Snapshot of Finnish Education System

The Government and the Ministry of Education and Culture are in charge for formulating and executing the education policy. The provision of basic education is regulated by legislation, local curricula and national core curriculum. The National Board of Education administers the basic education, general secondary education as well as vocational vocational upper secondary education. 

The Finnish education system comprises daycare centres and a 1-year pre-school or kindergarten for kids at age of 6 years, a 9-year compulsory basic comprehensive school that begins at age 7 and continues until the age of 15, after which secondary general academic and vocational education, higher or tertiary education, and adult education follows. 

Education Profile of Finland

Compulsory Education

Compulsory Education in Finland comprises basic education.
  • Grades:  1 to 9

Pre-school Education (esiopetus)

In Finland, most kids go for day care or pre-school education. Day care is for kids below school age. The pre-school education is managed by the municipal authority. Preschool education is voluntary and prepares children for primary education-comprehensive school. 

Day Care

The day care centres in Finland work towards the development of children. Children are taught in a playful way. There are many activities conducted at day care centres, like crafts, sports, game, music, and so on. 

Primary Education (Peruskoulu/grundskola)

Basic/Primary Education is mandatory for children between the ages 7 and 16. It is free of cost and covers tuition fee, meals, books and supplies, and transportation for pupils who stays at more than 5 kilometers from the school. 
  • Duration: 9 years
Comprehensive schools provide compulsory education. Comprehensive school comprises of:
  • Primary school (alakoulu): It covers grade 1-6
  • Secondary school (ylakoulu): It covers grades 7-9
The school follows a national core curriculum. During the comprehensive school, students get end-of-term certificates (lukukausitodistus) with grading on a scale from 10 to 4, wherein 10 is the best.

Credential awarded: Primary School Leaving Certificate (Peruskoulun paastotodistus/Avgangsbetyg fran grundskola) 

Secondary Education

After successful completion of compulsory basic education, students can go for general or vocational upper secondary education. Students at this level of education are selected on the basis of their grade point average (GPA) for the theoretical subjects in the basic/primary education certificate. Entrance exams are used as a means of selection. Pupils are also given points for hobbies and other related activities.

General Upper Secondary Education (Lukio/gymnasiat)

The General Upper Secondary Schools focuses on theoretical education. They concentrate on humanities and natural sciences. Students can apply for General Upper Secondary Schools through a joint application process (yhteishaku). The joint application can be done 2 times in a year in the spring and autumn. The Upper Secondary Education does not charge any tuition fee. The education is free at this level. 
  • Duration: 3 years 
Matriculation Examination: Upper secondary school studies focus on matriculation examination (ylioppilastutkinto). The matriculation examinations consist of different subject exams and are generally conducted near the end of the studies.
Credential Awarded: General Upper Secondary School Certificate (Lukion paattotodistus/Avgangsbetyg fran gymnasiet); Certificate of Matriculation (Ylioppilastutkintotodistus/Studentexamensbetyg)

Vocational Upper Secondary Education (In Finnish: ammatilllinen koulutus; Swedish: yrkesutbilding)

Students after completing basic education can opt for Vocational Upper Secondary education. This level of education is practical-oriented and prepares students for a specific vocation.  It develops basic skills required for a particular work. Students can apply for vocational upper secondary education through a joint application process (yhteishaku).
Vocational Education Providers-
  • Vocational Institutes (ammatillinen oppilaitos)
  • Adult Education Centres (aikuisopisto)
  • Vocational Special Education Institutes (erityisammattioppilaitos) 
Duration: 3 years
Credential: Vocational Qualification Certificate (Ammatillinen perustutkintotodistus/Betyg over yrkesinriktad grundexamen)

Higher or Tertiary Education

Higher Education in Finland possesses a dual structure and is offered by-


Universities in Finland focuses on scientific research and education. Universities provide study programmes in the following areas-
  • Health sciences
  • Educational sciences
  • Art and design
  • Law
  • Agriculture and forestry
  • Economics and business administration
  • Engineering and architecture
  • Pharmacy
  • Fine arts
  • Humanities
  • Dentistry
  • Music
  • Medicine
  • Military science
  • Theatre and dance
  • Natural sciences
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Psychology
  • Social sciences
  • Theology
  • Sport sciences


These are also called as Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) and are more practically-oriented. Polytechnics provide study programmes in the following areas-
  •  Culture
  •  Social Services, Health and Sports
  • Humanities and Education
  • Technology and Transport
  •  Natural resources and Environment
  •  Business and Administration
  •  Tourism, Catering and Domestic Services
Higher Education Institutions in Finland are autonomous in structuring their education system and academic year.
The oldest higher education institution in Finland is the University of Helsinki established in 1640 as the Academy of Turku.

Postgraduate Studies 

The postgraduate studies in polytechnics and universities are different. The polytechnics or universities of applied sciences work towards the improvement of professional skills and expertise, while the universities focus on carrying out further academic research.

Tertiary Education Credentials

  • Finnish Bachelor's Degree (Kandidaatin tutkinto - Kandidatexamen)
  • Degree of Architect (Arkkitehti - Arkitekt)
  • Degree of Engineer (Diplomi-insinoori - Diplomingenjor)
  • Polytechnic Bachelor's Degree (Ammattikorkeakoulututkinto – Yrkehogskoleexamen)
  • Candidate of Laws (Oikeustieteen kandidaatti - Juris kandidat)
  • Degree of Pharmacist (Proviisori - Provisor)
  • Licentiate in Dentistry (Hammaslaaketieteen lisensiaatt - Odontologie licentiate)
  • Licentiate of Veterinary Medicine (Elainlaaketieteen lisensiaatti - Veterinarmedicine licentiate)
  • Licentiate of Law (Oikeustieteen lisensiaatti - Juris licentiate)
  • Master's Degree (Maisterin tutkinto / Magister)
  • Doctor of Law (Oikeustieteen tohtori - Juris Doktor)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Filosofian tohtori - Filosofie doktorsexamen)
  • Doctor of Science (Tekniikan tohtori - Teknologie doktorsexamen)

Adult Education

The Adult Education is provided by the Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences. 

Universities: In universities, the "Open University" (In Finnish: Avoin yliopisto, Swedish: oppet universitet) programme allow individuals without student status to register in individual university programme/course. There are no prerequisites, but the tuition fee is charged. 

Universities of Applied Sciences: The UAS possess their own similar programme. (In Finnish: Avoin ammattikorkeakoulu, Swedish: oppen hogskola). 

Free Education (vapaa sivistystyo): It is a third branch of adult education and is established by the partially state-funded, independent educational institutes providing several courses varying in duration and academic level.  The Free Education in Finland is provided by-
  • 206 Citizens’ or Workers' Institutes (kansalaisopisto or tyovaenopisto )
  • 88  People's Institutes (kansanopisto)
  • 14 Sports' training centres (liikunnan koulutuskeskus)
  • 20 Summer universities (kesayliopisto)
  • 11 Study Centres (opintokeskus)

General Application Procedure

Students can apply in the joint application process for the following levels of education-

Upper Secondary School (lukio): The application process starts from February and ends in March)

Vocational education (ammatillinen koulutus): The application process starts from February and goes on until March and from September to October

University of applied sciences (ammattikorkeakoulu): The application process from February to March and September to October

University (yliopisto): The application process starts in February and ends in March

Besides the joint application, separate application (erillishaku) is also available for the following-
  • For Study at a higher University of Applied sciences Degree (ylempi ammattikorkeakoulututkinto)
  • For University Studies
  • For Vocational Studies (ammattistartti)
  • For Special Education (erityisopetus)
  • For Preparatory Education (valmistava koulutus)

Entrance Examination

The higher education institutions in Finland- University and University of Applied Sciences relay on entrance exams for admission. Some vocational studies also require an entrance exam. The entrance examinations vary considerably between institutions. For details see Standardized Tests.
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