Student admissions reform of higher education institutions: Filling in most of student places based on certificate admissions made admission process more efficient
As of 2020, at least half of students for higher education institutions have been selected based on their matriculation examination certificate or vocational education and training grades. Compared to the previous, fragmented application system, the change made student admissions more efficient, shows a recent study by VATT and LABORE.
The extensive student admissions reform achieved its key objectives and did not cause any unwanted repercussions in the student admissions of higher education institutions. This came up in the joint research project of VATT Institute for Economic Research (VATT) and the Labour Institute for Economic Research LABORE. The research consortium led by VATT Research Professor Tuomas Pekkarinen also included researchers Tuomo Virkola from VATT and Hannu Karhunen and Tuomo Suhonen from LABORE.
Juha Sipilä's Government in collaboration with universities and universities of applied sciences decided to change the student admissions system to higher education institutions so that in most fields of study at least half of the students are admitted to student places based on their matriculation examination certificate or vocational education and training grades. The change began with universities of applied sciences in 2018 and entered into force in full extent in 2020.
Previously, higher education institutions organised hundreds of tailored degree programme-specific entrance exams to select students. Furthermore, the previous model used not only certification-based student admissions but also widely employed a model in which a large number of students were admitted by combining the points based on the matriculation examination certificate and a separate entrance exam.
“The previous model contributed to exacerbating the so-called application backlog, in which a large number of students who had passed their matriculation examination applied to specific places of study for several years in a row and were admitted either after many entrance examinations or not at all. The objective of the student admissions reform was to get rid of this phenomenon as much as possible, and the goal was achieved,” says Tuomas Pekkarinen, Research Professor at VATT.
Six key results of the reform
- The reform increased the percentage of students who took the matriculation examination in the spring of the same year among applicants who were admitted into a higher education institution and accepted the student place.
- The reform improved applicant behaviour in the process, so that applicants entered several choices in their applications and also chose study places located further afield from their municipality of residence.
- The reform did not bring any changes to the gender distribution or socioeconomic background of students who were admitted and accepted a student place. In other words, the reform did not affect student mobility in society. The strong tendency in Finland for higher education to be passed down from one generation to the next seems to continue.
- The scores achieved in the matriculation exam's tests in mother tongue and mathematics by the students who were admitted to higher education institutions and accepted a student place were higher than before the reform. For those admitted who accepted the study place, the difference in the scores in the matriculation exam's tests in mother tongue, and the basic-level or advanced-level mathematics was about 0.4 points higher than before the reform.
- Those who accepted the student place started their studies more often than before in a place other than the one they had named as their primary choice in the application.
- As a result of the reform, a larger share of those admitted who accepted a student place will apply for a new place the following year. It may indicate that the reform has made it easier to apply for a place of study for both first-time applicants and those who have already been allocated a place in higher education.
Further research on the impacts of the reform needed
Two concerns in particular have been raised in the discussion related to the student admissions reform. First of all, there has been concern about the impact of the reform on students’ subject choices in upper secondary education. Especially the emphasis put on advanced mathematics in the university admissions of numerous non-natural science programmes has been criticised.
“The individual-level material of the Finnish National Board of Education on the subject choice in upper secondary studies was not yet available at the time of the study, so further research is needed to study this question. It is good to remember that the scoring in the student admissions process takes place in higher education institutions and can be changed there, if deemed necessary,” says Research Professor Tuomas Pekkarinen, who led the project.
Another widely criticised subject is the fact that, due to the reformed student admissions system to higher education institutions, students have started making tactical subject choices in upper secondary education, or in practice, in upper secondary schools. This has been considered to put upper secondary school students under increased pressure. “The impact of the student admissions reform on student stress and when it is experienced is an important topic for further research,” Tuomas Pekkarinen says.
The Ministry of Education and Culture commissioned the study from the consortium formed by VATT and LABORE based on the tendering process.
Report (in Finnish)
Hannu Karhunen, Tuomas Pekkarinen, Tuomo Suhonen ja Tuomo Virkola (2022) Opiskelijavalintauudistuksen seurantatutkimuksen loppuraportti. VATT Muistio 67.
Tuomas Pekkarinen, Research Professor, VATT (tel. +358 295 519 465 and email [email protected])