The European Investment Bank (EIB) has granted a loan of EUR 25 million to the Oulu Region Joint Authority for Vocational Training, to improve education facilities in the North of Finland. The project involves the building, upgrading and refurbishment of vocational schools and polytechnics in the Oulu region.

By providing long-term resources at the keenest market rates, the EIB enables the Joint Authority to pursue its efforts to attain the goals set out in the National Strategy for Education, launched by the Ministry of Education in 2000. Such investments in education are also in line with the EIB's mission to contribute to the EU's Lisbon strategy, which aims at developing the EU into the leading knowledge-based economy in the world. Finally, this loan will contribute to the economic and social development of the Oulu region, which has been classified by the European Union as a regional development area (objective 2).

The financing agreements were signed today by Mr Kari Juntunen, Managing Director and Mr Timo Lehto, Director of Administration and Finance of the Oulu Region Joint Authority, and Mr Sauli Niinistö, Vice-President of the EIB. During the ceremony, which took place on the occasion of the EIB's Annual Forum held in Helsinki, on the topic of the EU's Lisbon strategy, Mr Niinistö stated: Providing loans for education is like laying the building bricks of a leading knowledge-based economy. Education and lifelong learning boost the employability of the working population and thus the economic dynamism of the European Union.

The EIB's activity in Finland

This loan is part of a four-year framework investment programme set up by the EIB in collaboration with Finnish cities in 2002, called the Finnish Regional Education Project'. Thereby, a total of EUR 250 million of loans was approved in favour of a number of Finnish municipalities to support their investments in educational facilities and equipment. So far, EUR 205 million have been signed with the cities of Espoo, Kuopio, Turku and Oulu, including one previous loan for EUR 25 million to the Oulu Region Joint Authority, signed in March 2004.

More generally, the EIB has lent a total of EUR 6 billion to promoters in Finland since 1995. It notably helped finance the construction and upgrading of higher education and research premises throughout the country, as well as the extension of several science parks (Helsinki, Oulu, Espoo, Vantaa and Tampere). It also supported Research and Development Programmes implemented by promoters such as Wartsila Oyj, to improve engine performance in terms of energy efficiency and emission levels and Metso Oyj relating to its R&D investments in the areas of papermaking machines and automation aimed at maintaining and developing technological leadership.

The Joint Authority was founded in 1994 and its remit is to provide vocational and polytechnic education to the students resident in its twelve owner municipalities (Haukipudas, Ii, Kempele, Kiiminki, Kuivaniemi, Liminka, Muhos, Oulu, Oulunsalo, Yli-Ii, Raahe and Oulainen). It is the largest educational joint authority in Finland and an important contributor to the regional development of this part of Finland through the supply of high-quality educational services throughout the area. In 2004, it catered for about 12,000 students, of whom about 43% studying technology and communications, 20% business and administration and a further 20% health and social care.

The European Investment Bank, the European Union's long-term lending institution, finances capital investment furthering EU integration, in particular: regional development, research, development and innovation, trans-European transport, telecom and energy networks; industrial competitiveness; SMEs, and environmental protection. It also operates outside the EU within the framework of the EU's policy for co-operation and development. Owned by its Member States, the EIB raises its funds on the capital markets (AAA-rated issuer). In 2004, it borrowed EUR 50bn and lent a total of EUR 43bn, of which EUR 40bn in the EU-25.

The EIB's role in the Lisbon strategy The EU's Lisbon strategy, launched by the European Council in 2000, aims at developing the European Union into a leading knowledge-based economy in the world. Supporting this key policy has become one of the EIB's top priorities, called by the name of the Innovation 2010 Initiative. The EIB has pledged to make loans worth EUR 50 billion available for investment in the fields of education, research and innovation by the end of the decade. This target is well on the way to be reached, since it has already granted a total EUR 32 billion throughout the European Union since 2000.