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Finland – actions for improving educational and employment opportunities of immigrants

In Finland, a Steering Group appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture has been exploring for the past few months immediate actions that could be taken in the fields of education, culture, sport and youth work to address the recent refugee crisis. In 2015, Finland received a total of 32 400 asylum seekers, most of them coming from Iraq, Somalia, Albania, Afghanistan and Syria.

This expert group, involving amongst other prominent entities ACA’s member organisation – CIMO, recently submitted its proposals to the Minister of Education and Culture, Sanni Grahn-Laasonen. Although this set of suggestions for action is a response to the recent increase in the number of asylum-seekers entering Finland, the measures are aimed at serving better the educational needs of immigrants in general. According to a very recent survey published by the Ministry of Education and looking at the educational background of asylum-seekers who have recently entered the country, 27% of them have taken either a full higher education degree or part of a higher education degree (mostly Bachelor-level education) before entering Finland.

Some of the most prominent actions proposed include:

  • Providing guidance for young people who experienced trauma and crisis – further training should be organised for teaching and student health staff, the National Board of Education being advised to prepare support material on student welfare services and safety in the educational establishments.
  • Streamlining the pathways to access integration programs and education, eliminating irrelevant studies, and lowering barriers to access integration programs that should reduce time gaps until the entry into education institutions.
  • Directing immigrants who have completed vocational or higher education studies without delay to continuing education that fits their individual needs.
  • Integrating immigrant students into normal teaching groups quickly, and ensuring that their education and training incorporates language studies, knowledge on Finnish society, labour market and educational opportunities, and differentiate between target groups.
  • Creating a new learning agreement model to provide a flexible way to obtain a vocational qualification or parts of it. 
  • Designing actions to prevent cultural conflicts, including allocating a key role to pupil and student associations, and enhancing opportunities for immigrant students to participate in the activities of educational institutions.

Concerning the action proposals in the field of higher education, the most visible measure until now seems to be the decision of the Minister of education to fund two pilot projects at national level with the aim of providing coordinated guidance and counselling as well as support in recognition of prior learning for students with immigrant background. The aim is also to develop working methods and a national model that could at a later stage be applied at other higher education institutions as well. The coordinators of the two projects are the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the University of Jyväskylä respectively.

Regarding the potential financial support of these measures, for 2016 the Ministry has budgeted approx. EUR 100 million for the education and training of immigrants, of which EUR 75.6 million for preparatory instruction for basic education.

Ministry of Education, Finland