The educational system of Finland is increasingly in the news, with the
country's continually high rankings on PISA
and other indexes of academic achievement. The reputation of Finnish
scholarship has also spread widely through its success in sponsored
exchange programs. American universities especially will be familiar with
Finnish Fulbright scholars, who since 1952 have established outstanding
study and research records. The unique Finnish-American Binational Trust
Fund, established from the proceeds of Finland's repaid post-World War I
relief debt, ensures that Finnish scholars will continue to be exchanged
in significant numbers, even as the number of scholars from other
countries is diminishing due to reduced government funding.
More recently, the International Student Exchange (ISEP) program
established its Nordic beachhead in Finland in 1982, and the numbers of
Finnish ISEP exchanges have grown steadily since. New Finnish ISEP member
institutions for 1990, and new options for both Nordic and Soviet and
Eastern European exchange linkages via Finnish member institutions,
promise to expand further the volume of ISEP exchanges both to and from
From the foundation of sponsored exchange programs, interest has
steadily increased in bilateral institutional linkages and the direct
admission of Finnish students. The current objective of the Ministry of
Education is that one-third of all Finnish students would undertake part
of their higher education abroad. Through schemes such as NordPlus and
COMETT, exchanges already are rapidly expanding to Scandinavia, Europe and
Finland the Nation
Finland is a land rich in contrast. Geographically, it is the fifth
largest country in Europe, with an area of 130,126 square miles (338,145
square kilometers). Some 188,000 lakes comprise 10% of the area, and 73%
is covered by forest. Roughly one-third of the land is above the Arctic
Circle, making Finland, after Iceland, the northernmost country in the
world. Finland is bordered on the West by Sweden and the Gulf of Bothnia,
in the North by Norway, and in the East by a long border with the Soviet
Union. To the South lies the Gulf of Finland, the easternmost branch of
Despite its latitude, Finland enjoys a temperate climate, due to the
influence of the North Atlantic drift. Southern Finland has up to 19
hours of daylight (and no complete darkness) at midsummer, while in the
north there are 73 days of perpetual daylight in the summer months,
balanced by 51 days of perpetual twilight around Christmas.
Demographically, Finland (Suomi in Finnish) is a small country.
Some 60% of the five million Finns (suomalaiset) live in cities,
principally in the south-central and southwest of the country. Helsinki,
the capital, is the largest city, with 500,000 inhabitants. With suburban
Espoo and Vantaa, it comprises a metropolitan area of some 800,000 people.
Second is Tampere, the largest inland city in Scandinavia, and third in
size is Turku, Finland's oldest university town. The Finns are 100%
literate, and statistically one of the healthiest nations in the world.
Finland was part of Sweden from 1155 until 1809, when it was ceded to
Russia and became an autonomous Grand Duchy. Finland declared its
independence from Russia in 1917, and its present constitution was adopted
Both Finnish and Swedish are official languages, although 94% of the
Finns speak Finnish and only 6% Swedish as their mother tongue. In
addition, the Lappish language (saame) is spoken by some 2,200
Lapps in the north of the country, and Romany by indigenous gypsies. About
90% of the population belongs to the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church,
and about 1.3% to the Orthodox Church. Both are "state churches," but
there is complete freedom of religion.
Finland is a thriving western-European democracy, with a 200-seat
Parliament (Eduskunta), elected every four years. Governments are
usually coalitions of several of the many political parties. The
President, who is chiefly responsible for the guidance of foreign policy,
is elected every six years by an electoral college of 301. The voting age
is 18, and there is universal suffrage. Finland has a private-ownership,
free-enterprise market economy with a stable currency (the Finnish mark,
or markka), and a per capita GDP of USD$15,200 in 1989, a close
fourth in Europe behind Norway, Sweden, and West Germany
(pre-unification). The standard of living, and cost of living, is among
the highest in the world.
Education has been the key to Finnish prosperity. As a small
population spread thinly through a large and costly country with few
natural resources aside from the "green gold" of its forests, the Finns
cannot compete on world markets with cheap labor or the export of raw
materials. The products for which modern Finland is known range from the
export of "know-how" to highly-engineered industrial technology and
artistic consumer-goods that have inspired the accolade "Finnish design."
Informal pre-school education is provided through the age of six by the
municipally-sponsored päiväkoti, a neighborhood center
combining the functions of day-care and kindergarten. Children are
generally divided into age groupings of 1-2 and 3-6, though in larger
centers groups may be by age cohort. Children under 1 are usually cared
for at home, as Finns are entitled to paid maternity or paternity leave up
to a year, with guaranteed job return. Finnish law requires that day care
be available on demand for children up to the age of three.
Children may attend the päiväkoti for half or full
days, both including warm meals. There is a fee based on parental income,
ranging from free to about $300.00 per child monthly. Families with
several children in the same center get a reduction of the fee for the
second and successive children. Päiväkoti teachers
complete a three-year curriculum in kindergarten education, including
practice teaching. The "neuvola," a neighborhood clinic providing free
medical care to children under school age, as well as pre- and post-natal
care, will often be located nearby the päiväkoti, sometimes in
the same center.
The päiväkoti is not compulsory, but the availability of
high-quality and relatively low-cost child care, combined with both
parents being employed in most families, means that children will usually
have pre-school education. Even children who have been cared for at home
usually spend at least a half-day of their sixth year in the
päiväkoti before starting regular school. As the 1990
päiväkoti enrollment of 3-6 year-olds is about 250,000,
and current age cohort size some 70,000, it is clear that most children
will begin school with kindergarten experience.
Elementary and Secondary Education
Public education is available free of charge throughout Finland via the
nine-year peruskoulu, or comprehensive school. The new
peruskoulu was adopted over a seven-year period between 1971-78,
replacing the older combination of primary and civic school (6 years + 2
or 3 years) or primary and junior secondary school (4 years + 5 years).
All costs of education, including books, supplies, meals, and even
medical and dental checkups, are financed by the local municipalities.
Pupils begin school at the age of seven, and finish at the age of 16. The
peruskoulu is divided into a six- year ala-aste, or lower
division, in which most instruction is given by a class teacher (the
curriculum is the same in schools at this level), and a three-year
ylä-aste, or upper division, in which instruction is
subject-based, with specialized teachers for different classes.
In the larger cities, there are some private fee-paying schools, which
chiefly cater to children of the international business or diplomatic
communities. Helsinki has private English, German, French, German, and
Russian-language schools, with a modified Finnish curriculum and
instructors both from Finland and the country in question. There is also
a small network of schools following the pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner.
A sense of discipline and authority is evident throughout the
school system, and daily homework assignments are common from the
very beginning. Both pupils and parents take school seriously.
Foreign languages are an essential component of education at all
levels. Although the vast majority of instruction nationwide is given in
Finnish, in cities and regions of the country where Swedish-speaking Finns
reside one may choose between Swedish and Finnish-language public schools.
The curriculum is the same, only the language of instruction differs. In
addition to instruction in one's mother tongue (either Finnish or Swedish)
a compulsory first foreign language is begun in the third grade (age 9)
and continued until graduation, and a second compulsory language is begun
in the seventh grade. A third language is very often chosen in the eighth
grade. Some 90% of all pupils choose English as their first foreign
language, but other languages, notably German, are slowly gaining ground,
in consequence of political and economic changes on the European
continent. French and Russian are usually also available in the
Starting in 1990, small English-language comprehensive school units
have been established in major cities such as Helsinki and Tampere. These
schools will follow a modified Finnish curriculum and also offer the
Interational Baccalaureate. They are intended primarily for the children
of exchange students and scholars and foreign residents, but are also open
to Finnish pupils who have lived or plan to live abroad.
Throughout the comprehensive school, pupils receive end-of-term
certificates (lukukausitodistus) with grading on a scale from 10
(best) to 4. Grades of 10-9 are considered "praiseworthy"
(kiitettävä), 8-7 "good" (hyvä), 6
"satisfactory" (tyydyttävä), 5 "adequate to pass the
course" (välttävä), and 4 "failure" (heikko).
Although heikko literally means "weak," in context it is "failure":
a mark of 5 is the lowest "passing" grade.
Upon completing the ylä-aste, one receives a certificate of
completion, or päästötodistus. Grading is the same
as on the lukukausitodistus; each certificate will have an
explanation of the grading printed on the bottom.
Upon completing peruskoulu, pupils who are academically inclined,
roughly 50% of an age cohort, would apply to a lukio, or senior
secondary school. Admission to a lukio is competitive, based
upon one's record in peruskoulu. Alternately, pupils may choose
an ammattioppilaitos (vocational school), teknillinen
oppilaitos (technical school), kauppaoppilaitos (business or
commercial school), or other similar school, or else enter the
labor force directly.
The school year is mid-August to the end of May, with 190 days (90 in the
autumn, 100 in the spring) over a 5-day week, and a 4-7 hour school day
(about 25 hours per week in ala-aste, increasing to 30 hours a week
in ylä-aste). There is a two-week holiday at Christmas, one
week holiday at Easter, and another week in February/March for winter
vacation, or "ski holidays."
The Senior Secondary School (Lukio)
The most direct route to university is via the lukio. The
lukio provides an intensive college preparatory course between the
ages of 16-19, culminating in a national student matriculation examination
consisting of four compulsory and two optional six-hour exams, taken over
a period of several weeks. The actual failure rate on these exams is low,
but as competition among a large number of applicants for relatively few
university places is intense, students are under considerable pressure to
score highly to have a realistic chance for university admission.
Lukio students pursue a rigorous course of study, with regular
demanding homework in addition to class accountability. The lukio
curriculum was formerly divided into "language" and "mathematics" lines,
with widely differing curricula for the two specializations. The current
curriculum is similar for all students. All take the same range of
language and mathematics courses, though students may choose between
"general" or "advanced" levels of mathematics.
Students who choose general mathematics must take a third foreign
language (students who choose advanced mathematics may take the third, and
even a fourth, language as well). There are also compulsory distribution
requirements in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Lukio subjects
are currently taught as periodic units of varying length, with class
contact time averaging some 32-34 hours weekly, plus homework.
A typical lukio curriculum would include, in addition to
mother-tongue instruction, all three of the foreign languages begun in the
peruskoulu, plus a possible fourth foreign language begun in the
lukio; mathematics (general or advanced); chemistry, biology;
geography; religion; psychology; history, civics and social science;
health and nutrition; physical education; music and/or art; and
Mathematics for all students includes algebra, geometry, trigonometry,
calculus, differential equations and statistics; the difference between
general and advanced mathematics is mainly in the complexity and depth of
the problems, though advanced-math students may have more mathematics
class time, and usually also take additional courses in physics and
Literature and national cultural studies are both embedded in
"language" courses. English courses are predominately British English,
but will include American English and other world English variants, taught
as part of a thematic syllabus which includes the literature, arts,
history and sociopolitical cultures of the United States and Britain.
Grades for each subject, following the 10-4 scale, are itemized on the
lukio graduation certificate ("lukion
päästötodistus), which also gives the pupil's name and
social security number, date of entry into the lukio, graduation
date, and average grade of all subjects over the three-year period.
Social security numbers are written in the form "230971-171X," the first
part of which would translate to "23 September 1971 (date of birth)", with
the second part a personal ID number. The last number is always an odd
digit for males, even for females.
A separate certificate, the Ylioppilastutkintotodistus,is
received for the national student matriculation examination.
Each of the four compulsory and two optional exam components is
graded separately in Latin as: Laudatur (Excellent), Magna Cum
Laude Approbatur (Very Good); Cum Laude Approbatur (Good);
Lubenter (Pass-plus); Approbatur (Pass); and
Improbatur (Failure). Further, a national jury of distinguished
teachers chosen by the Matriculation Board will review every answer and
confirm the local evaluation of each test. The jury also awards a separate
mark for overall accomplishment on the examination, using the same Latin
The three-year lukio approximates closely the breadth and rigor
of a U.S. lower-division undergraduate curriculum. Upon entering
university, the Finnish student is both by age and scholastic achievement
roughly equal to a third-year American undergraduate.
"Higher" or "university-level" education is defined more strictly in
Finland than in many other countries. "Higher education" is offered by
research institutions awarding the Master's, Licentiate, and Doctorate
degrees. Institutions offering only programs corresponding to lower
degrees, such as the bachelor's, are "vocational institutes" rather than
"universities" or "institutions of higher education." The Finnish words
yliopisto (e.g. Turun yliopisto, The University of Turku)
and korkeakoulu (e.g. Lapin korkeakoulu, The University of
Lapland) are both translated into English as "university."
Finland has 20 university-level institutions, roughly divided into
those in the Helsinki area, which enroll nearly a third of all students,
and those elsewhere in Finland. Foremost in the hierarchy is the
University of Helsinki, which with its 28,000 students (1990) enrolls
roughly a quarter of Finnish university students, and is a "multiversity"
by any world scale. Helsinki University celebrated its 350th anniversary
in 1990. It has unique status, defined in the Finnish Constitution, and a
unique administrative structure.
Other Helsinki-area universities include the Helsinki School of
Economics and Business Administration, the Swedish School of Economics and
Business Administration, University of Industrial Arts, College of
Veterinary Medicine, Theater Academy, Sibelius Academy, and in suburban
Espoo, the Helsinki University of Technology. All are first-rate
institutions, whose mutual resources are being increased further through a
new cooperative framework of the capital-city universities.
However, high quality in higher education is not limited to the
Helsinki area. Both Tampere and Turku have strong reputations as
university cities, and many of the newer universities have quickly
developed first-class international reputations in their areas of
specialization. The youthful energy, smaller scale, and more modern
administration of "Finland's other universities" may enable them to
respond more quickly and effectively to new opportunities than the
"megauniversity" in Helsinki.
Joining the three universities in Turku and two in Tampere are Oulu
University and the University of Lapland to the North, the University of
Jyväskylä and University of Kuopio in Central Finland, the
University of Joensuu and Lappeenranta University of Technology to the
East and University of Vaasa on the West coast.
University instruction is mainly in Finnish, although Åbo Akademi
University, the Swedish School of Economics, and part of the University of
Vaasa are Swedish-language institutions. All Finnish students must pass
exams demonstrating a competency in both Finnish and Swedish and at least
one other language.
Foreign students who have not mastered Finnish or Swedish may usually
take examinations in their mother tongue, as long as it is a major
language shared by the instructor. In practice, this is mainly English.
Instruction in English is slowly expanding, in an attempt to accommodate
the growing numbers of incoming students on reciprocal exchange programs.
Overall, there are some 102,000 students (1200 foreign students in
1988) in higher education. Of these 55% study the humanities, social
sciences, education, economics, law and theology, 19% study mathematics
and science, 16% technology, and 7% medicine. All subjects and disciplines
are not available in all universities. The newer institutions especially
are built around certain discplines in accordance with regional
The university calendar starts in early September, and includes two
14-week terms, with the first term completed in mid-December. The second
term begins in mid-January and ends in May. The only official "in-term"
vacation is a week at Easter, although it is not unusual for departments
to have an unofficial winter holiday in February/March to coincide with
the public school calendar.
Academic Staff Structure
The staff structure of Finnish university departments differs
considerably from that of American universities. At the top of each
regular department are one or more "full professors," who wield
considerable influence within the department and the university.
Subordinate to these may be several "associate professors," who may be
influential by force of their personality or particular specialty, but who
are clearly secondary to the full professors in the academic pecking
Professors are officially appointed by the President of Finland after a
nomination process at the university level. Associate Professors are
appointed, after the nomination process, by the University Chancellor. In
those universities not having a Chancellor, appointments are made by the
Minister of Education. Appointment is for lifetime tenure.
Many departments have "Docents" (dosentti). Docentships provide
a way for departments to offer occasional specialized courses, or to
enhance staff reputation by appointing as a Docent an outstanding scholar
who is tenured by another institution.
Most departments also have "senior assistants" (yliassistentti)
and/or "assistants" (assistentti) who are non-tenured, appointed
for 3 or 5-year periods which may sometimes be renewed. Most
assistantships are intended as research slots to help junior scholars
complete a licentiate or doctorate, Depending on the individual,
department, and length of service, however, they may range from "general
factotum" to the equivalent of an Assistant Professorship.
Most foundation teaching in Humanities departments is done by Lecturers
(lehtori), who are tenured. There are also Instructors
tuntiopettaja), who are paid by the hour (tunti) without
tenure, and "Full-time Instructors" (päätoiminen) who
receive a monthly salary, have semi-permanent tenure, and a teaching load
equivalent to that of a Lecturer.
Professorships, associate professorships, and docentships require the
PhD degree as a basic qualification. Assistants, lecturers, and
instructors are usually required to have a Master's as the minimum
qualification, although there is increasing pressure to raise the minimum
qualification to a licentiate. Exemptions from these requirements are
possible, but Finnish academic bureaucracy is renowned for strict
adherence to formal paper qualifications.
Admission to a Finnish university is highly competitive. One applies
for admission directly into a specialized program of a university
department. This is roughly equivalent to a U.S. student applying for
admission into a "major" subject at the beginning of the third year of
study. Admission is determined from an entrance examination to the
department of choice plus scores from both one's lukio certificate
and the national student examination. Despite the fact that Finland has
more university students per capita than the other Nordic countries, only
one third of each lukio cohort will gain admission to a university.
It is understandable how the overall standard of excellence is maintained.
There is no university tuition charge. Students pay only student union
and health insurance fees, and may receive government-subsidized study
loans and some grants.
Program Structures and Degree Requirements
The basic Finnish university degree is the Master's. There is no
formal lower degree, although a certificate corresponding to the former
bachelor's can be obtained at some universities after completing about
100-120 credits (2-4 years of study). There are various names for the
Master's degree in the different disciplines, often abbreviated to two or
three letters, such as FK, HK, KK, KTK, VTK and YK. "FK" is short for
filosofian kandidaatti, or "Master of Arts"; "YK" is
yhteiskuntatieteiden kandidaatti, or "Master of Social Sciences."
From 160-250 "study weeks" opintoviikot of credit is required
for the Master's degree. Requirements are divided into courses in General
Studies (Yleisopinnot), Subject Studies (Aineopinnot, i.e.
courses in or required by the student's major and minor fields), and
Advanced Specialized Studies (Syventävät opinnot), largely
independent research and the writing of a Master's thesis and related
Between 5 and 7 years is the average time to obtain the Master's
degree, but combining one's studies with part-time work and the starting
of a family often lengthens the time required. However, 10 years is
considered the maximum time to complete one's Master's degree without
Beyond the Master's one can study for the Licentiate degree
(lisensiaatti), a sort of junior doctorate, and upon defense of a
dissertation the Licentiate holder may be awarded a Doctorate
(tohtori). Studies toward the licentiate or doctorate are mostly of
an independent nature; there are as yet few organized doctoral programs
resembling those in American academia.
Academic credits in Finnish universities are based on the idea of
"study weeks" (opintoviikot). A study week is calculated as "40
hours of student work," roughly parallel to a 40-hour working week. Study
weeks may be awarded for a lecture series, a "book exam," independent
research, or other combinations of 40 hours of student input. Study week
allocation for a course should include, in addition to class contact time,
a reasonable estimate of time for books read, papers written, or any other
required out-of-class activity. For example, a course with 28 hours of
contact lectures, and evaluation by a student paper, may allow 12 hours
for the writing of the paper. This would total 40 hours, or one study
week of credit. A study week would seldom represent 40 "contact hours"
only, with no outside work allowance.
The study week thus differs remarkably from the U.S. "credit hour." An
American "three-hour course" would typically comprise 45 contact hours,
with about two hours of outside preparation presumed for each contact
hour. In converting Finnish credits to American, 1.5 to 2 study weeks may
reasonably be considered the equivalent of an American three-hour
The study system is based on lectures. Students have the choice of
attending lectures and passing exams on these, or taking exams on set
books which are considered the equivalent of the lectures. Science degrees
also will include laboratory and practical work which cannot be
compensated for by books or lectures.
The courses offered by the different departments vary greatly in the
amount of credit offered. Some lectures or practicals may be as brief as
one study week, whereas thesis or advanced seminar work may award 20 study
Although procedure may vary from one university or faculty to another,
the following is typical for a 160 study week Master's curriculum in the
Humanities. First, there are the faculty's own General Studies, with
compulsory and optional courses ranging from 9-30 study weeks. These are
usually courses in philosophy of science, man in relation to nature and
society, development of western culture, and so on. The student must also
demonstrate written and oral competency in several languages. Swedish (or
Finnish) is compulsory as the second national language.
The remainder of the FK curriculum is Subject and Advanced Specialized
Studies. Subject Studies include about 70-80 credits of required and
elective courses from the student's major subject. Students must also
choose first and second subsidiary subjects from departments in their own
or another faculty. After Subject Studies, the student moves to Advanced
Specialized courses, about 30-40 credits, of which 16-20 are awarded for a
thesis (pro gradu) in one's major subject.
Examinations and Grading
Both faculties and departments have set examination dates, listed on
their official calendars. Students register for faculty exams by
submitting an examination envelope, 7-10 days in advance, with their name,
address, social security number, and other details as well as the books
read for the exam. On arrival at the exam, the student gets the envelope
back with questions inside. On leaving the exam, one's identity must be
proved. The procedure may vary in different universities.
Exams are also held at the end of lecture series for students who have
attended the lectures. Some courses may not have exams, but require
instead a certain number of completed exercises and regular or compulsory
Examination results are posted on faculty and department bulletin
boards. The grading is usually numerically from 3 to 1 (3 being highest)
or alternately "ET" (erinomainen tieto, or "excellent"), "HT"
(hyvä tieto, or "good") and "TT" (tyydyttävä
tieto, "satisfactory"). Some couses may be pass/fail, in which case
only the "pass" is marked. Grades are entered into the university
computer, in which each student is recorded by name and social security
number. In addition to the computer register, students in most
universities also have personal study books, in which an instructor enters
each course or exam grade and verifies it with his signature.
Students applying for admission to foreign universities would usually
provide a transcript, or extract (opinto-ote or ote
opintosuoritusrekeristä) from their computer record, which would
be in Finnish (or Swedish). They would have to translate this themselves
into the appropriate language. Students might also send copies of
extracts from their study books, containing detail not (yet) entered on
the computer transcript.
Only passing grades will appear in the study book or transcript.
Failures are not recorded. If a student fails an examination or is
otherwise not satisfied with the grade, he or she has the right to retake
the exam an unlimited number of times on dates set by the examiner. If
the student passes, the grade is then recorded in the study book and the
The differing structure and definition of "higher education" in Finland
often poses problems in determining the equivalency of credentials. The
fact that Finnish universities do not have the bachelor's degree is one of
these. What level is required for foreign students to enter a Finnish
university, and at what level can Finnish students be placed in foreign
universities if they have not completed the full Master's program?
The concept of a lukio graduate being at roughly the level of an
American who has completed the first two years of college or university
study ("lower-division" study), is a useful starting point. The Finnish
Ministry of Education recommends, for example, that U.S. students applying
to Finnish universities must show that they have either completed two full
years of college, or else have gained admission to a research university.
Similarly, students who have completed 3-4 years (about 100-120
credits) of university and apply to U.S. programs may qualify for
admission to a Master's level program, either directly or with a minimum
of probationary coursework. Entering a Master's program in a Finnish
university from lukio, the Finn would be the equivalent of a U.S.
student beginning major studies in the junior year. After 100-120
credits, the Finn would reach the equivalent of the former lower, or
Bachelor's degree (and in some universities could obtain such a
certificate) with mainly the pro gradu research and writing and related
seminars remaining for the Master's degree. Both maturity and academic
record would compare favorably to an American B.A. applying to graduate
A different problem in the evaluation of Finnish transcripts is with
American definitions such as "full-time student" or "normal class load."
These terms do not exist in Finland. Students register at the beginning
of each academic year, but as they do not pay tuition, and can largely
determine their own pace of study, "full-time" is difficult to determine,
except indirectly. Finnish students must have completed 18 study weeks of
credit during their first year to retain their government study loan. From
the second year onwards, this rises to 20 credits per year. Thus a rough
calculation might be made whether study was "full- time." However, should
the student not need the study loan, this requirement would be irrelevant.
Post-Secondary Vocational Education
Vocational education is provided by 682 post-secondary institutions
throughout Finland. These are gradually being renamed as "Vocational
Institutions" (ammatillinen oppilaitos) in a form such as
Rovaniemen metsäoppilaitos (Rovaniemi Forestry Institution),
but some still retain older names, such as Finnairin ilmailuopisto
(Finnair Aviation School); Vapaa Taidekoulu (Free Art School); or
ATK-Instituutti (Automated Data Processing Institute). Music
conservatories, such as Tampereen konservatorio, or other training
centers, such as PTL Posti Henkilöstön
kehittämiskeskus (The Postal Authority Staff Training Center)
will also have names which differ from the "-oppilaitos" form.
There are 25 basic branches (peruslinjat) of vocational training,
comprising 220 lines of specialization (erikoistumislinjat),
leading to a either a lower (kouluaste," school-level), or higher
(opistoaste, institute-level) diploma, depending on one's
qualifications and the specialization of the training. At the school
level, vocational studies take 2-5 years, and at the institute level 3-5
years. Either level will prepare one to enter working life directly, or
help qualify one for further training at an advanced level.
Vocational programs are tuition-free. They also include one free meal
daily, bus transportation to and from the school, and often housing. The
only student cost is for books, required uniforms or equipment, and in
some cases special entrance examinations.
Admission requires completion of either peruskoulu or
lukio and the student examination. Most vocational lines include
general studies (yleisjaksot), with languages, mathematics, civics
and social sciences in addition to vocational subject instruction. There
are different curricula for students from peruskoulu and
lukio backgrounds. Curricula for lukio graduates
(Ylioppilas-pohjaiset [YO-pohjaiset] linjat) include fewer general
studies (these already having been taken in lukio). Lukio
graduates may thus complete a vocational diploma (Tutkintotodistus)
up to 1.5 years sooner than students with only a peruskoulu
The 25 basic vocational branches are Health care, Agriculture,
Dairying, Forestry, Textiles, Printing, Heat, water and ventilation,
Electrical engineering, Surveying, Surface treatment, Food processing,
Home and institutional economics, Commerce and administration, Social
services, Horticulture, Fishery, Handicrafts and industrial arts, Garment
trade, Mechanical engineering, Vehicles and transportation, Construction,
Woodworking, Chemical engineering, Hotel services and catering, and
Seafaring. Each basic branch will offer a wide selection of possible
In the health care basic branch, students would attend a
terveydenhuolto-oppilaitos (formerly sairaanhoito-opisto).
There are 22 specializations from which to choose, including licensed
practical nurse (perushoitaja), midwife (kätilö),
specialized registered nurse (erikoissairaanhoitaja) and dental
technician (hammasteknikko). The lower, licensed practical nurse
training is school-level. It requires 2.5 years of study for students
with a peruskoulu background, and 1.5 years for those with a
The higher, institute-level curriculum would train, for example, a
registered nurse, midwife or physical therapist. Registered nurses must
specialize in surgery and anesthesiology, pediatrics, internal medicine,
or psychiatry (one can no longer graduate as an RN without a
specialization). The graduate will emerge with a Tutkintotodistus
(Diploma, or literally "certificate of study") specified, for example, as
sairaanhoitaja, lasten sairaanhoito, or "Registered Pediatric
Nurse." The institute-level curriculum is 4.5 years for students with a
peruskoulu background, and 3.5 years for those with a lukio
General studies for all specializations in the basic health care line
would include an introduction to theoretical and practical health care and
nursing behavior, Finnish and foreign languages, mathematics, physics,
chemistry, biology, information technology, physical education, art, and
While vocational studies are not "university-level," some vocational
credits may be applied toward university degrees. Graduates with a health
care specialization might wish to enter a university to continue training
in such related areas as pharmacology, medicine, dentistry, public health,
physical education, psychology, or veterinary science. Their vocational
training would help in meeting the admission requirements, and may
sometimes exempt them from part of the university curriculum.
The level and breadth of Finnish vocational curricula often compare
favorably with university bachelor-level curricula in other countries. A
Finnish graduate from the five-year music educator's curriculum in one of
Finland's ten conservatories, for example, which requires a lukio
diploma and the student examination for admission, would have training at
least equal to a U.S. bachelor in music education. Such a student could
be admitted directly to a U.S. Master's program in music education, even
though not having been a "university" student in Finland.
During the educational reforms of the late 1970s and 1980s, teacher
training was simplified. Private kindergarten-teacher schools were taken
over by the state in 1977, and became part of the public vocational
education structure. Training for päiväkoti teachers
lasts three years, with 40% of this time devoted to supervised practical
Since 1975, teacher education for the peruskoulu and
lukio has been conducted by the ten universities with faculties of
education. Teachers earn master's degrees of either 160 or 180 study week
credits. Degrees include 35-40 credits in general pedagogy, with an
emphasis on didactics. General studies in languages and communication
comprise about 10 credits, optional studies 20 credits, and the thesis and
related seminars about 20 credits. The median time to obtain the degree
is about 5 years.
Ala-aste class teachers earn a 160-credit Master's in Education,
which includes both practical teacher training and the writing of a
thesis. Class teachers must qualify in at least two special subjects,
with a minimum of 15 credits required for each.
Ylä-aste subject teachers earn a 180-credit Master's in
main field (e.g. history teachers earn a Master's in History), with a
minor in Education including supervised teacher training. Subject teachers
must qualify to teach three subjects, with from 15 to 80 credits required
for each subject.
Once in the profession, teachers generally are required to participate
in in-service training for three days annually, as well as counseling
throughout the year.
Beginning in 1990, teachers of vocational and general educational
subjects will be taught in different institutions. General education
teachers (languages, history, mathematics, etc.) will continue to be
trained in universities. Teachers of vocational subjects will be trained
in new "Vocational Universities" (ammattikorkeakoulu), a parallel
to the German fachhochschule which is designed to bridge the gap
between lower vocational and higher academic studies. The first
ammattikorkeakoulut began in Hämeenlinna and
Jyväskylä in autumn 1990.
New Directions in Finnish University Exchanges
As the 1990s begin, Finnish universities are increasing their capacity
to accommodate foreign scholars. Recognizing that few foreign students
will speak Finnish or Swedish, emphasis is being placed on increasing
instruction in English. Universities are being encouraged to develop
study and research opportunities in English, and some specialized programs
have been introduced which are taught entirely in English. Such programs
combine Finnish and foreign students, teachers, and researchers, and will
further aid the internationalization of Finnish higher education.
The pioneer in this field has been the International Master of Business
Administration program begun in 1983 by the Helsinki School of Economics
and Business Administration. HSE's annual intake of 50 International MBA
students is typically 60% Finnish and a dozen other nationalities. HSE
now also offers Executive MBA and Bachelor in Business Administration
programs, all conducted in English by both Finnish and visiting foreign
professors, and coordinated by HSE's own International Center.
Finnish technological expertise is opening to foreign scholars through
year-long Master's and Doctoral-level programs in Pulp and Paper
Chemistry, Architecture, Digital Signal Processing, and Materials Science
offered jointly by the Helsinki and Tampere Universities of Technology and
Åbo Akademi University, as well as programs in Forestry and Natural
Resources Management, and Information Technology in Education by the
University of Joensuu.
Finnish Design is represented by a new English-language Master's in
Design Leadership (product, interior, and graphic design) program at the
University of Industrial Arts in Helsinki.
New administrative structures are also emerging. The three Turku
institutions have created "Turku International University," which has
already produced an Eastern European Studies Program using the expertise
of each institution. Åbo Akademi University has begun a summer
program in Swedish for English-speaking students in the Finnish
Åland Islands, halfway between Finland and Sweden. Instruction has
not normally been offered by Finnish universities during the summer
months, though this is a time when the Finnish climate is at its best, and
students are free to travel and study in short-term courses. The
prospects are encouraging.
Finnish education enters the 1990s healthy and dynamic, enjoying firm
national support, and well-equipped to respond to the challenges of