As from 1.1.2017 Finnish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are obliged to charge tuition fees from students coming from countries outside the EU or the EEA. Before this, any student coming to study at a Finnish HEI could do so for free, whatever the country of origin. From this day on, students will be in different situations, depending on their country of origin. In a nutshell, putting a price on education also changes the way education is marketed and means that we have to be more active towards the fee paying students as the competition between universities is increasing.
Finland is walking on the steps of Denmark and Sweden that recently instituted tuition fees for students from the outside of the EU/EEA area. The introduction of tuition fees had a dramatic effect in Sweden: 79% less applicants than the previous year, about one-third less in Denmark. The number in international applicants did not see such an impressive decrease in Finland, some HEI saw an increase and others, a sharp decrease in applications during the spring 2017 application round. These results are not yet finale however, as the application process is still ongoing, they have yet to be accepted and actually come to Finland and pay the tuition fee. The real effect of the tuition fees will be thus visible only when the new academic year begins and we can see how many actually do come to Finland and pay the tuition fee.
Centria did not join the spring 2017 application round, its next intakes for English taught degree programmes will be in September 2017 and spring 2018. From a marketing and communication point of view, we wanted to know how to reach out to these international prospective students and attract them to Centria.
In order to better map what issues international students take in account when choosing their HEI, a study was led in March 2017 within Centria University of Applied Sciences, to map what mattered in the eyes of our students in the process of choosing a university. The survey was prepared by a team gathering staff from the Admission Office, International Office and Marketing and Communication team. The theme of the survey was: “the road that led to Centria”. This survey was sent to all the students enrolled in the English taught degree programmes.
Roughly every fifth student at Centria is international. With a student community of over 500 international students, representing 40 different nationalities, Centria is extremely international and therefore, sensitive to the implementation of tuition fees. Centria now provides education in English in three fields of study: Business Administration (Bachelor and Master Level), Engineering (Environmental Chemistry and Technology, information Technology, Industrial Management) and Health Care (Nursing).
Half of the 69 students that took part in our survey are currently studying in the field of business (in Kokkola or Pietarsaari), the rest are enrolled in one of the engineering programmes. Most of the answerers are enrolled in their 1st study year (75% of the respondents) and close to half has been in Finland less than half a year, meaning that their decision to choose Centria is relatively recent. Roughly one-third of the respondents were from Vietnam, the second biggest group being Nepal. A handful only of European students answered the survey, meaning that a majority would be concerned by the tuition fees. Our respondents are young: over a quarter is less than 20, half less than 25. Some students have a prior degree or diploma, but mostly, they are first time students.
The Finnish attraction
When asked where they found out about Centria first, the answer is rather unanimous: the Finnish educational system as well as the free education has attracted them to Finland, and then to research about study possibilities in Finland. Most students have been active in their research beforehand and found information through platforms such as studyinfinland.com. Another source of information, which is non-negligible, was the word-of-mouth: many students mentioned that one of their relatives or a friend has studied or is studying at Centria. In addition, this points out that students currently enrolled at Centria are satisfied enough to encourage their family and friends to apply to our institution.
In the survey, the students were asked to give more details about their decision to choose specifically Centria. The respondents mentioned the following issues as being the most crucial: the course offer (specific programmes, such as the programme in Environmental Chemistry and Technology, which is relatively unique in Finland), the international possibilities (exchange studies) and international atmosphere offered by our institution as well as the cheaper living costs compared to larger cities. Most of the international students saw Finland as being attractive also because of its peaceful and beautiful nature.
Students provided a fair amount of positive feedback about their studies at Centria: they praised the good and supportive relation with their teachers, resulting from the small size of our institution. They felt like they could interact with them easily and the teachers supported their studies. Many students commented that they enjoyed the teaching methods in use and the flexibility offered at Centria. The international environment and good facilities also had a good impact in our students. Students were also attracted by the Finnish reputation in the field of innovation and technology. The peace and calm in our country also attracted them.
What we can improve
The feedback was not only positive. Students are currently hoping for more Finnish language education and feel that they would need more support services in issues which are not so strictly related to education: accommodation, better cultural understanding of the locals and guidance upon arrival in Finland. Students gave 45 open-ended answers about services Centria could have provided, but did not; their issues concerned support with finding accommodation and getting around their new town. Additionally, the respondents stated that they would appreciate help when it comes to looking for summer and part-time jobs, as well as internships during their studies. Students also pointed out their wish for more Finnish language education and supporting in understanding the Finnish culture, pointing out that these would help them in integrating the Finnish working life.
Ideas for the future
This survey helped us pinpoint Centria’s strong points, and what really makes our students’ enjoy their time with us. Through our communication and marketing, we can work at spreading the word in our different official communication channels and reinforce this positive image. Finland already has a strong brand of its own that we should use: it is an attractive country thanks to its high quality education; putting a price on its education means that we should underline this high quality even more and point out the other excellent reasons to come to our country and choose Centria. Teachers, researchers and other staff members play an active role with students studying with us, these are also our marketers, who might share their best or even their worst experiences with their friends – our potential applicants – back home.
In the future, we hope to develop the services that students mentioned in the survey, hoping to create an even more student- friendly university, dealing with more social aspects of their life. We could take example on institution in the US, for instance, where universities are true campuses which offer more than only classes. A few ideas on how we could improve our international students’ experience could be:
- adding Finnish language education and create language cafés to encourage locals and international students to talk and learn languages, as well as build their intercultural competences,
- encouraging students to create clubs in areas that interest them, support group work across fields of studies to meet,
- marketing our international students’ true skills to the local companies to point how they could benefit of them, and not focusing on their lack of Finnish skills,
- creating an immersion programme in Finnish language, to enable international students to learn Finnish by using it and interacting with Finnish students. This type of programme could be an interesting way to stand out among all the other degree programmes on the market.
The renovations taking place at the Kokkola campus will offer new possibilities for encounters, gatherings and clubs.
A university with an international heart
To start with, we should all remember to keep an international attitude: it is important to spread information also in English to make all those that do not speak Finnish also involved and welcome in whatever activity happens at our institution.
Looking at these comments and learning from our experience, Centria has the possibility to hold on its brand: a top-level international higher education, which provides its students with a great(er) support in an extended field of services, education, cultural and linguistic education as well as personal guidance, all in all – a university with a big international heart.
International Communication Coordinator
Centria University of Applied Sciences
+358 408 08 6606