International students in Finland: why come and why stay?

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In our blog post this week, we talk about a recent study that looks at international students in Finland. It looks at why they come and why they stay here. The study is mainly based on survey responses from international students collected in spring 2019. 

Finland is trying hard to attract more international talent to the country to counteract the looming labor shortage. For that, the government has its Talent Boost program. One of its goals is to increase the employment of international students and researchers in Finland. Those people are already here so it makes sense to try to get more of them to stay. 

For example, currently, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) has a campaign that encourages employers to hire foreign students studying in Finland. This #STAYinFinland campaign was launched in January of this year. 

International students in Finland

For nearly 10 years now, the number of international students in Finnish higher education has been around 20 000

About 10 000 international students study in Finnish universities. About 9 500 study in universities of applied sciences. Of the whole university student population, about 7 % are international students. At universities of applied sciences, the same figure is about 6.7 %. 

In 2018, about 18 % of all international students were doctoral students. The proportion of international doctoral students is high. They account for 21 % of all doctoral students in Finland. 

In 2018, the majority of international students studying in Finnish universities of applied sciences studied business, administration and law (37 %). They made up 12 % of the student body in that field. The largest share of international students, however, was in information and communication technologies. There their share was 13 % of the student population. 

In universities, international students concentrated in the fields of information and communication technologies (23 % of international students) and engineering, manufacturing, and construction (20 %).

In information and communication technologies, their share of the student population was 26 % in 2018. 

International students in Finland mostly originate from Asia (46 % in 2018) and Europe (38 %). 

About 23 400 applicants applied to the about 270 foreign language programs open in Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences this January. About 14 500 applicants were from outside Finland. Most of these were EU or EEA citizens. They were competing for about 4 700 open slots in these programs. We don’t yet know how many of them were accepted and how many will indeed come to Finland to study this fall.

In previous years, somewhere around 4 500 foreign students started their studies in Finnish higher education annually.

International students in Finland: why come to Finland?

The two main reasons for foreign students to choose Finland were the good reputation of the Finnish education system (69 %) and the prospect of staying in Finland for work after graduation (about 47 %). 

Nearly 30 % of international students gave family ties as their reason for coming. For women (37 %), this reason was more common than for men (23 %).

The importance of these reasons varied between educational fields. For education students, the reputation of the Finnish education system was the most (89 %) important reason. For international students in the health and welfare fields, the possibility of employment in Finland was more (79 %) important than reputation (42 %).

The general reputation of the Finnish education system was clearly more important than the reputation of the individual degree program. The reputation of the individual degree program played the most prominent role in the decision-making process of ICT students. But even for them, the reputation of the Finnish education system was more important (69 %) than the reputation of their degree program (34 %).

International students in Finland: why stay in Finland?

About 50 % of surveyed international students were planning on staying in Finland after graduation. 4 % were planning on moving back to their home country. 7 % were planning on moving to a third country. 40 % of them didn’t yet know what they were going to do. There weren’t any statistically significant differences between students of different fields.

Whether an international student plans to stay in Finland after graduation or not is connected to other factors in their personal lives besides their studies. 

For example, those who had prior experience of Finland through exchange programs were more likely to plan on staying. Those who had a partner in Finland or who had come with a plan to find a job here were also more likely to plan on staying. Also, those who had a prior degree from Europe were more likely to plan on staying than those whose prior degree was from somewhere else. 

In addition to the students’ personal lives, their experiences during their studies and their study circumstances had an impact on their plans to stay in Finland.

Those who had struggled during their studies but had received support and guidance were more likely to plan on staying. As were those who were working during their studies. 

In addition, we know from Mathies and Karhunen that international students graduating from universities that are not in the greater metropolitan area, Turku, or Tampere are more likely to stay in Finland.  

Their study also suggests that international graduates from the natural sciences, engineering, manufacturing and construction as well as from the health and welfare fields are more likely to stay in Finland than others. 

So, what happens to those who stay?

What happens to international students in Finland after they graduate

Based on available statistics from 2018, the majority of Finnish students have found employment a year after their graduation. 89 % of the Finnish university of applied sciences students have found employment. The figure is 88 % for Finnish university students. 

38 % of the university of applied sciences students from EU and EEA countries have moved away a year after graduation. 43 % have found employment in Finland. 

53 % of the university of applied sciences students originally from outside Europe are employed in Finland after graduation. 23 % have moved away.

36 % of university graduates from EU and EEA countries are employed in Finland one year after graduation. 43 % of them have moved away.

Of those university graduates that are from outside Europe, 50 % are employed in Finland and 25 % of them have moved away. 

So, depending on where the students are from and with what degree they graduate, a year after graduation about 57 – 75 % are still in Finland.

To put that figure in context, Mathies and Karhunen have shown that the percentage of international students that remain in Finland three years after graduation hasn’t really changed that much over the years. 

In 1999, 73 % of the international university of applied sciences graduates remained in Finland three years after graduation. At its highest, this figure was 80 % in 2008. 

Of those with a Master’s degree, 54 % of international graduates remained in Finland three years after graduation in 1999. From there it climbed to 72 % in 2008 and dropped to 69 % by 2011. 

What else do we know? 

Charles Mathies and Hannu Karhunen looked at international students three years after graduation. They compared their situation to Finnish-born graduates. The individuals in their study had graduated between 2009 and 2011. 

They concluded that although the employment rate of international graduates was quite high (77 – 81 %), it was still about 10 percentage points lower than for Finnish graduates. 

Because of this difference in employment rates, there were also differences in average annual income levels. 

In the private sector, international graduates from universities of applied sciences and universities earn 6 000 – 9 000 euros/year less than Finnish graduates. In the public sector, the difference in earnings is 8 000 – 10 000 in favor of Finnish graduates.

Their study only mentions one additional source for these income differences. Language requirements, especially in the public sector, influence the positions which international graduates can get. 

TEK (Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland) Graduate Survey from 2019 showed that the average salary of recently graduated TEK members was 3 400 €/month for Finnish graduates. It was 2 800 €/month for international graduates. They give two possible reasons for this difference. One, Finnish graduates had more job experience at the time of graduation. Two, Finnish graduates are more likely to find employment that matches their education. 

How we can help

Finnwards offers different types of services for those looking to find employment or develop their careers further in Finland. 

Our free blogs are an excellent resource for anyone looking to learn more about working in Finland. We have several blogs about salaries, recruitment, or employment in general. 

Our self-guided online courses take you through Finnish terms of employment either very briefly or really extensively

Finally, we also have career consulting and coaching for those who would like to have more personalized assistance. 

Get the “Your Crash Course to Finland” online course – your gateway to all things Finnish – now from our online store.

The mission of Finnwards is to help internationals thrive in their life abroad. We provide coaching, consulting, and training services that help them do just that. Check out our Services for Businesses and Organizations or our Expat Inspiration Catalog for more information! While we serve internationals and their employers all over the world, our specialty is Finland. With our help, internationals can build a uniquely Finnish life for themselves and their family. In addition to the coaching, consulting and training services, we also offer a wide selection of self-guided online courses about Finland. Contact us and let us help you or your employees succeed in their professional and private lives abroad and in Finland.

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3 thoughts on “International students in Finland: why come and why stay?

  1. Great job, but your statistics didn’t mention anything about how many graduates from outside Europe actually got a job in their areas of studies. Truth is 95% of graduates from outside Europe who graduated from areas other than health care are either still unemployed or working as news paper vendors, cleaners, just to named a few. For me as an immigrant and someone who have researched and written about the topic, I think the issue is greater than we are reporting. We need a frank and honest dialogue to be able to resolve it. So far all what is being done is window dressing.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Eugene. You are right in that in Finland immigrants getting hired for jobs for which they are clearly overeducated and over-qualified is a problem. I talked a little bit about that in one of my blogs about salaries in Finland. The two studies I used as references for this particular blog did not discuss what kind of jobs international students who have graduated from Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences get after graduation. That just wasn’t the topic of their research. The TEK Graduate Study I referenced at the very bottom did attribute a part of the salary gap to this particular reason. To my knowledge, there haven’t been any large-scale studies on the quality of jobs of the international graduates of Finnish universities. There have been smaller studies and a number of theses, though. For example, a study of international MA graduates (2013-2014) of the University of Helsinki concludes that one year after graduation 16.7 % of non-European graduates were employed in jobs for which they were overqualified. Vipunen, the education administration’s reporting portal on Finnish education statistics would be a good source to start such a study.

    2. This is so true, at least from my perspective. I have PhD level talent friends working in a cleaning job with minimum salary and this makes me so so sad. And frustrated.

      This should be studied further!

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