Why weren’t we all born in Finland???

Mea culpa. Uncharacteristically I missed one of my scheduled post days for this blog – June 20. Sometimes I pull something together the day of a scheduled post – rather than a well-thought-out post written over a period of time, which I also do – but I always try to write about something I’m working on, inspired by, and/or questions I have for readers (whether they go answered or not). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that this time.

Why? Well, on June 20 I was in transit from Helsinki, Finland, as a matter of fact. I went on a two-week vacation there to explore the city and visit one of my best friends in the whole world. Having been decidedly out of the country, I hope you’ll forgive my negligence. (I had a great time, by the way.)

Now that I’m back, I thought I’d use my trip as inspiration for today’s post. I had some great conversations with my friend about universities in Finland vs. Canada. We consider ourselves pretty lucky in Canada with relatively well-subsidized post-secondary education, and we are lucky. However, post-secondary education in Finland is FREE! That’s right – free! Even my Canadian citizen friend gets free education there, rather than the exorbitant fees international students pay here. As he put it, from kindergarten to PhD is free for all!

So how do they do it? I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of Finnish government, but clearly they prioritize education. According to this source, the Finnish government guarantees sufficient core funding for universities. That means all basic needs of universities are met. Can you imagine that?

So naturally I asked my friend: do Finnish universities fundraise??? The answer is kind of. One thing they don’t do is ask alumni or students’ parents for money. They do allow philanthropic donations, but they won’t actively solicit individual gifts. At most, they’ll focus their efforts on corporations and foundations.

And when Finnish universities do fundraise, they get more for their efforts! Obviously “sufficient core funding” is huge, but we know more than that is likely needed, at least some of the time. A new Universities Act (2010) shifted the focus of universities’ financial structures more towards outside funding, but the government isn’t neglecting institutions. Instead, it committed to match the basic funding any university collects as private donations at a ratio of 2.5 to 1. Whatever you fundraise, the Finnish government will give you 2.5x that.

What does that mean for alumni? You go to university for free, you’re educated (and in Finland, have a much better chance at a job after you graduate), and your university asks you for nothing in return. I don’t know much about Finnish alumni, but I imagine more positive impressions of your alma mater and potentially higher engagement with the university after graduation.

So is our government failing us? Perhaps. For me, it makes me realize how much better our case for support has to be. Our reality is different and we have to work within this context. I could dream of better government funding, but then again, that could mean I’d be out of a job. Knowing how Finnish education works, at the very least, makes me more sympathetic to our commonly heard objections: “I already paid tuition” or “I’m still paying back student loans”. Our alumni are saying, “What more do you want from me?” And I get it… why weren’t we all just born in Finland?

So if we’re going to have the audacity to ask (because our alumni must feel that way about fundraising sometimes), then we better give them a good reason why they should give.

What do you think???  How do governments like Finland’s make you feel?  Depressed, or inspired to work that much harder?

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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