First evaluation on the inclusion of immigrant-background students in higher education reveals challenges in entering studies and receiving necessary support

Higher education hannavaatainen

Many students with an immigrant background feel that a higher education degree acquired abroad does not facilitate finding employment in Finland. As a result, they return to studies. However, the following up of the progress of studies is complicated by the fact that higher education institutions usually do not identify those with an immigrant background as a distinct group.  There is not enough support available for the development of academic language skills.

The size of young age groups with an immigrant background that could potentially enter higher education later on will increase in the coming years, and higher education also needs to prepare for this proactively. For instance, one fourth of children under the school age in the Helsinki metropolitan area has an immigrant background. With this background in mind, FINEEC is now publishing an evaluation of the situation of students with an immigrant background in higher education institutions.  The term “students with an immigrant background” refers to students whose parents were born abroad and who have either moved to Finland or were born in Finland. International students are excluded from the scope of the evaluation.

The evaluation combines statistics and students’ experiences

Both statistics from 2012–2017 and the experiences of the students in the target group were used as sources in the evaluation. In addition to students, the personnel and management of the higher education institutions were heard. The evaluation team visited 11 higher education institutions, both universities of applied sciences and universities.

Students with an immigrant background are not identified as a distinct group

The evaluation indicated that, as a rule, higher education institutions do not identify those with an immigrant background as a distinct group; that is, they are not registered in official systems. This makes it more difficult to target communications, guidance and support as well as to monitor the progress of studies. According to the evaluation, students benefit from affirmative action that takes the needs for special support into consideration. However, they do not wish to be labelled as students with an immigrant background. Higher education institutions emphasise non-discrimination and equality. However, this approach should be integrated with the support needs that students with an immigrant background have. Examples of good practices include giving students more time in examinations and, in general, offering the opportunity to receive personal guidance during the study path.

Attention should be paid to networking with potential employers already during the studies

Often, the motive for studies was the wish to find employment in Finland. Many students with an immigrant background felt that a higher education degree acquired abroad did not facilitate finding employment in Finland, which could be seen in their return to studies.

  • “The students with an immigrant background whom we met during the visits seemed determined and goal-oriented. They were highly motivated to study and thus find a permanent place in the labour market. Encounters with students convinced our evaluation team of how relevant it is for a small country like Finland to ensure that the entire skills potential be utilised to society’s benefit,” says Maija Airas, Chair of the evaluation team.

The connection between studies and working life must be increased. The recognition of competence should be further promoted, internship opportunities should be increased and support should be offered for networking with potential employers during the studies.

“The S2 option was easy at the upper secondary school but turned out to be a bad choice at the university”

Many students with good Finnish language skills had been directed to S2 (Finnish as a second language) teaching at previous levels of education. This did not support the development of academic language skills.

The evaluation revealed that higher education institutions do not identify, at least not to a sufficient degree, the needs of students with an immigrant background when it comes to the development of specialist-level language skills. In addition to increasing the number of S2 courses, students should be provided with an opportunity to build their learning pathways so that language skills develop throughout the path as part of other academic studies. It is not only about learning the language but also about adopting the studying culture. Students with an immigrant background should be included in joint activities in higher education institutions as active participants, by taking part in different working groups and student associations, for instance.

The evaluation team encourages higher education institutions to pay attention to students with an immigrant background, identify them as part of the higher education community and recognise the special issues encountered by these students both when applying for higher education and when studying at a higher education institution. The evaluation team also urges decision-makers of educational policy to ensure, through guidance of higher education institutions, that the inclusion of students with an immigrant background in higher education is realised and monitored.

 

Additional information:

Maija Airas, Chair of the evaluation team, tel. +358 29 533 8588 (maija.airas@oph.fi)

Project Managers Marja-Liisa Saarilammi, tel. +358 29 533 5528 (marja-liisa.saarilammi@karvi.fi) and Hanna Väätäinen, tel. +358 29 533 5568 (hanna.vaatainen@karvi.fi).

The report “Background matters. Students with an immigrant background on the path towards higher education” (in Finnish with an English abstact) can be downloaded from FINEEC’s website www.karvi.fi.

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