Education in Finland: Wikis


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Education in Finland
Ministry of Education
Minister of Education
Minister of Culture
Henna Virkkunen
Stefan Wallin
National education budget (2003)
Budget: € 5.9 billion (1100 € per capita)
General Details
Primary Languages: Finnish and Swedish
System Type: National
Current system since 1970s
Literacy (2000)
Total: 100
Male: 100
Female: 100
Total: n/a
Primary: 99.7% (graduating)
Secondary: n/a
Post Secondary: n/a
Secondary diploma 60% ac., 45% voc.
Post-secondary diploma 25% (of pop.)
Secondary and tertiary education divided in academic and vocational systems

The Finnish education system is an egalitarian Nordic system, with no tuition fees for full-time students. Attendance is compulsory for nine years starting at age seven, and free meals are served to pupils at primary and secondary levels, where the pupils go to their local school. In the OECD's international assessment of student performance, PISA, Finland has consistently been among the highest scorers worldwide; in 2006 Finnish 15-year-olds came first in science and second in mathematics and reading literacy, in 2003 Finnish came first in reading literacy, mathematics, and science, while placing second in problem solving. In tertiary education, the World Economic Forum ranks Finland #1 in the world in enrollment and quality and #2 in maths and science education.

Education after primary school is divided into vocational and academic systems, according to the old German model. Traditionally, the systems do not interoperate, although some of the de jure restrictions have recently been lifted. In particular, an important difference compared other systems is that there is no common "youth school" — ages 15–19 are spent either in a trade school, or in an academic-oriented upper secondary school. Trade school graduates may enter the workforce directly after graduation. Upper secondary school graduates are taught no vocational skills and are expected to continue to tertiary education. A national speciality in contrast to some foreign systems is the academic matriculation diploma (Abitur) received after successful completion of upper secondary school, which holds a high prestige.

As the trade school is considered a secondary school, the term "tertiary education" refers to institutes of higher learning, or what is generally considered university level elsewhere. Therefore, plain figures for tertiary level enrollment are not internationally comparable. The tertiary level is divided into university and higher vocational school (ammattikorkeakoulu) systems, whose diplomas are not mutually interchangeable. Only universities award licentiates and doctorates. Traditionally only university graduates may obtain higher (postgraduate) degrees. The Bologna process has resulted in some restructuring, where vocational degree holders can qualify for further studies by doing additional courses. There are 20 universities and 30 polytechnics in the country.


Primary and secondary education

The educational system in Finland is based on a nine-year comprehensive school (Finnish peruskoulu, Swedish grundskola, 'basic school'), with mandatory attendance. It begins at the age of six or seven and ends at the age of 15-16. Although de jure comprehensive school is undivided, de facto it is divided to lower (ages 7–12) and upper comprehensive school (ages 13–15). In lower the students have a class teacher who teaches most of the subjects in the same classroom. In upper the teaching is done by several teachers in different classrooms. The lower and upper usually are in different school buildings. After graduation from comprehensive school, there is a choice between upper secondary school (lukio, gymnasium) and vocational school (ammatillinen oppilaitos, yrkesinstitut). Secondary level education is not compulsory, but an overwhelming majority attends. Both primary and secondary education is funded by the municipalities, which are supported by the state on the basis of the student numbers in their schools.

There are private schools but they are made unattractive by legislation. The founding of a new private comprehensive school requires a political decision by the Council of State. When founded, private schools are given a state grant comparable to that given to a municipal school of the same size. However, even in private schools, the use of tuition fees is strictly prohibited, and any private school must admit all its pupils on the same basis as the corresponding municipal school. In addition, private schools are required to give their students all the social entitlements that are offered to the students of municipal schools. Because of this, existing private comprehensive schools are mostly faith-based or Steiner schools. However, in major cities, there are a few private upper secondary and vocational schools as remnants of the pre-1970s educational system.

Students in comprehensive and secondary education enjoy a number of social entitlements, the most important of which are school health care and a daily free lunch, which should cover about a third of the daily nutritional need. In addition, comprehensive school pupils are entitled to receive free books and materials and free school trips in the event that they have a long or arduous trip to school. Secondary school students must, however, buy their own books and materials.

Upper secondary school prepares students for university, so that all the material taught is "general studies". Vocational school develops vocational competence and as such does not primarily prepare for higher education, although vocational school graduates are formally qualified to enter tertiary education. Thus, unlike Sweden, Finland separates the vocational and general secondary education programs. Their integration has been tried (so-called "youth school" experiments), but the conclusion was to keep them separate. There is a shortage of, and a corresponding high demand for, secondary vocational diploma-holders in many trades.

Upper secondary school, unlike vocational school, concludes with a nationally graded matriculation examination (ylioppilastutkinto, studentexamen). Passing the test is a de facto prerequisite for further education. The system is designed so that approximately the lowest scoring 5% fails and also 5% get the best grade. The exam allows for a limited degree of specialization in either natural sciences or social sciences. Universities may use the test score in the matriculation examination to accept students. The examination was originally the entrance examination to the University of Helsinki, and its high prestige survives to this day. Each May Day, or Vappu, people wear the white cap that is the academic regalia associated with matriculation. Furthermore, matriculation is an important and formal family event, like christening, confirmation, wedding, and funeral.

Education in Finland
Academic degrees Vocational degrees Age
doctor employment
master Polytechnic(new)   2-3 y
bachelor Polytechnic   3-4 y
upper secondary school vocational school 18-19
comprehensive school 15
pre-school 6

Special programmes exist in vocational institutes which either require a matriculation examination, or allow the student to study for the matriculation exam in conjunction with the vocational education (kaksoistutkinto, dubbelexamen). The latter are unpopular, because they equate to going to two schools at the same time and usually take four years.

ISCED - education rating



Grades in primary and secondary schools are given as a number between 4 and 10, with 4 being the lowest and 10 the highest. A grade 4 is equal to a fail in tests, which means that a student may have to retake the test. In tests, a student can also get for example a 9-, a 9+ or a 9½ with 9- being a low 9+ and 9½ being almost 10, in which case a 9.5 will normally be rounded up to a 10 in the report card, although this depends on the student's behavior etc. during class. Grading is often criterion-referenced, but 7 should be theoretically the mean grade.

During the first years of primary school, grading may be limited to verbal assessments rather than formal grades. The start of numerical grading is decided locally. Most commonly, comprehensive school pupils are issued a report card twice a year: at the ends of the autumn and spring terms. If a comprehensive school pupil receives the grade 4 in one subject at the end of the spring term, they must show by a separate examination at the end of summer term that they have improved in the subject. If the pupil receives multiple failing grades, they may have to retake the year. This, nonetheless, is rare and non-automatic. The decision to have a pupil retake a year is made by the teachers and the headmaster after hearing the pupil and the parents.

In vocational and tertiary education, the most common grading scheme is between 0 (fail) and 5. Again, criterion-referenced grading is often found. Grade point averages are not formal requirements for graduate studies and average scores are used only for admission into doctoral studies. (For most masters' programs, entry is granted automatically to the graduates of the corresponding undergraduate program of the same university.) Courses graded pass/fail are not included in the calculation of grade point averages; students cannot select between grading and pass/fail assessment.

Most commonly, the academic degrees are graded with simple pass/fail. No "honours" degrees are used by the Finnish universities or polytechnics. However, in the field of Technology, the masters' and bachelor's degrees are graded "with distinction"/pass/fail.

Tertiary education

There are two sectors in the tertiary education: universities (yliopisto, universitet) and polytechnics (ammattikorkeakoulu, yrkeshögskola, or AMK/YH for short). When recruiting new students, the national matriculation examination and entrance examinations are used as criteria for student selection. The focus for universities is research, and they give a more theoretical education. The polytechnics focus on practical skills and seldom pursue research, but they do engage in industry development projects. For example, physicians are university graduates, whereas basic nurses are polytechnic graduates. (However, universities do award advanced degrees in Nursing Science.) The vocational schools and polytechnics are governed by municipalities, or, in special cases, by private entities. (As an exception to the rule, Police College is governed by the Ministry of the Interior.) All Finnish universities, on the other hand, are owned by the state. A bachelor's degree takes about three–four years. Depending on the programme, this may be the point of graduation, but it is usually only an intermediate step towards the master's degree. A polytechnic degree, on the other hand, takes about 3.5–4.5 years. A degree from a polytechnic is not, however, considered legally equivalent to a lower university degree in the Finnish system. Outside of Finland, polytechnic degrees are generally accepted as lower university degrees.

Polytechnic-graduated Bachelors are able to continue their studies by applying to Master's degree programmes in universities. These take two years in general, but the polytechnic graduates are often required to undertake perhaps a year's worth of additional studies to bring them up to the level of university graduates. The Bologna process has progressively lowered the amount of required additional studies and in some cases no additional studies are required. After polytechnic graduates have completed three year's work experience in their field, they are also qualified to apply for polytechnic master's degree-programmes (lower university degree graduates are qualified also, but with additional studies) which are work-oriented — not academic. The polytechnic Master's degree programme takes two years and can be undertaken in conjunction with regular work. Unlike the bachelor's, a master's degree graduate from a polytechnic is considered equivalent to an academic master's graduate in a related field. After the master's, the remaining degrees (Licentiate and Doctor) are available only in universities. The polytechnic master's degree does not qualify its recipient for graduate studies at doctoral level.

Attendance is compulsory in primary and secondary schools, but voluntary in universities and polytechnics. No tuition fees are collected. However, there are plans (in the current government platform) to introduce tuition fees to students from outside the European Union. In universities, membership in the students' union is compulsory. Students' unions of polytechnics are similarly recognized in the legislation, but membership is voluntary and does not include special university student health care. Finnish students are entitled to a student benefit, which may be revoked if there is a persistent lack of progress in the studies. The benefit is often insufficient and thus students usually work to help fund their studies. State-guaranteed student loans are also available.

Some universities provide professional degrees in such fields as engineering and medicine. They have additional requirements in addition to merely completing the studies, such as demonstrations of competence in practice.


  • Lääketieteen lisensiaatti, medicine licentiat, Licentiate of Medicine. A Bachelor of Medicine (lääketieteen kandidaatti, medicine kandidat) is allowed to conduct clinical work under the supervision of senior medical staff. There is no Master's degree, and the licentiate degree does not require a full doctoral dissertation. The equivalent of a Medical Doctor in the U.S. sense is therefore not called "doctor", but licentiate. The research or "professor's degree", including a full dissertation, is called "Doctor of Medicine" (lääketieteen tohtori, medicine doktorsexamen).
  • Diplomi-insinööri, diplomingenjör, is a six-year programme of 300 ECTS, which is comparable to an Anglo-Saxon Master of Science with the Bachelor in the same field. However, included in this is a 30 ECTS "diploma project", which is a real-life engineering project taking about six months to a year. Its completion demonstrates professional competence in addition to the necessary amount of education. Notice: this programme, in practice, does not interoperate with the polytechnic insinööri (amk) (ingenjör (YH)) programme.

After the master's degree, there are two further post-graduate degrees - an intermediate postgraduate degree, called Licentiate, and the Doctor (Doctorate) degree. A Licenciate programme has the same amount of theoretical education as a Doctor, but its dissertation work has fewer requirements. On the other hand, the requirements for a doctoral dissertation are a little bit higher than in other countries.

The most typical Finnish doctoral degree is Doctor of Philosophy (filosofian tohtori, filosofie doktorsexamen). However, universities of technology award the title Doctor of Science, tekniikan tohtori, teknologie doktorsexamen and there are several branch-specific titles, e.g., in medicine lääketieteen tohtori, medicine doktorsexamen, in art taiteen tohtori, and in social sciences valtiotieteen tohtori, politices doktorsexamen.

Adult education

Completing secondary school on a vocational programme with full classes on a three-year curriculum provides a formal qualification for further studies. However, it may prove necessary to obtain post-secondary education before being admitted to a university, as the entrance examinations require a relatively high level of knowledge. Post-secondary education is provided by municipal schools or independent 'adult education centres', which can give either vocational education or teaching at comprehensive or upper secondary school levels. It is possible to obtain the matriculation diploma, or to better the comprehensive school grades, in these programmes. A new trade can also be learned by an adult at an adult education centre (aikuiskoulutuskeskus, vuxenutbildningscenter), for example, if structural change of the economy has made the old trade redundant.

In universities, the "Open University" (Finnish: Avoin yliopisto, Swedish: öppet universitet) programme enables people without student status to enroll in individual university courses. There are no requirements, but there is a modest tuition fee (e.g., 60 euros per course). Polytechnics have their own similar programme (Finnish: Avoin ammattikorkeakoulu, Swedish: öppen högskola). While "Open University" students cannot pursue studies towards a degree, they may, after passing a sufficient number of separately determined courses with a sufficiently high grade point average, be eligible for transfer into a undergraduate degree program.

A third branch of adult education is formed by the so called vapaa sivistystyö, the "Free Education". This is formed by the partially state-funded, independent educational institutes offering diverse courses varying in length and academic level. The purpose of the "Free Education" is not to provide professional or degree-oriented education but to "support the multi-faceted development of personality, the ability to act in the community and to pursue the fulfilment of democracy, equality and diversity in the society."[1] Historically, the "Free education" stems from the late 19th century efforts to educate the general populace with little previous academic experience.

The "Free Education" is offered by[2]

  • 258 kansalaisopisto or työväenopisto (Citizens' or Workers' Institutes)
  • 91 kansanopisto (People's Institutes)
  • 11 Sports' training centres (Finnish: liikunnan koulutuskeskus)
  • 20 Summer universities (Finnish: kesäyliopisto)
  • 11 Study Centres (Finnish: opintokeskus)

The most common type of "Free Education" is a kansalaisopisto, sometimes called for historical reasons työväenopisto. These are mostly evening-type municipal institutions offering language, handicraft and humanities courses. The academic level varies strongly, and many courses do not require any before-hand knowledge. The kansanopistos, on the other hand, are boarding-schools, often maintained by associations with either a strong ideological or religious mission. Also here, the academic level varies strongly. In all these institutions, the courses carry a modest tuition. The Sports' training centres are institutions for the professional or semi-professional sportsmen's training, while Summer universities and study centres are auxiliary bodies for the organization of Free Education.

Future prospects

The ongoing Bologna Process blurs the distinction between vocational and academic qualifications. In some fields, new postgraduate degrees have been introduced. Co-operation between the different systems is rising and some integration will occur (although not without a substantial amount of pressure). This results from not only the Bologna Process but also a noble goal of Finnish politicians — to educate the vast majority of Finns to a higher degree (ca. 60–70% of each annual cohort enter higher education).[3]

In recent years, a cut in the number of new student places has often been called for by the economic sphere, as well as trade and student unions, because of an ongoing trend of rising academic unemployment, which is interpreted as a result of the steep increase in student places in higher education in the 1990s. In particular, some polytechnic (AMK/YH) degrees have suffered inflation. In a reflection of this current belief, the Ministry of Education has recently decreed a nationwide cut of 10% in new student places in polytechnics to be applied starting from 2007 and 2008. It is still largely undecided whether (and when) some of those cuts could be redistributed to areas in need of a more highly educated work force. In 2001 and 2002, university graduates had a 3.7% unemployment rate, and polytechnic graduates had 8%, which is on a par with the general unemployment rate (see the OECD report).

An increase in vocational school student places might be preferred, as a shortage of basic workforce such as plumbers and construction workers is widely acknowledged in Finland. It should be also noted that retiring age groups are bigger than the ones entering higher education in Finland at present and for quite some time into the foreseeable future. If the current number of student places were kept unchanged to the year 2020, for example, Eastern Finland would have enough student places for 103% of the estimated size of the age group 19-21.

Higher Education system restructuring

Due to globalization and increasing competition for diminishing younger age groups, system-wide restructuring has been called for by the Ministry of Education. Since 2006 all institutions of higher education have been sharpening their institutional profiles and developing new methods of cooperation. The total number of institutions is expected to drop significantly within 10–15 years.

The process within universities is led by the University of Kuopio and the University of Joensuu, which will form a new University of Eastern Finland in 2010[4]. In Helsinki, there is an ongoing process to merge three local universities, namely Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics and University of Art and Design Helsinki, to a new Aalto University, effective on August 1, 2009. Also several polytechnics have announced mergers (such as Haaga and Helia, which merged into Haaga-Helia in 2007).

New methods of cooperation such as consortia and federations have been introduced within universities (e.g., University of Turku and Turku School of Economics Consortium[5]). Partnerships between universities and polytechnics are also developing (e.g., the University of Kuopio and Savonia University of Applied Sciences formed the Northern Savonia Higher Education Consortium[6]). In general, such system-wide change follows closely the pattern established in Central Europe and the United States.


  1. ^ [;29;351;69940 Vapaa sivistystyö. 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2009-07-18.(Finnish)
  2. ^ Miten vapaata sivistystyötä toteutetaan?. Opetushallitus. 2005-9-16. Retrieved 2009-7-18. (Finnish)
  3. ^ "Higher Education in Finland". The International Education Site.
  4. ^ University of Eastern Finland ( (Finnish) (English)
  5. ^ Turusta tieteen huippukeskittymä. University of Turku. (Finnish)
  6. ^ Pohjois-Savon korkeakoulukonsortio (Northern Savonia Higher Education Consortium). (Finnish)

See also

External links

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