Why would you ever leave Finland?

Posted on June 9th, 2011 by Evguenia Usoskina in Life in Oulu, Science & Education

About 20% of IB (International Baccalaureate) graduates decide to go to a university abroad rather than stay in Finland. Is there something particularly wrong with the Finnish education system? Evguenia Usoskina finds out.

The proportion of the graduates going abroad has been increasing over the years, Pirkko Viro, the IB Diploma coordinator explains. Of course, one must keep in mind that the IB high school is not the same as a usual Finnish one – it’s taught in English, the subject selection is different, and the grading schemes bear little similarities to a regular “lukio”. But one of the first things you notice is that thepercentage of IB-ers going abroad is larger than that of Finnish high school graduates. ” The percentage in the national side is definitely not zero, but it’s lower”, Pirkko says.

One of the proudest moments for Finnish education happened in 2006 when, according to OECD-PISA ( Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Programme for International Assessment) tests, 15-year old Finnish students outperformed the rest of the world, especially in solving Maths problems and reading. Moreover, not only are Finnish universities free for Finns, the state also provides a wide range of financial support. The government helps one to pay one’s rent, gives a relatively generous amount of money every month, and provides a state-backed low
interest student loan. Of course, Finnish citizens get all those benefits even if they go to study abroad, but staying in Finland is convenient

Finally, the last reason to stay in Finland are the 450 programs taught in English. However even if one wants to do something different that isn’t offered in English here, it’s still possible.

Juhi Somani, who is from India, is now starting her Masters Degree in Bioinformatics at Aalto University. She graduated from Oulu IB 3 years ago, and her Bachelor’s Degree was officially taught in Finnish.

“The language has never caused a problem. Even though the lectures were in Finnish, I was always provided material and help in English, and everyone was very helpful about it. Everyone spoke English.”, Juhi recalls. So, even if your program is not offered in English, you can still study it without much difficulty without leaving the country.

With all the reasons for staying in Finland, why do so many IB students still leave the nest?

“The reason might be in the earlier school years. If they studied in English, or if they had a plan earlier to study in English”, Pirkko wonders. A few years ago she conducted a survey of the pre-DP students (the IB program is only 2 years long, so in order to comply with the Finnish regulations, the first year of the program is taught identically with the national side), and while the top reason for students picking IB was that the education is in English, one of the reasons was that sometime in the future they want to move or study abroad.

Why would they do it? Of course, one of the questions is whether the education abroad is that much better.

“I don’t think the education is better in Finland than abroad, but it’s good enough so that there’s no reason to move away because of it”, Pirkko says, “Of course there are top universities abroad, but that’s a different story.”

She also doesn’t think there’s any encouragement for the students to go study in a certain place. “I don’t know what goes on in classes, but I never gave any encouragement for a particular place”. There is however, a new student counselor, who gives students desired information about higher education options. Also, Pirkko speculates that it’s easier for IB graduates to, for example, go on exchange, because their thinking becomes different after studying in an IB school.

Another reason why perhaps going abroad is easier than applying to a Finnish school is because some universities have their entrance exams at the same time as the IB finals are held. “Medical entrance exams
are the same all over the country, and they ask us when our exams are, but there are small faculties that don’t care”.

IB graduates Yorick, Katariina and Petri go abroad.

To get the students’ perspective on things, we talked to two current IB graduates – Yorick Juffer and Katariina Mankinen, who’re both about to set off to study abroad next academic year. Turns out, the reasons for moving away reasons are quite different for the two.

Yorick, who’s Dutch by nationality, but has never lived in Holland, is heading to study nursing in Groningen – a University town in the Netherlands. Katariina, a Finn who has spent a year living in Tenerife, is heading to study in Scotland.

Yorick wants to go to Holland for very personal reasons – to see what it is like to be Dutch. “I don’t want to go to a new place, don’t have to learn a new culture, and this is a chance for me to be Dutch”, he shares.

Yorick has been in Finland for 12 years, and would possibly like to stay in Holland for the rest of his life. Yorick says it’s nice to live in the same country as his family for a change, and is happy that one of his classmates is going there too. The decision to go study nursing in Holland didn’t come right away – Yorick took a year off to work in an Indian restaurant. “I’m glad I took an escape year, even though I was advised not to”, he explains. Now he’s sure he’ll be studying what he really wants to. When asked whether Finland is a good place to study, he said “Finland would be a great place to study – it’s free, it’s got great education, there are many options.” Too bad he’s got his own personal reasons to leave.

Katariina, on the other hand, really wants to see the world. Her first choice is Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland, to study Psychology. Where she will end up still depends on her IB points, which are released in July – her other choice is Edinburgh, and she didn’t apply to a Finnish university at all. To our question: “Why Scotland?”, Katariina replied: “It’s free – money is an important issue, and it’s not Finland, so that’s good too!”. After spending a
year in Tenerife she wants to keep exploring the world, to “See what’s out there while I am still young.”

Katariina admits that she went to IB in the first place in order to be able to move away after graduation. She says Psychology could possibly better in Finland, but since the entrance exams are at the same time as her finals, it’s a lot of hassle.

3 Comments on “Why would you ever leave Finland?”

  1. IB graduate

    The article hasn’t considered the possibility that maybe the reason for students leaving Finland to study higher education abroad isn’t in the Finnish education system but rather in Finland itself. That is at least why I’m going to study abroad.

  2. Robert

    IB graduate, that is exactly what I thought… I think it is a very Finnish attitude to think that selecting a University is about the quality of the education offered?!?! I would imagine things such as the experience and growth of the individual should also be taken into account… I know that is what I am looking for when interviewing prospective employees, the actual qualification comes low on the list of requirements to me…

  3. Mona

    I say why not? Having spent several years abroad I would recommend it to everyone, it broadens your perspective on things and it’s not about whether there is something ‘wrong’ about Finland, you just want to experience more and maybe come back later as a transformed individual with fresh ideas and international experience. There is so much more to this world than our little corner of it :)

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