Finland fact of the day

Finnish students stay in college longer than in any other developed country save Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark, getting their first university degree on average at 29, according to a 2013 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That compares with 24 years for Britons, 26 for Germans and the OECD average of 27 years. Most Finns who graduate from college get a master’s degree.

There is more here.  Of course that undoes a lot of the benefits from their excellent primary education system.


Wonder what the same stats are for the high-achieving Swedish minority population in Finland (e.g. Linus Torvalds)? Also wonder if it has anything to do with the notorious Finish introversion. As the joke goes: how can you tell a Finish extrovert? He looks at the other person's shoes when talking.

One of the reasons why Finnish students take so long to graduate is that it's relatively difficult to get into a university in Finland, and lots of people apply to the same program in several successive years until they get in. The Swedish-speakers have several Swedish-speaking universities of their own plus they get affirmative action when applying to Finnish-speaking* universities, which means that it's easier for them to start studying what they want, so they may graduate earlier.

* Actually, the Finnish-speaking universities are bilingual. All students and teachers must be able to speak Swedish, too.

And then there's always Linus' choice of "Do something else for the most part, and then run away to America."

Interesting. Thanks for the insight.

Oh, so when price is zero there's a shortage. You'd think for-profit schools would pop up. But of course there's the unemployment problem mentioned in the article. What's really causing the unemployment?

"One of the reasons why Finnish students take so long to graduate is that it’s relatively difficult to get into a university in Finland, and lots of people apply to the same program in several successive years until they get in."

I'm not so sure that this can be the main factor here. I don't know if there's data on this (probably there is), but it feels to me that most of the students still get into a University on their first or second attempt.

What also seems to be a bit unique to Finland is that people change their majors quite often. Many students go to study something and after two or three years decide that they don't like their major and change fields completely and start from scratch. This is probably possible (at least for normal income people) in countries where you have to pay for college.

Does this nearly-universal Master's degree tell us anything other than that they get subsidies for going to and staying in college?

Too many unneeded business degrees, looking at the article there.

And I suspect a fair number of Completely Useless ones just to get the subsidy on top of free tuition...

The Master's degree requirement is indeed idiotic but because employers expect that you have one, it's difficult to change the system. For example, you cannot get a permanent position in the civil service if you don't have a Master's degree, and collective agreements (which encompass essentially all employees in the country) tie salaries to degrees earned.

In Finland, Master's degree is typically a 5 year degree (3 years for bachelor's and 2 for master's), which is only one year (not two years) more than a typical 4 year bachelor's degree in the US.

I feel that people who don't aim for academia, aren't always that happy about staying in university for five (or more) years, but, in Finland, Master's degree is often kind of a minimum degree required for anything. If you only have Bachelor's degree, employers might assume that there is something wrong with you if you didn't manage to get the standard degree. Until very recently, some universities even allowed to skip the Bachelor's degree completely and go straight for a 5 year Master's degree.

This follows well the signalling theory of education; if everyone else has Master's degrees and you don't, you're signalling that you're somehow inferior to them. However, if everyone has only Bachelor's degrees, it's perfectly okay. It doesn't have much to do with the actual skills you learn while getting your degree.

"It doesn’t have much to do with the actual skills you learn while getting your degree."

This doesn't necessarily follow. People who get a bachelor's degree in an environment where everyone else is getting master's degrees are different from people who get bachelor's degrees elsewhere. It may well indicate lack of skills.

Signaling exists because it is actually signaling for something.

The article headline is "Eight Years of College Lets Finns Hide From Labor Market".
Do they only start their degree studies at age 21?

---Of course that undoes a lot of the benefits from their excellent primary education system

I'm not sure I follow.


OTOH, is it possible that excessive school times are a form of job sharing?

What TC is saying is that Finns don't need to stay in university so much if they have good primary and secondary school systems. And in fact the IQ by Country chart (Google this) shows Finland has an average IQ of 97, one point less than the USA's, proving that all this lengthy schooling is largely a waste, arguably not even signaling, but probably a form of delaying entry into the labour market, since the economy sans Nokia is not that dynamic. Did that make sense? No? Then your IQ is less than mine ;-)

"Young people are staying in school to avoid joining the ranks of the unemployed, who now make up more than 9 percent of all workers, compared with a low of 5.2 percent in mid-2008."

Followed by

"While education is a safe haven for students, the economy suffers when they put off joining the job market and don’t have skills the labor market needs, said Hannu Kaseva, an economist at ETLA research institute in Helsinki."

How do those two statements fit together?

Seems to me like some people wish that young people didn't have the relatively attractive option of remaining in school but would rather that they accepted lower wages and worse working conditions. I suppose this will somehow make them better off?

When they do enter the labor market and are paying taxes they presumably will decide whether it makes sense to continue this system. I anticipate they will approve and support future generations to go down the same path. It is possible they just highly values education and doesn't see a problem supporting it. If we had told the Americans of yore what share of the population would have grad degrees in 2014, many would have likely thought it ridiculous and unnecessary.

And they would have been right.

What percent do you think is right?

After years of teaching I would say set it at the percentage of students in a given country who could score the equivalent of 115 IQ and then turn other programs into well run technical/certificate courses.

"Seems to me like some people wish that young people didn’t have the relatively attractive option of remaining in school but would rather that they accepted lower wages and worse working conditions. I suppose this will somehow make them better off?"

One of the problems is that continued higher education poses something of a coordination problem during sluggish labor markets. High intelligence students can either accept a low paying job or continue school. Low intelligence students probably can't get into a decent grad school. So even if a high intelligent student wants to enter the workforce at the lower wages, it sends a bad signal.

One emerging alternative you see at the very high-end of the spectrum is high prestige firms that are known for exclusively hiring very smart people. Landing a job out of school at Google or Goldman is probably at least as hard as entering a competitive grad school. Being employed at a cognitively stratified firm avoids the signaling problem.

At some point you take a huge loss by trying to avoid the bad signal. I mean 29 years old? Regardless of the signal sent, graduating at 21 and working for 8 years a smart person is guaranteed to come out ahead.

Is that true when all aspects of promotion and salary ate coveted by a collective bargaining agreement?

Many university students here in Finland start working full-time before they finish their degree. Often the thesis topic is provided by the employer.

If true, doesn't this change the whole complexion of the issue?

Work and education/training in tandem seems like a good strategy.

I'm curious.

Can you name a specific benefit of the education system this undoes?

Superior primary and secondary education may increase productivity, but that would be largely (or entirely, or more) offset by spending an extra 10-15% of their productive years in college.

It undoes the benefit we might expect from energetic, well educated twenty-somethings working in real industry. But see Tommi's comment for an explanation of how this loss is ameliorated.

Fancy name is the opportunity cost of lost wages, lost productive employment. As Brandon points out there are more lost productive years in the Finnish system.

What if you make your bachelors at 21, work 10 years, and then make your masters at 33. How will that affect the statistic?

It says "first university degree." That would be 21 in the example you give.

A bachelor's degree is useless in Finland. If you only get a BA, you are considered a dropout.

A Master's degree takes one year!

Finland (Nordic countries) basically don't have bachelors degrees, just masters - the basic time to completion is 5 1/2 years. It's actually more similar to the 5-year masters (BA + 1 year MA) that some US schools have, than an US master's degree.

There is something called bachelors (I think maybe because the EU said they had to) but nobody takes it seriously, so it would be stupid to stop at one.

The age may be a little misleading - the 1/2 year is a master's thesis project. A not insignificant number of students start the thesis and get enough finished that they start applying for jobs. Not infrequently, they get an offer and start working, then take forever to get around to finishing up. Some employers expect that it actually gets finished (public sector), but a lot of smaller companies really don't care.

There is no interesting story here. If they measured how quickly Finnish students achieved 180 ECTS, which is the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, it would be below the OECD average. The author of the piece surely knows this (looking at his bio). He also knows that after the Bologna Process students are now required to get Bachelor's degrees and the government has set a limit on how long they can take to study - 7 years for a Masters. Lazy journalism.

Over 80% of finnish males enter and finish military or civilian service before turning 30. Most do it after having finished secondary education, some while in college and hardly anyone after graduation. This is, among other things, a significant cause of delay.

There is a similar explanation for why so many Mormon college football players are better developed than heir peers.

In the Nordics they get paid for going to college. Incentives do matter.

They get paid less than the worst unemployment benefit, so in this case the incentive would be to not go to college.

That still makes it a much higher incentive to go to college than other countries have. And surely it is much better socially to be perpetually in college than on unemployment.

Seems like they never Finish.

Why is it so hard for Americans to realise that choice and time during college years is not waste and is not undoing early benefits. What are they racing towards?

Anything productive?


College in the U.S. takes 4-5 years, smart guy

Want to run the numbers for grad school, big boy?

Better grammar than yours

In what language?

'Of course that undoes a lot of the benefits from their excellent primary education system.'

Best satire site on the web - only a tenured university professor has the necessary authority to make such an observation.

Germany used to be like that a generation ago.

Germany just switched to the bachelor/master system from the old Diplom system a few years ago. Almost everyone is getting a master's degree.

“Eight Years of College Lets Finns Hide From Labor Market” . My friends in the academia in India complain that in their regions many students enroll for the PhD programme only to avoid telling people they are unemployed. I can tell them their students are in good compnay

I second Tommi's comment. Many Finnish students do indeed already have a full-time job when they finish their master's degree.

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