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The state of emergency and education

On March 16th declared state of emergency has given rise to numerous complaints and investigative measures in the oversight of educational activities. 

Universities and other institutes of higher education
 
In the period to 12 May, the Parliamentary Ombudsman received 23 complaints concerning universities and other institutes of higher education during the state of emergency. So far, information has been requested in cases related to the alteration of the grounds for admission to universities, the arrangement of mandatory teaching training, communications about the arrangement of teaching, and leisure travel requiring the Rector’s consent.
 
Grounds for admission to universities

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has received a large number of complaints concerning the alteration of the grounds for admission to universities during the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, the complaints have been related to the selection of new students in the fields of medicine, business administration and psychology (3185/2020). The complaints have included the following themes: 1) Alterations of the selection criteria mid-way through the application process by increasing the proportion of students selected on the basis of their matriculation examination grades by a substantial amount in some fields; 2) Appropriateness of the communication of changes; 3) The necessity/appropriateness of cancelling examinations in person; and 4) Potential problems associated with arranging electronic preselection examinations, such as the availability of tools, technical conditions and the potential for cheating.
 
In a request for information and a statement, sent to the Ministry of Education and Culture, Deputy-Ombudsman Pölönen requested an assessment of how the adopted changes to the selection criteria were arrived at and how the changes appear from the perspectives of equality among applicants, good governance, fair treatment, the protection of privacy, the requirement of proportionality, the duty to issue advice, and the appropriateness of communications. The Deputy-Ombudsman also requested an evaluation of the perspectives relating to the electronic preselection process. The Deputy-Ombudsman asked the Ministry to deliver the information and statements by 5 June 2020.
 
Early childhood education, basic education and general upper secondary education
 
In the period to 12 May 2020, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman received 31 complaints concerning early childhood education, basic education and general upper secondary education during the state of emergency. Information has also been requested on topics including the arrangement of school meals, preschool education, and learning support, as well as the advancing of sections of the matriculation examination. On his own initiative (2505/2020), Deputy-Ombudsman Pölönen has also asked the Ministry of Education and Culture to provide information on the guidelines for procedures, any practical problems that have arisen and the need for regulatory development with regard to support for pupils engaged in distance learning in basic education and the provision of school meals. The Deputy-Ombudsman requested this information by 15 June 2020. 
 
For more information, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. +358 9 432 3364, or Temporary Legal Adviser Kristiina Kouros, tel. +358 9 432 3396.