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New academic year

Varsities face trouble with Int’l students

Published : 31 Aug 2020, 00:15

  DF Report by Gishnizjani Golnar

International students in front of the University of Lapland. DF File Photo.

Finnish academic institutes of tertiary education this year have been opening their new academic year starting from this autumn semester somewhat erratically, with the University of Helsinki, which has the biggest academic campus in Finland, scheduled to celebrate its opening of the academic year 2020-2021 virtually on Monday.

This year, Finnish universities and Polytechnic Institutes (universities of applied sciences) have enrolled about 8,000 international students from among more than 29,700 applicants.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has affected the openings of the institutes as well as the issuance of residence permits to international students, resulting in uncertainty among them about getting permission to enter and live in Finland as well as joining the autumn semester in time.

To know the detailed situation of the international students and alternative ways to initiate their courses under the circumstances, the Daily Finland talked to some international student specialists of some leading educational institutions of the country.

The University of Helsinki this year has accepted 1,059 international students out of 4,704 applicants, which is 21 per cent higher year on year.

Nigerians were the biggest group of the newly enrolled international students, followed by the Chinese and the Indians.

The university, however, is forced to plan an unusual opening of the new semester as most of the international students from 83 countries from across the globe registered so far for various courses have failed to arrive in Finland due to the abnormal situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pauliina Mikkonen, head of student recruitment and marketing at the university, said, “apart from degree students this autumn, we had the plan to welcome 542 exchange students who number significantly less than that in the corresponding period of last year.”

However, not all incoming exchange students will start their studies in autumn due to the Covid-19 situation, she said, adding that many universities and even individuals have already cancelled the exchange period.

The government lifted some restrictions on border traffic as of 15 June for travelling to Finland from six adjacent countries, including Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. However, Schengen internal border traffic from other than these six countries as well as Schengen external border traffic continued to be restricted until 14 July. However, many international students have informed the university authorities that they have already obtained their residence permits. Regardless of that, “distance learning and deferring the beginning of the studies because of the restrictions prompted by the coronavirus outbreak are two other options open to the university for international students”, said Mikkonen.

Johanna Kärki, the international education specialist at the University of Turku, said, “This year, a total of 544 students got admitted to degree programmes, 425 of whom are international students.”

She said that the coronavirus crisis has put them in a new situation and forced them to consider alternative offers for foreign students who cannot come to Finland in time.

“In this regard, participation in online courses or deferring the admission by one year are the options open for international students,” said Kärki, adding that “despite all challenges, luckily the pandemic did not affect the number of accepted applicants by the university.”

The University of Eastern Finland is also going through a similar situation. The admission office of the university declared that 671 new students would start their studies for master’s degree in autumn 2020.

The university has then recommended distance education for the students as well as deferring their studies by one year for those who are can’t obtain residence permits in time.

The opening ceremony of the new academic year of the University of Turku will be also be held virtually on 4 September concurrent with the UTU100 Fair.

Similar to other academic intuitions, the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Lapland also suggest online learning and deferral of the semester as alternative ways for the students.

Emilia Tolvanen, coordinator of the admission office of the University of Jyväskylä, said a total of 146 international students were admitted to the English language master’s programme for the autumn semester, posting slight drop in the number year on year. Last year, the number of new international students was 161.

“To decrease the possible risk of spreading coronavirus, the university decided not to host any exchange student in the autumn semester,” said Tolvanen.

“Although Covid-19 affected the number of international students who can come and start their studies here, the University of Lapland is becoming ready to welcome 91 international students in autumn 2020”, said Jani Suokanerva, adviser to the international office of the University of Lapland.

Indeed, the number is less than the actual number of international students who were originally admitted to the university this year, added Suokanerva.