Young Finns Promote Open University Admission
The parliamentary group representing the Young Finns (Progressive Liberal Party), known in Finnish as the Nuorsuomalaiset, or Nusu for short, has called for the removal of university entrance exams in Finland. Nusu believes that all young people in the country should be granted a study place within the university system, with the costs to be shared by the students themselves and the state. Jukka Tarkka, Chair of the Nusu Parliamentary Group, explains, ”The model allows students to demonstrate their real academic motivation, without an initial elimination process.”
Imagine 19,500 incoming students to the University of Helsinki this year, compared to the current 3,800. Sari Lindblom-Ylänne, Project Secretary from the Instruction Development Center of the University, finds the proposal impossible to fulfill. ”I don’t believe that any institution would be willing to double or even triple the number of its students. A few thousand Finnmarks of student fees wouldn’t suffice, it is more a question of tens of thousands of marks.” Lindblom-Ylänne feels that while open admission is meant to provide equal opportunity, the fees that it would necessitate would quickly create economic inequalities.
Entrance exams may not determine academic aptitude very well, but few alternatives exist. Last spring, the Helsinki University Student Union (HYY) began a campaign offering a one thousand mark prize to the best suggestion for improving the entrance exams, but entries have been few. HYY will announce the winner as part of the Opening Ceremony festivities for the new academic year.
Student Housing Problems Continue
The fall semester is soon to begin at the University of Helsinki and HYY’s Housing Services is once again scrambling to find emergency housing for students that have been unsuccessful in their searches. According to the Ministry of Education, 3 000 new student accommodations are needed this year to make up for the increasing number of new students, and money distributed by the Finnish State for that purpose will cover only 600. Pia Metsähuone of the National Union of University Students (SYL) is dissatisfied with current funding. ”Our goal at SYL is to receive 400 million Finnmarks towards student housing production. We would use the sum to build 1 500 new residences and have 1 400 old ones redone.” Funding is currently down to 300 million FIM and further cuts are scheduled for next year.
Director of the Finnish Real Estate Union Ukko Laurila feels that the state has acted wisely in cutting housing funding. He says that if the state were to pump more money into the construction industry, which is already working at capacity in Finland, the money would directly affect prices. Building would become more expensive, with no real increase in housing. He suggests that student housing foundations begin to look elsewhere for funding. Student housing administration in Northern Finland has done this already, transforming a mental health institution in Oulu into 150 student apartments with market-based loan money. Laurila admits that there is a student housing shortage but isn’t ready to declare the situation a crisis. Students simply have to be satisfied with sharing something smaller or farther away, ”It is odd that students want such a good standard of living right away. Part of the student experience should be living like a student.”
Finland’s Most Famous Conscientious Objector
Marko Ahtisaari, the son of the Finnish president, made some waves last year when he announced that he that he would not be completing military training, mandatory for all young Finnish men, choosing instead to do one year of public service. Marko has since been fighting the war against racism in his country, working for the Immigrant Division of the Ministry of Labor. Marko has lived the last few years in New York and attends the University of Columbia. He has been a familiar face to Finns, returning occassionally to spend time with his parents. ”I have lived half of my life abroad. I left Finland when I was five and returned just before high school, after which, I left again,” Ahtisaari explains. Years in international schools while living in East and West Africa had a major impact.
His work at the Ministry focuses on younger immigrants and their problems adjusting to the Finnish society. Ahtisaari believes that it is easiest for immigrants to meet Finns and gain their respect by working. ”Finland has this deep-down ethic that anybody that does work is a good guy, regardless of their ethnic background,” he says. Unfortunately, less than 50% of immigrants are currently employed. Ahtisaari has arranged for model employers, like the Central Post Office in Pasila, to speak with other companies that are considering foreign employees. ”Companies can directly ask other companies about their experiences. It works better than the Ministry stepping in and pointing out that certain personnel policies are racist.”
Ahtisaari also represents the Immigrant Division by speaking in schools, universities and rotary clubs. His latest project, Minun Suomeni (My Finland) is an address supporting a multi-cultural Finland, signed already by hundreds of people. ”The petition shows that many people believe that Finland has a great deal to gain from being multi-cultural and feel that it is an integral part of the international human rights culture,” he explains. Ahtisaari has just 160 days of civil service left this fall, after which he plans to return to New York to defend his Ph.D. dissertation. He hopes to return to Finland some day soon because ”it feels like home.”
Winds of Change in Finnish Development Aid
Each year, the Finnish government has difficulties deciding on an development aid allocation for the national budget and this year was no exception. Finland is below the UN standard of 0.7% of the GNP, falling now to 0.34. On the international forum, where GNP percentage determines decision-making power, a small country like Finland is given little say in how its money is spent. ”Lipponen’s government has made a decision to achieve 0.7 again, but there has been no time frame set. A goal of 0.4 is targeted for the year 2 000,” explains Kirsi Lintonen of the Finnish Development Cooperation Division (KYO).
Finnish development aid began when Finland joined the UN and the OECD. The country itself was still receiving aid in 1956 when its first representatives left for the Suez canal to preserve the peace. Now with EU membership, Finland’s development aid has become mandatory, no longer a response to international pressure. Finland has moved to ’conditional’ aid, and instead of target countries, there is now talk about partners, 76 countries in all. ”If a country uses aid money incorrectly, we certainly aren’t obligated to give them more. No government that is misappropriating funds can demand that they receive more aid.” Lintonen defends the conditional clause. ”Our emphasis is on democratization. Dealing with a corrupt dictator cannot be a long-term interest in terms of lasting investment or profitable export sales relationships, for example.”
Love and Anarchy In Helsinki
The eleventh annual Helsinki Film Festival, Love and Anarchy, is scheduled for September 18-27. After touring some of Europe’s most famous film festivals, Love and Anarchy organizers Mika Seppälä and Pekka Lanerva have put together another lineup of terrific cinema. From Cannes, Seppälä brought home Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from Hunter S. Thompson, the father of ’gonzo journalism’, and two short films Cutting Moments and Home from Douglas Buck about family communication breakdowns.
Lanerva found John Maybury’s film Love is the Devil at Cannes, ”A enchantingly beautiful film from a confessional homosexual artist,” he explains, as well as Caspar Noé’s new film Seule Contre Tous (Alone Against the World). From Portugal, Seppälä brought home four films from Ivan Cardozo. ”Cardozo is a national hero in Brazil, the crazy cousin of the president makes films like John Waters and Russ Meyer. Unbelievable humor, sex and violence mixed with a Brazilian recipe.”
by Pamela Kaskinen