Finland, an education superpower

An exchange at noon in a New York pub:

“So, you’re from Helsinki? I’ve heard that you have the best education in Europe.”

“The best in the world.”

“No, Europe.”

“No, really, the world.”

Our American friends had strong opinions about Finland. These are perhaps based on their Finnish and Norwegian forefathers: one claimed that this accounted for 1/4 and the other 1/8 of his heritage. We discussed Finland’s Scandinavian background and other basic stuff, but the education issue was in the spotlight.

A quick calculation: the tuition fees for educating their kids at averagely ranked universities in the USA would cost my new pub pals around EUR 50,000 a year. That would mean EUR 200,000 to get them up to masters level. You don’t have to be a genius in maths to work out how expensive this would be if you had a couple of kids.

Little wonder that an American dad wants his offspring to graduate quickly and start earning (no backpacking gap year in Asia)! But… It’s worth repeating that Finland’s free basic education and equal opportunities to enter higher education are a source of wonder around the world.

Liisa Pohjolainen, Head of the Education Unit, told me about the great work that Helsinki is doing in its primary, high and vocational schools to create a basis for top expertise in the city.

This brought it home to me that very few countries or cities are growing world-class experts and creating learning solutions of global significance on the basis of tax revenues. Things could be worse!

Helsinki’s schools, and school development projects such as digitisation, are just as apt to draw the international media’s attention. Helsinki could make more use of the education theme in its marketing .

I continued to the next address. Our taxi driver made the following comment:

“Your President’s speech at the United Nations convinced me that Finland believes in diplomacy and defending human rights.”

Could we possibly be proud enough of a country that inspires a taxi driver to say something like that? Yes, I love coming from a land that is well-known for education, diplomacy, equality and human rights.

Oh, and that pub, the Fraunces Tavern: it’s the place where George Washington laid his plans for US independence in the 1770s. Not the worst place to consider these kinds of issues.


Text: Outi Leppälä
Picture: Riikka Lahdensuo