This spring for the first time, free preparatory courses are being made available in Helsinki to students hoping to pass exams to enter university to study subjects including law, medicine and economics. The free programme is aimed at levelling the field for those who can’t afford expensive commercial prep courses.
High school graduates hoping to study medicine, business and law are the ones most likely to invest significant amounts of money in prep courses with the aim of increasing their chances of getting the university education of their choice.
Now, for the first time, a group of student volunteers from the University of Helsinki will be helping out by running prep courses for young hopefuls, free of charge.
The courses are being organized by two political youth organizations, the Independent Left and the South Finland chapter of Left Youth, as well as the adult education HYO institute. The most popular courses will have room for around fifty high school graduates, with smaller groups preparing for entrance exams in less popular fields.
Ever since the announcement that free prep courses would be on offer, the phone of Arto Bäckström, the southern district chairman of of Left Youth, has been ringing off the hook.
“There has been a lot of extremely positive feedback about this. There have been so many inquiries and so much interest that we have a bit of a problem about how to fit them all in,” says Bäckström.
Organizers see the venture in part as a matter of principle, arguing that commercially available preparatory courses have undermined the system of free education in Finland. In more practical terms, they want to provide a better chance to young people who simply cannot afford to pay for prep courses.
“The less well-off can’t afford super expensive courses. Our system of free courses will offer an alternative,” Bäckström adds.
Lauri Pasanen is a young man who hopes to get into to study medicine at the University of Helsinki. He will be taking part in the free prep courses targeted at this spring’s entrance exam.
“Right now, I probably wouldn’t have the money to put into paying for a prep course. Since this is being offered for free, it’s a really good thing,” says Pasanen.
Commercial sector not worried
There is a good deal of variation in the costs of commercial preparatory courses, but as an example, a full course readying a student to take this spring’s medical school exam in Helsinki can cost close to 5,500 euros. However, this comes with a money-back guarantee, if the student fails to get a spot at university.
Commercial academic coaches do not seem overly concerned about the competition. There are doubts, though, about how cost-free the new courses actually are.
“We have operated in the sector for 40 years and seen all kinds of situations,” states Janne Nousiainen, CEO of one of the biggest prep course providers, Valmennuskeskus.
“When aiming for first-class education, someone always has to pay. Whether that is the end-user, the person on the course, or the taxpayers or someone else, at the end of the day there are no free services,” Nousiainen stresses.