Teacher’s Handbook

Finnish education system

The Finnish education system has a reputation as one of the best in the world. Flexibility, autonomy and equal opportunities are important characteristics of this system. This page describes the defining features and structure of the Finnish education system, including the characteristics of higher education in Finland.

National administration of education and training

In Finland, the national administration of education and training has a two-tier structure. The Ministry of Education and Culture is the highest authority and is responsible for all publicly funded education in Finland. It is responsible for preparing educational legislation, all necessary decisions and its proposed share of the state budget.

The Finnish National Agency for Education is the national development agency responsible for early childhood education and care, pre-primary, comprehensive and upper secondary education (vocational or general) as well as adult education and training. Higher education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Culture. 

The quality management of Finnish education

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) is an independent expert organisation that evaluates Finnish education and early childhood education and care (ECEC). FINEEC produces evaluation-based information to support decision-making on education policy and the development of education. FINEEC’s statutory tasks also include supporting ECEC providers, and other education, and training providers as well as higher education institutions in matters concerning evaluation and quality management.

Education system in Finland

Education in Finland is built on offering everyone equal opportunities to education. Education from pre-primary to higher education is mostly free of charge in Finland.

The Finnish education system consists of:

Finnish education system. Source: Ministry of Education and Culture, 2022

The figure shows that after compulsory basic education, which ends at approximately age 18, people can choose different education  paths of adult and continuous education. There is no ‘dead-end’ in the Finnish education system. Students from general upper secondary schools, vocational institutes and universities of applied sciences can apply for continuous education in universities and proceed up to a doctoral degree. The system allows students to craft their own study paths and fosters autonomy.

Finland participates in the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The aim is to make international mobility easier and to advance a shared understanding of educational levels and competences based on the learning outcomes of each level.

Qualifications frameworks | Finnish National Agency for Education (oph.fi)

Higher education in Finland

Higher education in Finland is provided by universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS). UASs offer bachelor’s and master’s studies. Universities offer also doctoral studies. 

Universities and UASs offer professional specialisation programmes and non-degree studies as modules or stand-alone courses through open-university or open-UAS initiatives and through continuous education. These study formats are also planned to enable lifewide learning.

Higher education is tuition-free for Finnish, EU and EEA students, and it provides a scholarship system for students coming from outside these regions.

Higher Education in Finland | okm.fi

From a policy perspective, the aim of higher education institutions in Finland is to reach a high international standard and to attend to local concerns at the same time, in addition to enjoying autonomy in teaching and research.

Higher education is seen as an instrument to build and enhance society, contributing to the creation of a skilled workforce and renewing the cultural and social spheres. Higher education is a vehicle for achieving social welfare and promoting equality, and institutions should therefore have admission systems and programmes designed to include youth and immigrants.

As science education is meant to advance the competence level of citizens, higher education institutions must work with other stakeholders in society to make scientific knowledge visible.

Science policy aims to make science in Finland internationally competitive, improve science’s infrastructure in the country and protect the openness of science and research.

Policy and Development in Higher Education and Science | okm.fi

Guiding principles of Education in Finland

Ministry of Education and Culture Strategy 2030 describes three impact objectives and their priorities. The Ministry’s has three goals: ‘enable better skills, knowledge and competence for all, to take creative, inquiry-based and responsible action that renews society, and to ensure equal opportunities for a meaningful life.’

The Finnish education system is built on the values of equity and inclusivity, which support Finland’s welfare society. The system features positive attitudes towards education, highly educated and strongly committed teachers, a decentralised system of locally designed and implemented curricula, individual support for learning and well-being, multi-professional cooperation, a supportive and encouraging assessment system (without national testing), no school-ranking lists, no inspection systems, and an efficient library system.

Autonomy and trust at the institutional level means that schools have freedom to complement the national core curriculum with regionally relevant components and to decide how teaching and research is conducted. This follows with individual teacher's opportunity to design classroom pedagogy and activities to best meet the learning goals at hand.

Special education and individualised study plans, free meals and school transportation are also a means to promote inclusiveness and equal access to education in lower levels of schooling. The system offers publicly funded, free-of-charge education from pre-primary education to the doctoral degree level.

Additional readings

Education for Inclusive Peace (valtioneuvosto.fi)

Lonka, K., Makkonen, J., Berg, M., Talvio, M., Maksniemi, E., Kruskopf, M., Lammassaari, H., Hietajärvi, L., & Westling, S. K. (2018). Phenomenal Learning from Finland. Edita.

KAPPAS! Assessment of learning outcomes in Finnish higher education (MEC 2018–2020)

This Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) funded project assesses students in universities and universities of applied sciences for their study skills and transferable (workplace) skills. The results of the research may be used in the development of teaching and higher education.

Read more
Opiskelijoita työskentelemässä katosta roikkuvissa pallotuoleissa Harald Herlin -oppimiskeluksen Makerspacessa

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