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Finnish vocational students struggling to survive after budget cuts

Friday 20-05-2016 - 10:12

Musa Jallow, President of the Finnish Vocational Education Students’ Union SAKKI, tells us how government cutbacks are affecting the vocational students they represent.

The National Union of Vocational Students in Finland - SAKKI is at the forefront of the battle against austerity and cuts to vocational education. After the Finnish parliamentary election in March 2015, the newly-elected center-right wing government decided to deepen the budget cuts that the outgoing administration had already put into effect. Finland is going through a difficult recession that has been exasperated by the government's policy of austerity. Once a shining example of public education, the current cuts to Finland’s education budget will leave a generation of students to fend for themselves.

Vocational education is undergoing a dramatic attack with an estimated 25 per cent decrease in government funding, totaling in excess of 400 million euros between 2013-2018. Basically this means that in the next two years VET school providers are having their budgets gutted which includes but is not limited to the following: teachers being laid off by the hundreds, VET colleges shutting down especially in rural areas and decreasing the amount of available student places across the board. The impact of these cuts will be felt most of all by those students that are precisely most at risk of dropping out and becoming marginalized in society.

Our new Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen has proposed that we improve the connection between working life and VET by cutting back on the public resources given to colleges and send students to train at workplaces instead. Students currently spend from 6-12 months out of 3-year degree training in workplaces. SAKKI is afraid that the government’s drive to push students to get more of their vocational training from employers will increase the chances of students being mistreated at the workplace and also decreases students’ chances to continue their education beyond the VET level.

There are certainly a number of things that need to be improved in the Finnish VET system. However, the idea that the funding for the system can be simultaneously cut to the bone and made more cost-effective is ludicrous. SAKKI is fighting an ongoing battle against those that would like to see VET students made into a source of unpaid labor, with no chance for social mobility through continuing education.

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