Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finland: Best education system doesn't guarantee foreign students employment

Education is the cornerstone of development and any country that wishes to compete in a globalized world invests in education. Finland, a relatively obscure developed country in northern Europe, seems to understand the importance of quality education and is doing a better job than its Nordic and other western counterparts to improve its educational quality and output. On 27 November 2012, I was glad to learn that Finland's education system is ranked best in the developed world, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. The UK comes in sixth (6) while the US occupies the seventeenth (17) position. I instinctively shared the good news on my Facebook page and included congratulatory words for Finland: "Onnea Suomi". But I am under no illusion that the best education system guarantees foreign students relevant employment or jobs that match their education upon graduation in the Nordic country.

According to a 2012 report written by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, entitled The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education, Finland has the best educational system. The Nordic country ranks highest on a comparative Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment with a score of 1.26, while Indonesia tails the list with a score of -2.03. Results on the Index are based on inculcation of cognitive skills (mathematics, science and reading) and educational attainment (literacy and graduation rates) in 39 countries and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. 

Having the best schools in the world, as reported by Yle is certainly good news for Finland and thousands of people studying in Finnish schools. However, being a top dog in education is not enough. Graduates from the best schools and universities should be able to find relevant jobs after graduation. In Finland, all education and training leading to a degree is free of charge, although adult education institutions can charge a fee. Gender equality in higher education is relatively good - with more than half of all students entering universities and completing Mater's degrees being women. However, after completing degree programmes, the academic career of women in Finland becomes more difficult. According to a paper published by Centre for International Mobility (CIMO), titled Advanced and Unusual: Finland as seen by International Students and Trainees (see page 11) women are highly segregated in some job sectors. The same is true for international or foreign students - who are segregated in almost all sectors upon graduation.

Finland might have the best educational system in the world, but after graduating from universities some groups, including women and foreign students in international degree programmes, hit a virtual brick wall in the job market.

Numerous graduates from Finland's international degree programmes offered in English find themselves working as cleaners and dishwashers in Helsinki and other towns - long after graduation from some of Finland's most prestigious institutions of higher learning - due to difficulties finding jobs that match their academic skills. Some university graduates, for instance, end up working as contracted dishwashers in restaurants in some schools and universities. Others find themselves cleaning floors in child day care facilities, offices, cruise ships, construction sites and private houses. It is worth highlighting that foreign or international degree students are highly represented in this disadvantaged category of job seekers with degrees from Finnish universities and universities of Applied Sciences.

Some people argue that the plight of foreign graduates is largely due to language barrier. Many foreign students study in English and have little or no Finnish language skills, hence cannot compete with their Finnish counterparts in the labour market. This is a common argument put forward in an attempt to justify the low level of employment among university graduates with foreign backgrounds resident in Finland. However, those who blame towering unemployment on language seem to be unaware that even Finnish language proficiency does not guarantee foreigners employment - especially non-Europeans.

For many foreign students, limitations in the Finnish job market diminish the worth of Finland's top-notch education. A fancy degree issued by a highly rated Finnish university is not worth much in the labour market for many international graduates job-hunting in Finland. For many, leaving Finland upon graduation becomes the best option. It is mind-boggling why a country would invest so much in international Master's programmes and let its graduates languish in underemployment (working jobs that do not require high education) and forced to flee -  in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

The Pearson report puts Finland's educational system on the map and is bound to pique the interest of students around the world, and perhaps attract more international students seeking quality education. What the report does not reveal is that for foreign degree holders from Finnish universities, chances of finding relevant work in Finland after graduation are slim. It is very important for prospective international students to know this, especially those dreaming of finding relevant work after graduation. Helsingin Sanomat reported on 8 June 2009 that in spite of education, immigrants are not easily employed.

A survey in which 23 Finnish universities and universities of Applied Sciences participated revealed that 89 per cent of international students are "generally happy or very happy" with their Finnish institution and study in Finland. 83.9 per cent of the respondents would recommend their university or Finland as a destination for studies. According to the survey, students are concerned about finding a job after graduation. The survey shows that students seek not only a degree in Finland - many will like to find jobs after graduation.

According to Statistics Finland, 28,500 university degrees were obtained in Finland in 2011, 2 per cent less than in 2010. Of the degrees obtained in 2011, foreign students obtained 1,400 degrees and women accounted for 60 per cent of all degrees.

The unemployment rate among foreign residents in Finland hit 25.9 per cent in late 2009 - more than double that of the native-born population.

*Photo: United Education.


  1. The Pearson study isn't about foreign student's and their possibilities of getting a degree relevant job after graduation, hence it doesn't have to address that issue nor it should.
    It's like me complaining that your blog text doesn't really address the issue of curing the famine in africa, since you all come here to study and want to stay here after your studies instead of helping your country of origins...

    1. Firstly, you're anonymous. That's the kind of cowardice expected from someone with such a narrow-minded and somewhat xenophobic argument. I guess you know your argument doesn't hold water, that's why you distance yourself from it. Bear in mind that I don't engage folks who lack courage to identify themselves. Secondly, Africa isn't a country. It would be stupid for me to say there's a high rate of suicide, alcoholism and domestic violence in Europe - when I intend to talk about the state of affairs Finland. Thirdly, you don't know what people are doing to help their countries, hence common sense suggests that you should not jump into baseless conclusions. This blog post is intended for prospective international students who'd be attracted by Finland's reported high standard education system. Finally, people have the right to choose where they would like to make a living in this globalized world. Get used to it.

  2. Great read. As a prospective Asian student who intents to come to Finland this year for master studies, the facts presented here really bothers me. As you yourself stated, it is mind-boggling as to why a country would invest so much in eduction but then have its graduates leave and serve other economies.
    Do you, in your opinion, see this trend changing to a more foreigner-friendly job environment, or do you feel that it is going to be even more difficult for international students in the future? (I have an option to study in Germany as well, but was attracted by Finland's great education scene. But I guess it might be a safer bet to go to Germany instead).

  3. Aren't Finland doing enough for students of the third world by offering a free education? Students are paying 12000 Euros a year to study in the UK and they aren't given a guarantee of staying there and why should they? Is it not up to a nation to pick and choose who they want to stay based on need? You need the language skills wherever you go and live, your Finnish isn't good enough to compete with a native speaker? As much as that sucks, that is life.

  4. This post really relates to my current situation. I got my master's degree from one of the best Universities of Finland and I am also doing odd jobs. ( One may say why do u have to live here, why don't you go back to your country? My problem is My husband is doing his Phd here, and I don't prefer to stay away from him for 4 years), but sadly what the blog says is 100% true. In Finland not knowing the language is just an excuse, because I have friends who are very good with the language and still working odd jobs. Come to Finland, get the degree and leave the country. That is the best option if one wants to get a job that relates to their academic qualifications.

  5. Hi. I'm in the same situation with Bimala (except for the husband 😊)
    Anyway, this blog post reflects the odd reality of studying in Finland. There is the contradiction that I still don't get: they want foreign students to come and experience the great educational system and make good advertising for Finland abroad but after graduation their attempts at getting a job is thwarted due for several reasons (mostly the Finnish language). Isn't this contradiction hurting the Finnish system?
    Why they cannot focus on the problem of the high unemployment rate among immigrants instead of bragging about their perfect paradise (welfare system) or great education?
    Also the xenophobic attitude of employers should be challenged. Finland is an isolated land and needs foreigners to develop. .But they all leave after they're done studying.


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