international students

International students in Finland: why come and why stay?

Vieraskynä Studying in Finland, Working in Finland

In this blog post, we talk about a study that looks at international students in Finland. It looks at why they come and why they stay here. The study is mainly based on survey responses from international students collected in spring 2019.

Finland is trying hard to attract more international talent to the country to counteract the looming labor shortage. For that, the government has its Talent Boost program. One of its goals is to increase the employment of international students and researchers in Finland. Those people are already here so it makes sense to try to get more of them to stay.

For example, the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) has a campaign that encourages employers to hire foreign students studying in Finland. This #STAYinFinland campaign was launched in January of 2021.

International students in Finland

For nearly 10 years now, the number of international students in Finnish higher education has been around 20 000.

About 10 000 international students study in Finnish universities. About 9 500 study in universities of applied sciences. Of the whole university student population, about 7 % are international students. At universities of applied sciences, the same figure is about 6.7 %.

In 2018, about 18 % of all international students were doctoral students. The proportion of international doctoral students is high. They account for 21 % of all doctoral students in Finland.

In 2018, the majority of international students studying in Finnish universities of applied sciences studied business, administration and law (37 %). They made up 12 % of the student body in that field. The largest share of international students, however, was in information and communication technologies. There their share was 13 % of the student population.

In universities, international students concentrated in the fields of information and communication technologies (23 % of international students) and engineering, manufacturing, and construction (20 %).

In information and communication technologies, their share of the student population was 26 % in 2018.

International students in Finland mostly originate from Asia (46 % in 2018) and Europe (38 %).

About 23 400 applicants applied to the about 270 foreign language programs open in Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences on January 2021About 14 500 applicants were from outside Finland. Most of these were EU or EEA citizens. They were competing for about 4 700 open slots in these programs. We don’t know how many of them were accepted and how many will indeed come to Finland to study this fall.

In previous years, somewhere around 4 500 foreign students started their studies in Finnish higher education annually.

International students in Finland: why come to Finland?

The two main reasons for foreign students to choose Finland were the good reputation of the Finnish education system (69 %) and the prospect of staying in Finland for work after graduation (about 47 %).

Nearly 30 % of international students gave family ties as their reason for coming. For women (37 %), this reason was more common than for men (23 %).

The importance of these reasons varied between educational fields. For education students, the reputation of the Finnish education system was the most (89 %) important reason. For international students in the health and welfare fields, the possibility of employment in Finland was more (79 %) important than reputation (42 %).

The general reputation of the Finnish education system was clearly more important than the reputation of the individual degree program. The reputation of the individual degree program played the most prominent role in the decision-making process of ICT students. But even for them, the reputation of the Finnish education system was more important (69 %) than the reputation of their degree program (34 %).

Here you can find tips about studying in Finland and a list of the higher education institutions in Finland and link paths leading to theirs websites.

International students in Finland: why stay in Finland?

About 50 % of surveyed international students were planning on staying in Finland after graduation. 4 % were planning on moving back to their home country. 7 % were planning on moving to a third country. 40 % of them didn’t yet know what they were going to do. There weren’t any statistically significant differences between students of different fields.

Whether an international student plans to stay in Finland after graduation or not is connected to other factors in their personal lives besides their studies.

For example, those who had prior experience of Finland through exchange programs were more likely to plan on staying. Those who had a partner in Finland or who had come with a plan to find a job here were also more likely to plan on staying. Also, those who had a prior degree from Europe were more likely to plan on staying than those whose prior degree was from somewhere else.

In addition to the students’ personal lives, their experiences during their studies and their study circumstances had an impact on their plans to stay in Finland.

Those who had struggled during their studies but had received support and guidance were more likely to plan on staying. As were those who were working during their studies.

In addition, we know from Mathies and Karhunen that international students graduating from universities that are not in the greater metropolitan area, Turku, or Tampere are more likely to stay in Finland.

Their study also suggests that international graduates from the natural sciences, engineering, manufacturing and construction as well as from the health and welfare fields are more likely to stay in Finland than others.

So, what happens to those who stay?

What happens to international students in Finland after they graduate

Based on available statistics from 2018, the majority of Finnish students have found employment a year after their graduation. 89 % of the Finnish university of applied sciences students have found employment. The figure is 88 % for Finnish university students.

38 % of the university of applied sciences students from EU and EEA countries have moved away a year after graduation. 43 % have found employment in Finland.

53 % of the university of applied sciences students originally from outside Europe are employed in Finland after graduation. 23 % have moved away.

36 % of university graduates from EU and EEA countries are employed in Finland one year after graduation. 43 % of them have moved away.

Of those university graduates that are from outside Europe, 50 % are employed in Finland and 25 % of them have moved away.

So, depending on where the students are from and with what degree they graduate, a year after graduation about 57 – 75 % are still in Finland.

To put that figure in context, Mathies and Karhunen have shown that the percentage of international students that remain in Finland three years after graduation hasn’t really changed that much over the years.

In 1999, 73 % of the international university of applied sciences graduates remained in Finland three years after graduation. At its highest, this figure was 80 % in 2008.

Of those with a Master’s degree, 54 % of international graduates remained in Finland three years after graduation in 1999. From there it climbed to 72 % in 2008 and dropped to 69 % by 2011.

Find open jobs in Finland and also jobs for students.

What else do we know?

Charles Mathies and Hannu Karhunen looked at international students three years after graduation. They compared their situation to Finnish-born graduates. The individuals in their study had graduated between 2009 and 2011.

They concluded that although the employment rate of international graduates was quite high (77 – 81 %), it was still about 10 percentage points lower than for Finnish graduates.

Because of this difference in employment rates, there were also differences in average annual income levels.

In the private sector, international graduates from universities of applied sciences and universities earn 6 000 – 9 000 euros/year less than Finnish graduates. In the public sector, the difference in earnings is 8 000 – 10 000 in favor of Finnish graduates.

Their study only mentions one additional source for these income differences. Language requirements, especially in the public sector, influence the positions which international graduates can get.

TEK (Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland) Graduate Survey from 2019 showed that the average salary of recently graduated TEK members was 3 400 €/month for Finnish graduates. It was 2 800 €/month for international graduates. They give two possible reasons for this difference. One, Finnish graduates had more job experience at the time of graduation. Two, Finnish graduates are more likely to find employment that matches their education.

This blog post was originally published on, on April 22nd, 2021.


Minna Franck is the co-founder of Finnwards. The mission of Finnwards is to help internationals thrive in their life in Finland. We offer career and transition coaching, cultural dexterity coaching, as well as career consulting to internationals looking to build a successful life in Finland. We also offer a wide selection of self-guided online courses about working and living in Finland.  For employers of international talent, we offer cross-cultural training and consulting services. Our head trainer Minna has a research background in cultural studies, but she also knows what expat life is like. She’s currently living one in Estonia. She also knows how to recruit foreign talent and how to manage on-boarding effectively. She is passionate about expat coaching and cultural training. She enjoys creating and delivering interesting and helpful online courses and training courses. She’s constantly writing blogs and creating other content for internationals and their employers. Her particular interests are expat spouses and just workplaces.

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