Ahola Sakari

Eliitin yliopistosta massojen korkeakoulutukseen. Korkeakoulutuksen muuttuva asema yhteiskunnallisen valikoinnin järjestelmänä.

From Elite to Mass Higher Education. Changing structures of selection in Finnish higher education

English summary


This study addresses the selection function of higher education. The aim is to analyze the role of the university in the reproduction of social positions, trace the social determinants of the transition from elite to mass higher education, document the changes in educational selection and analyze the social stratification of the Finnish higher education field in the mid 1980's.

The main emphasis is on the social divisions of the current mass higher education field, but in order to understand the massification process, the starting point for the study is the elite university, in the Finnish context, the founding of the Academy of Turku in 1640.

The theoretical framework derives mainly from Pierre Bourdieu's ideas on cultural and social reproduction. Education is seen as cultural capital and also as a mean of its reproduction.

The notion of field in connection with the method applied, correspondence analysis, was used to analyze the relations between university, Church and State, and the divisions of in the Finnish higher education field.

The heritage of the elite university

In 17th century Finland, the university (Academy of Turku) was a central wielder of power, along with the traditional power institution, the Church, and the developing modern State. The state was a new kind of steering and administration, a structure with its laws, officials and clerks. The university became the main educator of civil servants.

Education in the university and also in other schools was meant for the elite. 'Selectus ingeniorum', and strong social class distinctions were the main elements in the ideology of 18th century society, and this was also reflected in the structures of education: ecclesiastical moral education for the masses, public schools for basic reading and writing for the members of the four estates and the autonomous university for the reproduction of the elite hierarchy.

During the Swedish regime, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the majority of the student body in the Academy were sons of the clergy. The proportion of the nobility was significant in relative terms, although university studies were not necessary for a military career. The university also attracted sons of affluent landowners striving for careers within the Church.

The relatively strong position of the university became evident in the political turmoil when Finland came under Russian rule in 1809. The Czar bought the cooperation of the elite by developing the Academy. During the period of the Autonomous Grand Duchy in the 19th century, secularization and bureaucratization meant growing power of the State officials and fewer farmers' sons, for instance, entered the Academy. The function of the university to educate State officials was reinforced and the traditional reproduction of social positions by inheritance was gradually replaced by the requirement of university degrees.

At the end of the 19th century technical education was developing fast and striving to achieve university status. A survey of the students at the Polytechnical College shows that they were as highly selected as university students.

A detour was also made into the academic field. In the 17th and 18th century the university was socially a highly closed community and, for instance, most of the professors were related. The professors naturally came from the same elite groups as the university students but they were even more highly selected, as it was the destiny of many students from middle class or peasant background to drop out due to lack of resources.

Massification of higher education

Industrialization and the revival of commerce at the end of the 19th century meant a growing demand for technical and commercial education. Technical education acquired university status at the beginning of the 20th century and commercial education followed within a decade. Early in the 1920s two private universities were founded in Turku, one Finnish and the other Swedish speaking reflecting the political struggles of new independent State. The autonomous status of the old university, now residing in the capital as the University of Helsinki, was guaranteed by the Constitution.

The development of the first half of the century, before the 'education explosion' of the 1950s and 1960s, can be characterized as the forming of a loosely integrated higher education system. The core of the system were the two State universities, of which the University of Helsinki had the leading position. It was the accrediting agency in the university field, relying on its traditional autonomy. The Helsinki University of Technology functioned in its own special field, operating directly under the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

At the beginning of the 1950s the Finnish higher education field comprised eleven institutions. In addition to the two State universities there were two specialized State institutions, a pedagogical college in Jyväskylä and a college for veterinary medicine in Helsinki. On the private side, there were four schools of economics, two in Helsinki and two in Turku, and a community college-like institution in the field of social sciences in Helsinki. Thus, most of the institutions were in the capital area and only one was outside the main southern area of Finland. The University of Helsinki was still the leading university in Finland. In terms of student numbers, it accounted for two thirds of the total enrolment.

In the process of expansion, the Finnish system developed two distinct sectors. On one hand, there were the 'humboldtian' universities and on the other there were various specialized higher education institutions some of which later became 'real' universities.

The development from the 1950s to the late 1980s can be characterized as the forming of a tightly integrated, State controlled mass higher education system. During this period a distinct higher education policy was initiated, several new institutions were established, private institutions were nationalized and the whole higher education system was 'squeezed' into a new kind of planning and control system, which involved a massive degree reform and a new system of institutional administration.

In spite of the fact that the main forces for expansion came from the expanding economy and from the needs of the labor market and that the new institutions were established primarily to produce highly qualified manpower local interests and the State policy favored universities. All new institutions were involved in research and were authorized to give PhD-level qualifications, although some 'universities' had only two faculties in the beginning.

Thus, during the transition period, Finland developed an additional sector: the small, characteristically local higher education institution which gave university- level degrees but lacked the multi-faculty property of the older universities. Another sector that was integrated into the mass higher education system during the 1970s was art education. At the beginning of the 1980s, then, Finland had altogether 20 higher education institutions.

During the transition period (from 1950 to 1970), the number of university students increased from 15 000 to 60 000. At the same time the number of matriculated students grew even more rapidly. The problems of massification and crowding led in Finland, too, to student unrest and demands for changing the system according to the prevailing political situation. The new bureaucratic planning system, which was based on ideas of efficiency, did not meet the acute social, political and educational problems of university life. In addition, the old academic administration of the universities was unable to adjust to the needs of mass higher education.

In the massification process, the relatively autonomous university became a functional part of the overall educational system. In the phase of elite higher education, university education had played an important role in the inculcation of future elites. In the mass higher education system, reproduction of qualifications and selection became major functions. The growing number of students seeking admission to the universities forced the system to apply a numerus clausus. In addition to the traditional academic careers, higher education became the normal path giving access to various occupations within the growing welfare society.

At the same time as the numerus clausus Ä in the form of entrance examinations Ä put an end to the 'open' elite university, admission policy was based on ideas of equality of educational opportunity. Entrance examinations meant that the matriculation examination lost its status as the exclusive prerequisite for higher education, although it is still the main route to university studies.

The fact that mass higher education became an integral part of the public schooling system and a provider of vocational training for a large and diversified clientele also led to a far-reaching curricular reform. Old degrees no longer matched the changing occupational structure, study duration was considered to be too long, and the number of drop-outs too high. Thus, in this respect, too, the State required efficiency.

The social determinants of the massification process were threefold. Social and economic development affecting the amount and type of positions was the main factor. But, the educational system itself has played an important role in the promotion of educational expansion. Striving for better positions and standard of living, every new generation has always acquired higher levels of education, forcing the system and State policy to change. The third factor compounds the interests of the state, economy and other interest groups involved in education. Along with the interests of educational equality, the firm belief in human capital was especially important in the massification process.

Social dimensions of the Finnish higher education field

The roots of educational selection lie in the family, in its social position and capitals. Those who enter higher education are already selected by previous education. However, the 'education explosion' and the massification of higher education have brought university studies also within reach of the lower social classes which dispose over lesser capitals.

The massification of higher education has meant the stratification of educational routes. Elite routes have survived inside mass higher education but new routes for the working class have emerged. The stratification of the field of higher education follows the same logic as educational selection in general. The more socially valued and rewarding the position is to which a certain educational path leads, the more highly selected are the students.

By using correspondence analysis and measuring cultural capital by the fathers' socio-economic status (including information on occupation and education), the profiles of altogether 77 routes of higher education were analyzed to find out the dimensions describing the Finnish higher education field.

The gender division of higher education is the main dimension. This was expected, due to the strong connections between gender, field of study and labor market. Using the terms of correspondence analysis, the educational profiles of men and women vary more than the profiles of different socio-economic groups.

The second dimension can be interpreted as the amount of cultural capital. Typical routes of young people from an elite background include medical and law studies, business administration and arts at the institutions of higher education in the capital area, the center of economy and culture. The women's field includes humanities and education at the main universities. The Helsinki University of Technology is located in the men's field. Economy and law are also male-dominated. The routes taken by the working class lie in the regional higher education institutions, including social and natural sciences and engineering. Natural sciences are slightly male-dominated. Social sciences have varying gender compositions.

There is only slight interaction between gender and cultural capital. In general, social selection functions in the same way for both men and women. The most notable difference is in selection for the technical field. The few women who choose technical education are more selected than men. It seems that crossing that cultural border requires additional cultural capital from the females.

The third dimension of Finnish higher education is connected with the type of cultural capital. This points to the tendency to make occupational and hence educational choices within a relatively close social range: children of teachers study education more often than others, those with an engineering background are more often found in technical institutions etc. Another typical phenomenon of the Finnish higher education field is that those with a farming background favor education in the faculties of agriculture and forestry. This dimension has another important interpretation. It separates the public sphere from the private sphere, where there is a close connection between managerial background and choosing business studies, which are most likely to lead back to the private sector.

Those coming from a working class background naturally do not have any cultural guidance in choosing their educational preferences. Their entering into the higher education field is characterized rather by 'avoidance of' the elite routes than preference of certain other routes. The demanding entrance examinations of the elite faculties also impose further selection obstacles to the culturally 'handicapped'.

The detour into the academic field was continued by analyzing the social background of professors in the 1980s. Due to the difference in the generations of the student body and the professorial body, a farming background was more frequent among professors than among students. Otherwise, professors were as elitist as before. A comparison of the backgrounds of male and female professors, who are a clear minority, shows that additional cultural capital is needed for women to enter the academic field, as was the case with students entering the field of technical education. Very often this additional capital was a professor- father, obviously giving prior familiarity with the functioning of the academic field.

Conclusions on the future development of Finnish higher education

The Finnish field of higher education is undergoing a process of profound restructuring. By introducing new vocational higher education institutions, the Ministry aims at universal access, offering higher education for 60 per cent of the age group.

Until now the hierarchies of education and social positions have been in balance. The massification process has led to an inflation of educational credentials. It is obvious that the number of elite positions is not increasing as fast as educational expansion would presuppose. More particularly, the total halt in the expansion of the welfare State means that the academically educated are forced to look for employment in the private sector.

On the other hand, the academic drift will give new professional groups and educa- tional institutions an impetus to seek higher status. The new 'Fachhochschulen' are needed to promote the functioning of mass higher education and to open up the bottle necks in student flows. On the other hand, the new organization of postgraduate education represents the traditional mode of academic socialization into elite positions. However, it remains to be seen whether there is a genuine demand for all these PhDs in the private enterprise.