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A proposal for a Finnish Universities Act, which is to increase the autonomy of institutions by changing their legal status, financial autonomy and governance structure, is being discussed among stakeholders and will be put to the vote of Parliament during spring 2009. If accepted, the new law will be effective from the beginning of 2010 and will replace the previous law which dates back to 1997.
The law proposal introduces several important changes to the organisation of Finnish higher education. Of these, perhaps the most visible and debated one is a pilot phase of 4 years during which universities may, if they wish, charge tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students at master's level programmes. Universities can set the fees themselves under the condition that scholarships are provided, though a 2006 working group proposal suggested a fee range of EUR 3 500 and EUR 12 000. In addition to fees, universities will be able to own property, engage in business activities and receive donations (which are for the first couple of years exempted from tax). At the same time the state guarantees its basic funding, which is not reduced by external funding acquired by the institution.
In terms of governance, universities become independent legal personalities - either public corporations or foundation. Also the management and decision-making processes will undergo a reform. This change has several consequences of which the most palpable is related to the recruitment of staff, which will be employed by the universities themselves, rather than by the state. The changes are expected to enable universities to react faster to the changes and demands of the global higher education scene, to diversify their funding sources and to improve research performance and attractiveness.