Finland is no paradise: Finnish education official tells North Rift counties, students

Governor Stephen Sang (in white coat at the centre) with some students and parents at Eliud Kipchoge Stadium in Kapsabet

Nandi County Governor Stephen Sang (in white coat at the centre) with some students and parents at Eliud Kipchoge Stadium in Kapsabet in January 2023. Some of the students from Nandi County were stranded in Finland.

Photo credit: Tom Matoke | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nandi county governments sent students to Finland universities, but some have faced hardship and deportation threats 
  • A student from Uasin Gishu County took his own life in April in Finland, citing frustration in the foreign country
  • Students have accused their county administrators of duping them into overseas study deals

A Finnish education official has warned Kenyan recruitment agencies against misleading students into believing that Finland is a land of milk and honey, thereby exposing them to hardships in the foreign country.

This follows controversial study and work arrangements by the Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nandi county governments, which have been marred by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, leaving learners facing threats of deportation from their Finnish universities.

A student from Uasin Gishu County took his own life in April in Finland, citing frustration in the foreign country.

Mr Peter Perttula, director of the Tampere Adult Education Centre, regretted that there was no honest assessment of real life in Finland before students were recruited and flown there, leading to their suffering.

"We need to have an honest opinion about life in Finland and not just promise paradise to students who have ended their suffering here. Agencies have been misleading Kenyans about the rosy life in Finland, which is not there in reality, leading to their suffering," said Mr Perttula.

"I don't know why we are still listed as a happy country in the world. This is a country of struggle even when there are opportunities," he said via Zoom during the International Forum on Improving Education in Finland, organised by MaxGlobal Group in Eldoret on Saturday.

Do not be deceived

Mr Perttula said while there were opportunities in Finland, prospective students should not be deceived and should be allowed to make their decisions based on an informed conversation.

"What I see in the Finnish and Kenyan media about the airlift programme is crazy. Kenya actually has a large population of young people, while in Finland it is the opposite, our huge population is ageing. Employers here need workers, but not from the ageing Finnish population, so the rush to bring students to 

Finland is a good thing. But they should be told what to expect, they need to know about the challenges," he said.

According to the Finnish official, the language barrier and culture shock are the main challenges Kenyan students face in Finland.

"Knowing the Finnish language makes it easier to integrate, but before you learn it, life is a real struggle. Agencies like MaxGlobal have been conducting sessions before the students are flown to Finland, as well as providing liaisons to help the students while they are in the learning institutions," he said.

The real life 

He said that Finnish education is based on real-life situations, mainly practical vocational training.

"Our education is based on needs. This informs the training we give to foreign students to ensure they have access to employment and learn the Finnish language," he said.

MaxGlobal Group CEO Cornelius Kiplagat said the forum aimed to showcase the benefits of education in Finland to Kenyan students and build partnerships for excellence in education and work.

"Finland's education system has gained global recognition for its high standards, learner-centred approach and close alignment with industry needs. We organised the sessions to serve as a platform for in-depth discussions on effective policies, educational excellence and bridging the skills gap," he said.

He said in their collaboration with partners from vocational training institutions, polytechnics and universities of science in Finland, they have facilitated more than 300 students from different counties in Kenya to study and work in Finland. 

"The Finnish higher education institutions, the Business School in Finland under the Tampere City Education Programmes and other cities are equally committed to supporting technology and skills transfer, accelerating sustainable and inclusive economic development and helping to link job opportunities for Kenyan citizens," he said.

Tampere University

Mr Kiplagat revealed that Tampere University of Applied Sciences has entered into a commissioned educational cooperation with Uasin Gishu County in 2021.

“The first and second groups of students agreed to study a Bachelor of Nursing and another group of physiotherapy students followed in the year 2022. The commissioned education cooperation between the two parties was based on the scholarships given to students by the county, but ended in 2022 when the county informed students that there was no scholarship,” he stated.

He said that following this situation, Tampere University of Applied Sciences decided to transfer the agreement from the county government to MaxGlobal Group Ltd in order to secure the students' studies and minimise the financial loss.

"In practice, Tampere University of Applied Sciences has sold the former Uasin Gishu County Government degree programmes to MaxGlobal and the agency pays the tuition fees to the institution," he said.

He said they have other partner universities and colleges such as Jyvaskyla University of Applied Sciences, Hameenlina University of Applied Sciences, Varala Sports Institute and Tampere City Vocational School (Tredu) where students from the three counties study. 

"There are opportunities abroad, but we need to get it right from the start and ensure that students get value for money while they are in Finland," he said. 

Centre Against Torture Executive Director Kimutai Kirui said there should be a clear distinction between county governments and recruitment agencies to prevent the suffering of Kenyans abroad. 

"The agencies should be vetted and re-registered, and counties should clarify their role in airlift programmes," he said.