a possible solution to the financial crisis. The moral question here is whether EU is exceeding its mandate in education through economic policy. On theoretical level, this would be interesting in the sense that in international education policy research it has been noted that the roles of the ministries of finance have been increasing in national education policies. Our conclusion is that more research on this is needed, especially on the European level.

As a policy recommendation, we can suggest that the EU should ground its action in education policy according to its mandate granted in the founding treaty: facilitating cooperation and enhancing the European dimension in education. It should stop, for example, promoting tuition fees or cost-sharing, as funding of education is clearly a national mandate. The rationale for this recommendation is that it is futile for the EU to lobby for fees, as national governments hold fast to the national priorities, and respect the national contexts and principles. The EU should not do work deemed futile already in advance, as they should use their reducing resources to something productive, such as promoting mobility.

The authors would like to thank Pauliina Savola for proof-reading this article.

Jarmo Kallunki, jarmo.kallunki at syl.fi
Mikko Vieltojärvi, mikko.vieltojarvi at samok.fi


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Appendix: Research material

1.) European documents

EU2020 strategy: Europe 2020. A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Communication from the Commission. COM (2010) 2020. Brussels, 3.3.2010.
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2010:2020:FIN:EN:PDF(external link)

Modernisation agenda: Communication from the Commission to the European parliament, the council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions. Supporting growth and jobs - an agenda for the modernisation of Europe’s higher education systems. COM (2011) 567 final. Brussels, 20.9.2011.
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2011:0567:FIN:EN:PDF(external link)

Council Conclusions: Council conclusions on the modernisation of higher education. 3128th Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council meeting, Brussels, 28th and 29th November 2011.
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/educ/126375.pdf(external link)

2.) National documents:

The Government Programme: Programme of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen’s Government 22. June 2011. http://valtioneuvosto.fi/hallitus/hallitusohjelma/pdf/en334743.pdf(external link)

The Development Plan: Education and Research 2011 - 2016. A development plan. Reports of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2012:3. http://www.minedu.fi/export/sites/default/OPM/Julkaisut/2012/liitteet/okm03.pdf(external link)

Europe 2020 -Strategy. Finland’s National Programme, Spring 2011. Ministry of finance 14c/2011.
http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/economic_governance/sgp/pdf/20_scps/2011/01_programme/fi_2011-04-06_nrp_en.pdf(external link)

Suvi Eriksson, Educational Officer, The National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL)
Pauliina Savola, Adviser, International Affairs, Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences – SAMOK
Veli-Matti Taskila, Adviser, Teaching and Guidance, Union of Students in Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences – SAMOK

Youth guarantee in Finland - background, measures and further considerations

Young people are those who are most at risk at the European labour market and increasingly run the risk of being marginalised. The labour market crisis can have a negative effect for a large part of the entire generation of youth, damaging employment, productivity and social cohesion, both now and in the future across Europe.

“The youth unemployment rate has reached more than 25 per cent in 13 Member States, with Greece and Spain experiencing rates of over 55 per cent and Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary and Slovakia with rates around or above 30 per cent. More than 30 per cent of unemployed people under 25 have been unemployed for more than 12 months – 1.6 million in 2011, compared to 0.9 million in 2008. Overall employment rates for young people fell by almost five percentage points over the last four years — three times as much as for adults. The chances for a young unemployed person of finding a job are low: only 29.7 per cent of those aged 15-24 and unemployed in 2010 found a job in 2011, a fall of almost 10 per cent in three years.”(European Commission 5.12.2012)

According to the Finnish Labour Force Survey the average unemployment rate of 15 to 24-year-olds was 25 per cent of youth at a working age in 2009. There is, however, a considerable regional variation in youth unemployment, as the unemployment rate is the lowest in the Uusimaa region around the capital, Helsinki, and the highest in Northern Ostrobothnia area.

At the present in Finland, there are approximately 110.000 young people aged 20 to 29 who do not have a post-basic qualification. One third of those who start their studies in vocational training quit prematurely. The lack of a secondary education qualification is the single most significant factor behind exclusion from the labour market and society. It is concerning that as many as 3.000 children are at risk of exclusion yearly, according to the Finnish Society for Social and Health (SOSTE).

“The number of socially excluded young people without an upper secondary education qualification is approximately 40.000. Of these, the number of “lost ones” missing from the statistics is around 25.000. These young people form the so-called “hard core” of marginalised young people, because they do not participate in education or working life, and are not even registered as jobseekers.”
(Final Report of the Youth Guarantee Working Group, 2012)

Welfare problems have a tendency to accumulate, and parents’ problems are closely connected to the future well-being and mental health problems of children. This is based on the outcome of a study which observed all 60.000 children born in Finland in 1987 (Academy of Finland: Responding to Public Health Challenges (SALVE) -programme, 2008). Children born that year grew up during a massive economic recession in the 1990s when many families faced unemployment and financial difficulties and some serious reductions were made to the preventative work done in the municipalities. It is very alarming that among those taking part in the study, 40 per cent have experienced mental health problems, and one in five received specialised psychiatric healthcare or medication for mental health problems before the age of 21.

Previous policies
The government is now actually proposing to improve the previous Youth Guarantee that has received lately such positive attention, even at the European level. The scope of these policies has been narrower than what is now proposed. The aim has been the same - to make young peoples’ transfer into education or working life faster, make their unemployment periods shorter and to prevent social exclusion with early intervention. One of the key elements is that all young unemployed get an employment plan in the first two weeks of unemployment and that the young are in active measures during the first three months. The guarantee includes all 25-year-olds who have registered as being unemployed.

There is also another policy that has been in place since the mid-90s in order to facilitate a faster transition of youth to the labour market or education. Unemployed persons between the ages of 18 and 24 have to apply for work or training offered by the employment office and they have to apply for suitable vocational training (at upper secondary vocational institutions or universities of applied sciences). Only after these conditions are met, they are eligible for Labour Market Subsidy also between labour market measures. This policy has received much criticism as only half of the higher education institutions (universities of applied sciences) have been among those institutions to which applying has been seen as giving the eligibility to receive the Labour Market Subsidy. It has been seen that those applying only in order to receive the subsidy have been steered into wrong study paths. Some have been also of the opinion that the young people that are forced to study are more prone to drop out.

As a part of the implementation of the Government Programme and the Youth Guarantee, the policy regarding the Labour Market Subsidy has been revised according to findings in a recent study conducted by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and the Ministry of Education and Culture. In practice this means that by applying to universities the applicants will also qualify to receive the Labour Market Subsidy. The policy changes were introduced into the legislation on January 1, 2013.

Youth Guarantee
As a part of the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, the Member States have set their own national targets as according to the points addressed in the strategy. Finland’s national targets are the raising of the employment rate of 20–64 year-olds to 78 per cent, maintaining R&D spending at a minimum of 4 per cent of GDP, reaching the climate and energy targets agreed in the EU, raising the proportion of 30–34 year-olds with tertiary-level education to 42 per cent, keeping the proportion of 18–24 year-old early school leavers below 8 per cent, and reducing the number of people living at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
(Europe 2020 -Strategy Finland’s National Programme 2012)

The Youth Guarantee, while being an independent measure, attempts to address three of these goals: the employment rate, early school leavers and reducing the number of people living at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The Youth Guarantee is based on two documents, the Government Programme and the Development Plan for Education and Research.

The Government Programme is an action plan agreed on by the parties represented in the Finnish government and it sets out the main functions of the government for their four-year term in the office. Policy priorities in the field of education are outlined in the government’s five-year Development Plan for Education and Research. The Development Plan for the period from 2011 to 2016 was adopted at the end of 2011.

These two policy papers spell out the Youth Guarantee as follows:

“In order to combat youth unemployment, inequality, and social exclusion, each young person will be provided with a workplace or a place in education, rehabilitation or apprenticeship training. Outreach youth work will be promoted. Preventive substance abuse work as part of youth work will be supported. Workshop activities for young people will be further developed.” (Programme of the Finnish Government, 22 June 2011)

“A social guarantee for young people will be implemented so that each young person under 25 and recently graduated people under 30 will be offered a job, on-the-job training, a study place, or a period in a workshop or rehabilitation within three months of becoming unemployed. The Government will launch a joint project between the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health for the purpose of preparing and implementing the necessary measures for introduction of the social guarantee by 2013. A separate working group led by the three ministries will be set up for the project, along with representation from the working life parties, municipalities and other key actors.

Labour market and apprenticeship training for young people will be increased. New measures for enhancing the engagement of young people in working life by combining work and training will be investigated. Operating models of vocational education supporting the achievement of this goal and rapid employment will be promoted. The opportunities of SMEs to hire young people as apprentices will be improved. The outreach activity of youth work will be expanded to cover the whole country, and workshop activities for young people will be further developed.

Ground rules for the use of unpaid on-the-job training in employment services will be created in collaboration with labour organisations.”
(Programme of the Finnish Government, 22 June 2011)

62. One of the key criteria for the size and regional targeting of intakes will be the realisation of the educational guarantee as part of the social guarantee.

63. The principles in admission to initial vocational education and training will be revised to give priority to school-leavers and unqualified persons in admission to upper secondary education and training. The aim is that the revised admission principles will be adopted in 2013 at the same time with the adoption of the electronic application system.
Separate admission quotas will be approved for students changing educational institutions, and persons with qualifications will be primarily guided to education tracks geared to adults, such as competence-based qualifications.

64. The local authorities will monitor young people’s placement and see to it that young people without study places will get the information, advice and guidance they need.”

(Development Plan for Education and Research 2011–2016)

Demonstrably, these documents give quite detailed guidelines on how to implement the Youth Guarantee. There are subsidies for companies for hiring young people, additional guidance for those who have not landed a job or a study place, and there are new possibilities in combining work and study as well as modified admission criteria to upper secondary education and training.

Project implementation and outcomes
The joint project based on the Government Programme was launched on 1 September 2011 with appointment of the working group. In the working group are represented all the relevant ministries, all the parties of the labour market, local and regional authorities, the Finnish Youth Cooperation - Allianssi, Finnish enterprises and the Social Insurance Institute of Finland. The working group has met several times over the course of its mandate and it also organised an expert seminar on the topic.

The report of the working group was published on 15 March 2012. The report included several propositions that are going to be introduced into legislation on 1 January 2013. The propositions include:
● more study places within vocational education;
● reforming student admissions;
● municipalities giving guidance for young people completing their basic education;
● more language training for young immigrants;
● an employment plan for every registered unemployed youth;
● developing the ways in which the employment offices offer guidance to young people;
● special support for young immigrants;
● more entrepreneurship for young people;
● alleviating changes for the obligation of application for education or training;
● and developing the cooperation between schools, municipalities and employment offices works better when trying to reach young people at grave risk of social exclusion.

In addition to these measures, the working group proposed a skills programme for young adults with no qualifications after basic education. This programme would include people under the age of thirty.

The working group will continue its work until the end of the term of the Finnish government. During the autumn of 2012, a Youth Guarantee Tour was organised with the aim at making it more widely known throughout the country. In addition, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labour was planning to introduce new measures in the spring 2013 in order to improve apprenticeship training for young people.

In general terms, the Youth Guarantee is a positive approach attempting to ensure that no one will fall through the systems of education and work. The Finnish Youth Guarantee has in fact set an example for European-wide measures proposed by the European Commission. The European Commission, among others, has stated that: “The comprehensive Youth Guarantee designed by Finland is a good example of this. A first evaluation recently published by Eurofound shows that 83,5 per cent of young job seekers received a successful intervention within three months of registering as unemployed in 2011. The Finnish youth guarantee notably accelerated the pace at which personalised plans were drawn up, and had resulted in a reduction in unemployment (leading either to employment or further training)” (European Commission Press Release, 5 December, 2012). The proposal published by the Commission on the 5 December, 2012, more or less echoes the Finnish model of the youth guarantee. The European Commission’s proposal urges all Member States to ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 receive a quality job offer, education or internship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.

While a role model for further actions Europe-wide, there are shortcomings and contradictions in the proposal. SAMOK and SYL are concerned about the fact that despite good intentions, the Finnish program is allocated only 60 million euro in the state budget. While a good start, it is already clear that the successful implementation of this guarantee requires more funds, for example to expand the nationwide outreach work for the young people as well as families and other preventative work. This is a significant question to be addressed because of the accumulative nature of marginalisation and exclusion. At the moment, the 60 million euros are directed at reparative work rather than preventative measures which in SAMOK’s and SYL’s opinions should be more substantially addressed in the Youth Guarantee.

It is imperative that political initiatives are backed up with financial commitments. The government of Finland has on many occasions reiterated its commitment to preventative measures to prevent marginalisation and social exclusion of youth. At the same time, there are significant cuts in the higher education sector: the universities of applied sciences are facing about 150 million by the year 2015 and universities 75 million euro in cuts. For instance, universities of applied sciences are facing a cut of 2200 study places. It is to some extent a necessary measure, as there are definitely some degree programs from which the graduates are going straight to the unemployment office due to lack of jobs in that field. In addition to cuts in higher education, vocational education is facing severe cuts as well with at least 67 million euro cuts from vocational education and 21 million euro from apprenticeships. Furthermore, the Government plans on cutting 3000 study places in vocational institutions while at the same time intending to implement the youth guarantee. The Finnish government has attempted to justify this rationale with the statistic that the upcoming cohort will be about 8000 people smaller than that preceding it.

In addition, promises made in the parliamentary elections of 2011, are yet to be upheld. The student organisations, SAMOK and SYL, campaigned for the student grant system to be bound to the consumer price index like other social subsidies and the fulfilment of this promise has been pushed back to 2014 in the current Government Programme. The cost of this would have been approximately 17,6 million euros - in the grand scheme of things, a miniscule amount. Sufficient funding of studies as well as sufficient social and financial support for studies would be an essential indicator of the gravity of concern that the government gives to the youth and student issues.

Furthermore, while preparing the programme, the sole youth representative of the working group, set by the Ministry for Employment and Economy, was the umbrella organisation of youth organisations in Finland, the Youth Cooperation Allianssi. Considering that the target group is youth, the voice of the youth should have been taken into more consideration by more than just one representative - the rest of the working group members were representatives of ministries, trade unions and so forth. The work Allianssi put behind this representation is, however, laudable: it organised its own working group for the member unions, a wide array for organisations representing among others, politically non-aligned student organisations (such as SAMOK and SYL), youth work, political youth and student organisations and so forth.

The upcoming mid-term review of the Government Programme in February 2013 is yet another point of concern. Possibly facing massive cuts in all sectors, including, again education, and the will of the government in upholding its promises on the primacy of preventative measures, promotion of equality and youth will face yet another test.

As a conclusion, the youth guarantee, set to address issues equality and inclusion of youth in the society, still requires further financial commitments to make this proposal a sufficient reality.

Further reading and sources:

Government Programme:
http://valtioneuvosto.fi/hallitus/hallitusohjelma/pdf/en334743.pdf(external link) (pp. 61- 62, 78)
Development Plan for Education and Research 2011-2016: http://www.minedu.fi/export/sites/default/OPM/Julkaisut/2012/liitteet/okm03.pdf?lang=fi(external link)
Europe 2020 -Strategy Finland’s National Programme 2012:
http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/pdf/nd/nrp2012_finland_en.pdf(external link)
Final Report of the Youth Guarantee Working Group:
http://www.nuorisotakuu.fi/files/34921/Final_report.pdf(external link)
Changes brought about by the Youth Guarantee as of 1 January 2013:
http://www.nuorisotakuu.fi/files/34864/Nuorisotakuun_tuomat_muutokset_1_enrev.pdf(external link)
European Commission Press Release from Dec 5, 2012:
http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1311_en.htm(external link)