Higher education

Higher Education in Finland

After completing general upper secondary education or vocational upper secondary education and training, students can apply for higher education.

The Finnish higher education system has two parallel sectors: universities and polytechnics (or AMK institutions). Universities concentrate on academic and scientific research and education whereas polytechnics are more oriented to working life and they base their functions on the high standards it demands. The education and training provided by the polytechnics respond to labour market needs. Their task is also to conduct R&D which supports instruction and promotes regional development.

General eligibility for universities is provided by the matriculation examination or a vocational qualification with a scope of at least three years. The majority of new students have completed the matriculation examination. Eligibility for polytechnic studies is gained through upper secondary education – either the general education completed in an upper secondary school or an upper secondary vocational qualification.

Finland has 20 universities, which work on the principles of academic freedom and autonomy. They are very independent in their decision making. All universities are state run, the government providing some 70% of their budgets. There are 26 polytechnics in the Ministry of Education sector: six are run by local authorities, seven by municipal education consortia and 13 by private organizations. In addition there is Åland University of Applied Sciences in the self governing Province of Åland and a Police College subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior.

Degree instruction at institutions of higher education is free of charge. In the university sector, undergraduate students (those on Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes) pay a small membership fee to the student union every year; in return, they get reduced price meals, health care services and other social benefits. Students are also responsible for acquiring the required books and materials.


Adult education

Adult education policy is designed to provide a wide range of study opportunities for the adult population. Different institutions arrange a great variety of courses and programmes for adults at all levels of formal education, and the provision of liberal adult education is extensive. With the exception of further and specialist vocational qualifications, adult education and training leading to qualifications is provided free of charge.

The government also subsidises other forms of education and training intended for adults in order to keep student fees at a reasonable level.The challenges facing adult education in the future will be to respond to the constant ageing of population and to growing multiculturalism, to motivate adults to study, to improve the learning-to-learn skills among the poorly educated and trained, and especially to ensure equity and equality.

The aim of the adult education is to

  1. enhance the knowledge and skills of the adult population;
  2. increase educational opportunities for groups that are under-represented in adult learning, and to promote equality and active citizenship.


Vocational Education

Upper Secondary Vocational Education and Training in a Nutshell

  • Admission requirement is the completion of basic education syllabus;
  • Education providers primarily select their students based on earlier academic achievement but may also hold entrance exams or aptitude tests and may take the applicant’s work experience into consideration;
  • Application takes place through a joint application system electronically;
  • The studies primarily aim at obtaining the vocational skills needed in working life;
  • Additionally, three-year studies give general eligibility to apply for studies at universities and polytechnics;
  • Opportunities for individual progress in studies have been enhanced;
  • A vocational upper secondary qualification can be obtained through attending a vocational school, through apprenticeship training, or through a competence test;
  • 20 credits (around 6 months) of the studies are conducted on-the-job;
  • Skills demonstrations were launched in 2006 as proof of having reached the goals given to vocational studies.


Updated: 5.12.2012
Source: Finnish National Board of Education