A central goal of higher education policy is to lower the age at which graduates make the transition to work. Monitoring the number of recipients of financial aid for higher education who are 25 years of age or older is one way to evaluate how well this goal is being met. Considering that the average age for completing the matriculation examination is 19 years, and that the target graduation time for Master's level degrees is typically 5 years, as many higher education students as possible should graduate into employment by the age of 25 years.
However, the time to graduation may be prolonged by several factors, such as the age at commencement of study, maintaining full-time status while studying, the scope of degree programmes, educational arrangements, the level of student financial aid, and the labour market situation. Steps are being taken to develop the financial aid system further in the direction of supporting full-time study and faster graduation.
In academic year 2016/2017, financial aid was provided to 54,500 higher education students aged 25 years or over, 53% of whom were completing a university degree. The number of recipients has increased, almost reaching the same level academic year 2009/2010.
Earnings trends are one of the contributing factors behind the development. Trends in unemployment also affect the take-up of financial aid. As the employment situation worsens, students enrolled in but not actively pursuing higher education are more likely to go back to school and to resort to financial aid.
As a result of the global financial crisis, the unemployment rate among persons between 25 and 34 years of age shot up from 5 percent to nearly 10 percent during the winter of 2008/2009, and the number of job openings dwindled. In March 2009, the number of vacancies was 43% lower than one year earlier. The labour market situation may be a significant reason why the number of higher education students aged 25 years or older who received financial aid in academic year 2009/2010 was 10 percent higher than in the previous academic year.
Student financial aid provides economic security during education. Its purpose is to enable equal access to education regardless of one's background.
Financial aid is means tested and conditional on admission to an educational institution. Recipients must study full-time and make satisfactory academic progress. The amount of financial aid depends on the age, accommodation, marital status, level of education and income of the student as well as (in certain situations) parental income.
For statistical purposes, recipients of financial aid are considered to include persons who, during the reference period, were paid study grant or housing supplement or had a state guarantee for a student loan. The financial aid statistics of Kela are compiled from individual-level statistical registers, which are based on databases used by the administrative systems for providing student financial aid.
The number of financial aid recipients is typically analysed by academic year. The trend in the number of recipients reflects changes in the number of students and the financial aid eligibility criteria, such as income limits. An annual income limit was introduced on 1 January 1998 and raised on 1 January 2008. The establishment and expansion of universities of applied sciences between 1997 and 2000 is reflected in a rapid increase in the number of recipients during the late 1990s.
In 2014 and 2015 the higher education institutes were given 3000 new places for new students, which may influence the number of recipients of financial aid.