Students in Helsinki benefit from positive discrimination funding

According to a study by VATT Institute for Economic Research, targeted funding from the city of Helsinki has clearly increased the number of pupils who continue to secondary education.

Kuva: Pekka Nikrus (cropped)Photo: Pekka Nikrus (cropped)

A study by Mikko Silliman indicates that Helsinki's positive discrimination funding policy, meant to eliminate social exclusion and targeted at specific comprehensive schools in Helsinki, has increased the likelihood that pupils continue their studies in secondary education, particularly among immigrant pupils and Finnish-speaking boys.

Furthermore, a greater share of the pupils who seek secondary education in the schools that receive the funding continue their studies in general upper secondary school.

“The study shows that a minor investment can have a surprisingly large impact. In 2008, one in every three immigrant students in Helsinki did not continue their studies after comprehensive school. The positive discrimination funding has decreased this share by one-fifth,” Mikko Silliman says.

According to the results, the increase in high school acceptances is not due to simply better grades but being able to better grasp the opportunities available to them.

The additional funding alone is not the key: the most important issue is how the schools use the funding. The schools in Helsinki that were part of the study use most of the positive discrimination funding to hire special needs assistants.

In Helsinki, the term ‘positive discrimination funding’ refers to an allowance paid by the city to schools based on the educational status and income level of the parents of the school’s pupils and the number of immigrant families in the area from which the school’s pupils come. 

“According to my study, supporting the education of adolescents with positive discrimination funding is an affordable and effective means of combating social exclusion and assisting pupils, immigrant pupils in particular, integrate into society,” Silliman explains.

The study shows that the policy reduced the gap in dropout rate between pupils in schools receiving PD funding and other schools in Helsinki. A similar improvement in the dropout rate did not take place in schools with similar characteristics in other cities in Finland.

In the study, the term ‘similar schools’ refers to schools that would have received positive discrimination funding based on the background of their pupils if the cities in which they are located had the same policy as Helsinki.

More information: Mikko Silliman, +1617-714-5863

Research report:

Targeted Funding, Immigrant Background, and Educational Outcomes: Evidence from Helsinki's “Positive Discrimination” Policy. VATT Working Papers 91