Li Andersson interview: “I think in politics you are never finished”

The Education Minister explains what her budget priorities are for students at all stages of the school system.

File picture of Education Minister Li Andersson (Left) / Credit: News Now Finland

It’s been almost four months since Li Andersson joined the government, one of two Left Alliance cabinet ministers, capping a successful year for the party as it increased its share of the vote and added new Members of Parliament at the general election.

But Turku MP Andersson seems to be having her busiest weeks to date, after budget negotiations where she secured more funding for her education portfolio.

“We have two main priorities for education. We want to enable continuous learning for every Finn, also for grown-ups, adults who are already in working life; and we want to enhance quality in education, to make sure we can change the growing trend towards differences in learning results” explains Andersson, standing in a hallway on the fifth floor of the Ministry of Education.

She’s just spent an hour with Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen (Centre) briefing on budget priorities and fielding questions from more than a dozen journalists who showed up. Given the importance attached to education in Finnish society, it’s no surprise the meeting room was almost overflowing.

The ministry’s new Director of Communications describes the pair as “gold”, and adds that they’re often better at engaging with the public through social media than the professionals on their staff.

This revelation comes as no great shock, given that Andersson and Kosonen are among Finland’s first generation of digital-native government ministers.

Ministry of Education / Credit: News Now Finland

Investing in education 

The big take-away from the 2020 budget is that this government is trying hard to reverse the swingeing cuts in education made over the last four years.

“We are investing way more in education than what the previous government did” Education Minister Li Andersson tells News Now Finland.

“In the budget for next year if we take into account also the fact that we are making sure that the index adjustments in the financing is being done to its full, we will invest more than €350 million in one year in education at all stages of the educational system, so I think that’s really a statement of this government” Andersson says.

The extra funding has already been earmarked for projects to make early childhood education and comprehensive school education more equitable; and increased money for pre- and after-school programmes and leisure activities during school time.

Compulsory education will be extended with the minimum school leaving age set at 18, and upper secondary education will become completely free of charge.

There’s money too to recruit more teachers and instructors for vocational education, and improving student welfare.

File photo of young people / Credit: iStock

More apprenticeships in the pipeline 

One of the government’s flagship education policies involves more opportunities for apprenticeships.

Their target is the estimated 60,000 young people, mostly men, who fall outside of full time education but also outside of employment.

“We need to hear what the companies think, what they need, and we need to hear what the young people think, the youth workers for example who work with these young kids” explains Andersson, who hopes the scheme gets off the ground “as soon as possible, maybe next year.”

There could be new models to make it attractive for companies to take on apprentices too.

“One solution that I absolutely want to see happen is that we can combine apprenticeships with wage-subsidised work which means that if an employer wants to employ a young person who doesn’t have a strong educational background they’ll get a subsidy for the wage, and the young student will get recognition for what he’s learning in the workplace at the same time.”

File picture of Li Andersson (Left), Helsinki 6th June 2019 / Credit: Laura Kotila, VNK

Party politics

Apart from her ministerial duties, this week Li Andersson has been busy with party politics as well, announcing that she will be a candidate to lead the party for another three year term when delegates pick their next leader in Kuopio in October.

“Being able to do successful leftist policies in government is maybe one of the most challenging tasks that a party leader will meet, and that’s exactly why I want to continue as party leader if the membership wants to” she says.

So have the last three years, her first stint as party leader, been a warm-up for what’s to come?

Andersson says in some ways yes, and other ways no. The party achieved a lot in her opinion, contesting municipal, presidential, European and parliamentary elections under her leadership.

They also also prepared – twice – for anticipated regional elections that never came, re-vamped their branding and messaging, and sharpened their policy focus.

“I’m really happy with what we did, but I think in politics you are never finished.”