Monitoring study interim report on the student admissions reform published

Bulletins Tuomo Suhonen, Hannu Karhunen, Tuomas Pekkarinen, Tuomo Virkola

The objective of the student admissions reform is to streamline the transition to higher education and to improve the allocation of student places. In the monitoring study commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture, researchers from the Labour Institute for Economic Research (PT) and the VATT Institute for Economic Research examined whether the reform succeeded in its objectives. The study will be completed in spring 2022. This interim report presents provisional data on the study.

The research project, running from 2020 to 2022, assesses how successful the reform has been in accelerating students’ transition to higher education. The effect of the reform on equal and equitable distribution of student places in higher education will also be examined.

This report focuses on describing changes in application behaviour and student admissions between 2015 and 2020. The material used in the interim report covers only one post-reform year.

Since the results only describe the post-reform situation, the researchers underline that far-reaching conclusions should be avoided at this stage. The changes observed do not necessarily stem from the reform, but instead from other underlying factors that change over time. For example, the COVID-19 epidemic and the introduction of additional student places in higher education institutions are likely to have an impact on admissions.

“The interim report successfully compiles and combines the angles of expediency, equality and non-discrimination in the transition to higher education. As research data accumulates, higher education institutions must examine all of these aspects when they develop their student admissions practices. The report contributes to the preparation of the accessibility plan for higher education,” said Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko.

As a result of the student admissions reform carried out in 2018 –2020, higher education institutions have shifted to admitting the majority of their students based on certificates instead of using field-specific or programme-specific entrance exams for admissions. Universities of applied sciences have introduced a common admissions examination, and universities have increasingly adopted common admissions exams for different subjects. In addition, the institutions have endeavoured to restructure the content of the admissions exams so that the time required to prepare for them is shorter.

More options available for application

One of the benefits of the reform is that applicants can apply for study programmes available for application in different localities without having to prepare for several admissions exams and without having to travel to different localities.

Based on the study, the number of options applied for increased slightly (from an average of 3.0 to an average of 3.4 between 2017 and 2020). Young people under the age of 23, in particular, have begun to include more options in their applications.

The magnitude of academic fields applied for visibly changed in 2020. The falling number of fields of study applied for, which had continued since 2015, ended, so that and more applicants now apply to three or more fields.

Different fields under application pressure

The reform will also affect the division of applications between different fields and options available for application. In most fields in universities of applied sciences, the trend in has been falling in recent years. The fall has been the sharpest in the healthcare and welbeing fields, where the percentage of applications has dropped from 27 per cent to 21 per cent over the past three years.

In universities, interest has grown particularly in the fields of trade and commerce and administration as well as law and medicine. In 2018 –2020, the percentage of applications in the fields of law and medicine actually doubled compared with earlier figures.

Growing number of younger students

The objective of the student admissions reform is to streamline the transition to higher education and to improve the allocation of student places. In 2020, a higher number of applicants received an offer for a student place at a university of applied sciences or a university. The number of applicants who accepted the offered student place grew more moderately.

In both sectors, the average age of applicants who accepted a student place had been growing, but this seems to have stopped in the case of universities in 2018 and in universities of applied sciences in 2020. The share of 19-year-olds and younger applicants increased significantly in 2020. In universities, this also applies to 20-year-olds, whereas the proportion of 21-year-olds and 22-year-olds decreased.

Students entering a higher education institution through certificate-based admissions are younger than those admitted by means of exam scores. A particularly large number of under 21-year-old applicants enter through certificate-based admissions while 40 per cent of the students admitted based on exam scores are over 25 years of age.

Growing percentage of male students

More than half of those in higher education are females. The proportion of females who accepted a student place kept growing until 2019, when it reached a level of 55 per cent. However, in 2020 a fall in the percentage of new female students can be detected. The drop is more pronounced in universities of applied sciences, where the proportion of females who accepted a student place decreased by 1.5 percentage points compared with the previous year.

The impact of the student admissions reform is still difficult to assess at this point. In the case of universities of applied sciences, females accounted for a small majority (53 per cent) of certificate-based admissions that were accepted, whereas a small majority (51 per cent) of those admitted by means of exam scores who accepted the student place were males. In universities, instead, females were in the majority in both groups, but the proportion of females is higher (58 per cent) among those who were admitted via the exam score admissions quota than among those who accepted a student place based on certificates through the certificates-based admissions quota (54 per cent).

Link to the interim report.


  • Tuomas Pekkarinen, Research Leader, VATT Institute for Economic Research, tel. +358 295 519 465
  • Ilmari Hyvönen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 295 330 117