Finnish Foreign Ministry suspects some West African study applicants may have used forged certificates
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs suspects that the HAMK University of Applied Sciences in Hämeenlinna has not sufficiently examined the skills and motivation of 130 African students recruited for the school in a late application process in the late summer.
Large numbers of West Africans have applied for other Finnish educational institutions in the summer.
More than half of the residence permit applications handled at the Finnish Embassy in Nigeria in June and July were seen to include forged documents.
Most of the applicants were from Nigeria and Ghana, but some were also from Cameroon and Gambia.
Engineering students from Ghana and Nigeria were sought for HAMK in an additional application process, because four of the school's five English language technology programmes were left almost empty in the application process in the spring. "How have the qualifications and motivation of these students been checked?" asks Vesa Häkkinen of the ministry's passports and visas department.
Applicants in the new round included a few Finns, a number of Nepalese and Chinese, and a large number of Nigerians and Ghanaians, says Leena Luoma, chief of student services at HAMK.
Applicants who appeared to meet the requirements, based on the copies of their school certificates that they had submitted. Entrance examinations were organised in China, Nepal, and Ghana. In Ghana, there were 180 applicants taking part in the exam, of whom 130 were accepted. Now these 130 are applying for residence permits at the Finnish Embassy in Nigeria.
Earlier in the spring, the Embassy in Abudja had granted residence permits to 150 students who had applied to various institutions in Finland.
"Not all of the 130 will be getting permission to enter the country. One of the reasons is that some of the applications have proven to be forgeries, and we don't even have that many opening vacancies", Luoma says.
The Foreign Ministry says that forging certificates is so common in these African countries, that the ministry suspects that the primary motivation of the applicants is to get a residence permit for the Schengen countries.
"We have no way to ascertain the authenticity of the degree certificate before the students have come here", Luoma says.
Nigeria has been a leading country for applicants for several years. Luoma says that forged papers have been isolated matters, and that students have generally been successful in their studies.
"Africans, Nepalese, and other foreigners have been very good students", says HAMK Director Veijo Hintsanen. "A much bigger problem than falsified papers has been that it is difficult, especially for Africans, to get trainee positions in Finland." HAMK has always had more foreign than Finnish applicants for its international technology programmes.
Foreigners must undergo an international language test. Many already have an academic degree of some kind when they enter the engineering programme.
The Foreign Ministry also has questions about the registration fees that foreign students have been asked to pay at Finnish educational institutions. In principle, studying in Finland is free, and Finnish students are not asked to pay any fees for the privilege of taking part in an entrance exam. The fee for the exam held in Ghana was EUR 35, collected either by the school or the Embassy.
Project Chief Annika Grönholm of the Finnish National Board of Education says that it is up to the institutions themselves to decide what kinds of registration fees they want to charge. "A greater problem are the private agents operating in Nepal and Africa, who fill in applications, get copies of certificates, and charge any manner of fees from the applicants."
Source: Helsingin Sanomat - International Edition (http://www.hs.fi/english)