FAQs about the higher education institutions’ student admission reform

Please find below FAQs about the reform of higher education institutions’ student admissions.

Entrance test reform and increased use of certificate-based admissions

Why are entrance tests being reformed and certificate-based admissions used more?

Only one out of three students continue their studies immediately after taking the matriculation examination, even if there should be enough places in higher education for the entire cohort. The current Finnish model based on hundreds of different entrance tests is not only expensive and cumbersome but also exceptional by international standards. It delays the starting of studies, forcing applicants to take unwanted gap years. Under the law, the matriculation examination and also different vocational qualifications confer eligibility for higher education studies. Success in secondary level education is a good indication of capabilities for higher education studies.

Will entrance tests be dropped altogether?

No.

Entrance tests will still be used for student admissions after 2020. However, certificate-based admissions will be the main route to higher education studies. The current system based on admission scores, in which points are awarded for both the entrance test and the certificate, will be dropped.  In the future, entrance tests for which no advance preparation is needed will be used.

Which fields does the reform concern?

The reform will cover all fields of study, excepting arts, culture and sport as well as the community interpreter and sign language interpreter programmes of Diaconia University of Applied Sciences.

When will the reform enter into force?

After 2018, no entrance tests requiring long preparation should be organised. As from 2020, certificate-based admissions will be the main route. Applicants who cannot be admitted based on their certificates because they do not have a suitable certificate or their grades are not high enough may also take part in entrance tests after this year.

Which certificate will be used as the basis for student admissions?

In all fields, students will be admitted based on their matriculation examination grades and, at the discretion of each higher education institution, also grades obtained in a vocational upper secondary qualification. The reform does not concern arts, culture and sport. Grades obtained in individual general upper secondary school courses (general upper secondary school certificate) will not be used in student admissions. General upper secondary school diplomas may continue to be used as part of the admissions.

Each higher education institution will decide whether it will only admit students who have taken the matriculation examination, or applicants who have completed either the matriculation examination or a vocational upper secondary qualification. Universities of applied sciences are introducing admissions based on vocational upper secondary qualification grades in all fields where admissions based on matriculation examination are also being used.

When will I know which grades higher education institutions will use in their admissions?

The criteria for certificate-based admissions for 2020 in opintopolku.fi service:

In the future, the admission criteria are always to be announced early enough so that the students will be aware of them, especially as regards the use of certificates, when starting their secondary level studies.

Will an average student, or one with poor academic success, find a student place?

The number of student places offered will be the same as before. The goal is that a larger share of the places would be allocated to those applying for their first higher education place and that young people would start their studies with less of a delay than today. In practice, good grades are also required currently for the majority of places: in autumn 2016, for instance, only one third of the students were admitted to universities on the basis of entrance tests alone.

Before the reform, applicants with good grades have often also been obliged to take the entrance test. This practice leads to double testing, which creates pressure to postpone participation in the entrance test to the following year after finishing secondary level studies. 

Working hard at the secondary level will pay off in the future – just as it does today. The performances required for being admitted through certificate-based admissions will depend on the popularity of each field, the same as today

Facts about admission methods (pdf)

What relative proportions of the applicants will be admitted based on certificates and entrance tests in the future?

After 2020, certificate-based admissions will be the main route to higher education. The higher education institutions will make their own decisions about the details of the admission methods in different fields.

Subsequently, the admission criteria will always be announced early enough so that the students will be aware of them, especially as regards the use of certificates, when starting their secondary level studies. There are no plans to reduce the number of higher education places.

Will it be possible to apply for a place in higher education with a vocational qualification from 2020?

A vocational upper secondary qualification, a further vocational qualification and a specialist qualification will confer eligibility for higher education studies as before. The admission methods offered for applicants with one of these qualifications will depend on the higher education institution and the programme applied to.

The universities of applied sciences will use admissions based on vocational upper secondary qualifications in all fields where admissions based on matriculation examination certificates are also used.

The admission method based on an entrance test will be offered in any case.

How will holders of a vocational qualification be admitted to higher education institutions in the future?

Each higher education institution will decide whether it will only admit students who have taken the matriculation examination, or applicants who have completed either the matriculation examination or a vocational upper secondary qualification, in its certificate-based admissions.

The universities of applied sciences have decided to use certificate-based admissions for holders of a vocational upper secondary qualification in all fields where selection based on matriculation examination certificates is also used.

Will it be more difficult for a vocational qualification holder to be admitted to higher education as certificate-based admissions are introduced? Will the number of those admitted based on an entrance test be reduced when the majority of students are selected based on their certificates?

When the use of certificate-based admissions is increased, student selection based on admission scores will be dropped. Selection based on admission scores is currently only offered by universities and universities of applied sciences for students who have completed the matriculation examination, as it is based on the matriculation examination test grades. A significant proportion of places will continue to be granted based on an entrance test alone.

What role does a further vocational qualification or a specialist qualification have in student admissions?

The majority of vocational students complete a vocational upper secondary qualification. In addition, some complete further vocational qualifications and specialist qualifications. While these qualifications also confer eligibility for higher education studies, no grades are awarded in them that could be used in certificate-based admissions.

Holders of a further vocational qualification or a specialist qualification will continue to have access to admissions both through an entrance test and the open higher education route. In practice, holders of further vocational qualifications or specialist qualifications often make their way to higher education through the world of work. In blended teaching at universities of applied sciences, admission methods where points are awarded for work experience have thus been used. The educational pathway that leads from a vocational upper secondary qualification to further studies through the world of work is important and will also be maintained in the future.

What will entrance tests be like in the future?

After 2018, entrance tests that do not require lengthy preparation should be used. For example, this may mean tests based on certain material or other tasks to be completed at the test. In the future, the number of tests will be reduced further by developing tests that can be used in several fields. This means that one test could be taken to apply for several study places.

The universities of applied sciences are planning to introduce a joint entrance test from autumn 2019.

Justifications of the reform

Will the reform favour one gender over the other?

The reform of student admissions will promote equal opportunities, because its purpose is to ensure that as many young people as possible will get a student place. Everyone will have equal opportunities to get a place.

There are rough indications that women currently do better in the matriculation examination, while men do slightly better in entrance tests. What complicates matters is that male and female general upper secondary students often choose different subjects and take different tests in the matriculation examination, and that men and women often are interested in different fields.

The student admissions reform may be expected to improve the motivation to learn among all secondary level students as the grades are more significant.

Why are training courses seen as a problem?

Under the Constitution of Finland, everyone shall have an equal opportunity to receive other educational services besides basic education in accordance with their ability and special needs, as well as the opportunity to develop themselves without being prevented by economic hardship.

The current model for student admissions has created a market for entrance test training courses, and the prices and availability of the courses may direct the applicants’ choices of fields. Training courses have become very common in some fields: Link to Eurostudent VI survey of students who responded to the Eurostudent survey, one out of four university students and one out of eight university of applied sciences student had participated in a training course. The fields in which participation in training courses was the most common were law, medicine, and business and economics.

Is the reform unfair?

s students can in practice only start preparing for entrance tests after sitting the matriculation examination or finishing their studies, a new applicant is forced to compete with not only other new applicants but also those who have been able to spend a long period preparing for the test, in some cases several years. The system based on entrance tests can be considered extremely unfair for those young people who have studied diligently at the secondary level but whose parents are unable or unwilling to support them during a long period of preparation for entrance tests, or who cannot or will not pay for training courses.

Another marginal condition for the reform is that the position of students who have completed a higher education degree or accepted a study place in higher education must not be unreasonably less favourable than first-time applicants’ position, and completing a second higher education degree and changing fields should be possible also in the future. The Ministry of Education and Culture will monitor the development of student admissions in cooperation with the higher education institutions.

Will the pressure felt by general upper secondary students or the offer of training courses now be focused on the matriculation examination?

Offering or participating in various courses can, of course, not be prohibited. However, the best ‘training course’ for the matriculation examination is the general upper secondary school. When preparing for their examinations, the candidates are supported by all the teaching and learning they benefit from at the general upper secondary school as well as the teachers, guidance counsellors and their peers studying for the same examinations. The situation is different in entrance tests, where the candidate may be left alone to prepare. In addition, a general upper secondary student can in practice only start preparing for entrance tests after the matriculation examination. In this case, the pressure is increased by the fact that they also have to compete for study places with applicants who have taken their matriculation examination in previous years and been able to spend a much longer time preparing for the entrance test.

Are the entrance tests not the best indicator for motivation?

Using entrance tests to measure motivation is fraught with many problems. In a system based on entrance tests, it does not necessarily even make sense to apply to the programme for which you are the most motivated: if a young person feels that their possibilities of getting into their first-choice field are too poor, it is more rational for him or her to apply for a less motivating place that is easier to get into.

When certificate-based admissions are used, applying to one programme does in no way hinder the students from also applying to some other place of their choice, and they thus have no reason not to apply for their first-choice place. When forced to take entrance tests, the applicants have to consider their time allocation for preparing for different entrance tests, and the time spent on preparing for one test is not available for preparing for another. It often is impossible to prepare for more than one test.

A highly motivated applicant will always maximise their chances of success based on the admission criteria, whether they are matriculation examination tests or separate entrance tests. It would also be important to remember that motivation in the application phase is not necessarily an indication of motivation during the studies.

Are the entrance tests not useful for getting off to a good start in the studies?

It is true that preparation for entrance tests allows the students to familiarise themselves with and focus on the topics of the studies. This gives them a general idea of the contents of a single field. However, it would be better for the students to familiarise themselves with a number of different fields before making a decision to apply, allowing them to have an idea of the fields of study and the subsequent world of work.

Under the law, the matriculation examination and, on the other hand, different vocational qualifications confer eligibility for higher education studies. The higher education institutions’ student admissions should thus be mainly based on competence acquired during secondary level studies, rather than higher education study contents learned from such sources as the books set for an entrance test. The matriculation examination grades, and also vocational qualifications and their assessment, are an indication of the applicant’s knowledge and skills.

Models for awarding points for certificates

What is the ministry's role in preparing models for awarding points?

The higher education institutions make their own decisions about awarding points for certificates. The Ministry of Education and Culture will not participate in this process or direct the development of the points systems. The ministry has agreed with the higher education institutions on a framework within which the admissions will be developed: the majority, or over one half, of applicants will be admitted based on certificates, selection based on admission scores will be dropped, and entrance tests will be preserved as a significant admission method. Within this framework, the higher education institutions will make their decisions on developing admissions and, for example, the award of points.

Currently, different higher education institutions valuate the matriculation examination in a variety of different ways. Getting a general idea of this system is very challenging for secondary level students and guidance counsellors. It would be appropriate to reduce the current number of different models. The ministry has funded development projects proposed by higher education institutions aiming to prepare joint models for awarding points. The projects are responsible for developing models, the models proposed by them and their justifications.

Is the ministry prepared for a situation where the models for awarding points may affect general upper secondary students’ choices?

In its report titled Ready for admissions I, a working group appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture discussed the impacts of points awarded for matriculation examination grades on the students’ choices. In particular, the current situation of mathematics and languages studies and the higher education institutions’ possibilities of influencing them were highlighted.

The report also presented possible ways of improving the comparability of grades (see Valmiina valintoihin pp. 58-60). The higher education institutions have, however, come up with their own solutions for developing their points award models regarding the valuation of certificates and improving comparability, and any feedback on these proposals should be addressed to the institutions. The higher education institutions will make their own decisions about their methods of awarding points for certificates.

Where can I find more information about the models for awarding points and their development?

Two projects on developing student admissions applied for higher education development project funding for 2017–2019 (projects coordinated by the University of Helsinki and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences), each of which were granted funding. Developing models for awarding points for matriculation examination grades is part of both projects. The Ministry of Education and Culture does not direct this work or participate in it in any way.

The project led by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences also develops models for awarding points that will allow the use of vocational upper secondary qualifications and a single joint entrance test for universities of applied sciences

When will general upper secondary students and vocational students be informed of how points will be awarded for matriculation examination grades in 2020?

The criteria for the certificate-based admissions for 2020 are published in opintopolku.fi service:

Reservation of places (quotas for first-time applicants)

Why will some student places be reserved for persons who do not yet have a student place or a higher education degree?

The objective of reserving student places is ensuring that a larger share of those granted a place would genuinely be new higher education students who do not yet have a study place at a higher education institution. This is done in order to safeguard the educational rights referred to in section 16 of the Constitution by making sure that as many young people as possible get a student place.

The purposes of reserving student places also include improving the completion rate of higher education studies: it is likely that more students will complete their studies if they accept a student place in a programme which motivates them.

What proportion of student places will be reserved for first-time applicants?

The number of places reserved for first-time applicants will be decided by the higher education institutions. For an indication of the places reserved for first-time applicants, see the information on the admission criteria of each study programme on the studyinfo.fi web service.

If I do not get the student place of my first choice, should I accept some other place?

In principle, student places are intended for those who wish to complete the degree in question. If you accept a place in a programme in which you do not intend to complete a degree, you may take a place from an applicant for whom that degree would be the first choice. In other words, accept the place if you plan to complete the degree.

If you accept the place and later find that you wish to change fields, applying for and finding routes to other programmes will be possible. A person studying or having completed a degree at a higher education institution should as a rule have the possibility of applying for and being selected to a programme that is also available for first-time applicants. While some student places are reserved for first-time applicants to improve their position, your possibilities of being admitted may not be unreasonably poorer than theirs (Constitutional Law Committee statement 23/2012).

Would it not be better for applicants who do not get their first-choice place to accept a place in at least some degree programme?

In terms of the effectiveness of the education system and society at large it would be better that student places in degree-awarding education are accepted by persons who intend to study in the field in question. A place accepted by one person cannot be offered to anothe.

I am not quite sure of what I would like to study. What should I do?

First of all, you should talk to a guidance counsellor about options suitable for you. You can apply for and accept a place in a field that interests you. If you wish to change fields later on, there will be opportunities for applying for and finding routes to other fields. Even if student places will be reserved for first-time applicants to improve their position, your possibilities of being admitted may not be unreasonably poorer than theirs. Flexible study paths, flexible study rights, recognition of prior learning and transfer student admissions, among other things, serve this purpose.

Who will be regarded as a first-time applicant?

First-time applicants are those who have not accepted a place in a degree-awarding programme or completed a degree at a Finnish higher education institution. Those who started their studies before autumn 2014 and who do not have a higher education degree are an exception.

Only study places accepted and degrees completed in the Finnish higher education system affect your position as a first-time applicant. A degree completed or a student place accepted at a foreign higher education institution will not affect your right to apply as a first-time applicant in Finland.

Will I be regarded as a first-time applicant if I graduated from a university or a university of applied sciences before the application period for autumn 2014?

No.

Can I recover my position as a first-time applicant if I give up my student place?

No. A person who has accepted a student place in an education programme beginning in autumn 2014 or later no longer is a first-time applicant.

How will students be able to change fields? How can a person who already has a higher education degree apply for a place at a university of applied sciences or a university in the future?

In addition to higher education institutions’ joint application procedure, separate admissions are organised for Master’s level programmes, for instance. At Master’s level, no places will be reserved for first-time applicants.

In addition, higher education institutions organise application rounds for transfer students, allowing students to change fields without re-applying through the joint application procedure. The admission of transfer students is based on a prior right to study as well as higher education studies taken in the same or a close field and success in them.

The higher education institutions are also developing admission methods specifically intended for those changing fields.

What if I realise that I have selected a field that is not suitable for me?

You should first consider if you could specialise in an area better suited for you, for example including studies at other higher education institutions or in other fields in your studies. Changing fields within a higher education institution or a faculty may be possible as a so-called transfer student.

If changing fields as a transfer student is not possible, you can apply for a place in the joint application procedure. An opportune stage for selecting a new specialisation is after completing a Bachelor's degree. There may often be several suitable degrees that confer eligibility for Master’s level studies.

Do the quotas put equal treatment at risk?

The processes related to the joint application procedure, separate admission procedures and the procedures for transfers between programmes during the studies should be examined as a whole. The higher education institutions should do more to facilitate the starting of studies based on prior learning and degree modules completed earlier, and create flexible possibilities for transfers within and between institutions for these students.

In this whole, it should also be ensured that the position of students who have completed a higher education degree or accepted a student place in higher education may not be unreasonably less favourable than first-time applicants’ position, and completing a second higher education degree and changing fields should be possible also in the future.

Will you have to apply for a student place to be entitled to labour market support also after the reform?

This question is more relevant to the unemployment security system than higher education institutions. For more information about the conditions for receiving labour market support, visit the TE services' website.

Has the impact of introducing quotas for first-time applicants on student admissions been researched?

An impact assessment to be completed in late 2017 will be produced on the reforms affecting higher education students of 2010–2015.

This report also addresses the introduction of quotas for first-time applicants.