AYY’s Secretary General Niko Ferm spoke on the topic Unused talent at Work Up! Multicultural Working Life seminar held by the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment on the 31st of January. You can watch the full coverage of the seminar here (Ferm starts at approx 30.00).
The potential of international talents is not used in Finland
Just recently Tekniikka&Talous published a news article reporting that there is more and more brain drain from Finland. However, at the same time we fail to utilize our brain gain. Every year around 5000 international students arrive to Finland to study at a higher education institute. There are currently over 20 000 international students studying in Finland. I found in my study that at the moment about two-thirds of the international graduates from Aalto University are employed. But if we look at the big picture we see that only about 50% of all international higher education graduates are employed. This is worrying since at the same time demographic dependency ratio weakens in Finland. This means that the amount of people working and paying taxes is decreasing in relation to the people who are underage or have retired.
Internationals lack Finnish language skills and the right networks
Main obstacles for employment are the lack of Finnish language skills and the lack of the right networks. Finnish graduates have had their entire youth to create networks, where as international students only spend two to four years in the university creating networks while studying. Fortunately, a group from Aalto University is trying to find a solution for this issue. With their idea they won the first prize in ACID16 competition at Slush 2016.
We also need to find a solution for how to find thesis placements for internationals from private sectors since that seems to increase employability. I found in my study that internationals do not get employed in the small and medium size companies as much as locals do. This could be due to the lack of contacts or because of the language barrier. CIMO is currently working on a promising project to find ways to bring the potential of international students into better use in internationalisation efforts of SMEs.
What will happen after tuition fees?
Finland has decided to introduce tuition fees for students coming outside the EU/EEA countries. As most of the international students in Finland come from these countries we are likely to be faced with a situation where the number of applicants from outside the EU/EEA countries drops significantly. In my study it was found that the main reasons for coming to and studying in Finland are free education, possibility to study in English and a chance to explore foreign country. In the International Student Barometer (ISB) the main reasons for internationals coming to study in Finland were the cost of education, quality of research or a specific course. Also, in my study half of the students considered the good education system and reputation of the university as reasons to come to study in Finland. Also, almost 80% consider Finland to be a great place to live. We also know that according to ISB, 78% of the respondents considered the chance to get employed in Finland to be an important criteria when applying to a university8. Perhaps this could be something to invest in more and make it the new competitive advantage for Finland?
Other issues affecting the employment of international graduates
However, there is still much more to do to make the situation better for international graduates than to just get them employed. We must consider the quality of the employment. In the VALOA-study it was found that 23,7% of international university graduates have had to take a job which could have been performed with lower education. In TEK’s student barometer it was also found that international graduates have more part-time vacancies than locals. From a study conducted by OTUS we can see huge differences with the quality of the vacancies between locals and internationals coming from outside of EU/EEA area.
In addition to the quality of the employment there are still issues with discrimination. I found in my study that 20% of the respondents had faced discrimination and even more considered that employers do not trust immigrants. Similar results were found in the study conducted by OTUS, where 42,4% of the respondents had negative experiences about employers’ attitudes towards internationals.
What can we do?
Some progressive steps have been taken lately as the future funding model of universities will include quality of the employment as a criteria for funding. This will give incentives for universities to focus on quality of the employment of their alumni which includes international graduates as well. However, it is very likely that this will not be enough, therefore some new ideas should be introduced and researched further. Many potential ideas for improving the situation are presented by OTUS in their research on employability of international graduates. These are listed below10:
- Increasing students’ language skills during studies
- Integrating international student into the Finnish culture of collaboration already during studies
- Acknowledging the needs of business life in the teaching in the international degree programmes
- Career guidance for international students offered by the higher education institution
- Guidance methods for students, organised by employers and higher education institutions jointly
- Higher education institutions actively communicating about the potential in international students for working life
- Offering international students internships and summer work
- Work/Job shadowing
- Friend family activities
Most of these ideas are directed to universities, but we need actions from government and companies as well. At least we should complete the ideas that we have decided to do. For example our government’s plan of action states the following
“Tuition fees will be introduced for non-EU and non-EEA students, and those who have completed their studies will be encouraged to stay and work in Finland, for example with a tax deduction. The employment opportunities of foreign students who have studied in Finland will be promoted and their knowledge of the Finnish language emphasized.”
These statements still need actions. We could also consider ideas such as paying subsidies for the unemployed international graduates as we have for the Finnish long-term unemployed job-seekers. When it comes to our international graduates we should not wait too long. If they are unable to get a job in Finland they will look for employment elsewhere.
Main points of this blog are from Niko Ferm’s thesis “Employability of international graduates from the field of technology and business”. The focus in the thesis was in the recent graduates (during years 2014 to 2016) from Aalto University. The thesis was conducted in co-operation with Tekniikan Akateemiset (TEK), Suomen Ekonomit and Teknologiateollisuus.
General Secretary, AYY