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The Finnish education system in a nutshell

Early childhood education and pre-primary education

Pre-primary education is given to children in one or two years before compulsory education. Early childhood education, pre-primary education and basic education form a path for a child’s development and learning that is consistently advancing.

More than 230,000 children participate in early childhood education and care every year. 77 per cent of 16yearolds participate in early childhood education and care.

Fewer than 60,000 students participate in pre-primary education every year. Of these, 50,000 receive pre-primary education in connection with day care and 10,000 in connection with school.

Basic education

Basic education is general education. It is held mainly in comprehensive schools, but also in folk high schools, especially when aimed at adults. Comprehensive school is grades 1-9 and is intended for the entire 7-16 age group.

Curriculum fundamentals provide a unified basis for local curricula. Municipalities, private education providers and schools have their own curricula that guide teaching and schooling more closely and take local needs and perspectives into account.

About 550,000 schoolchildren participate in basic education every year. More than a fifth of schoolchildren receive intensive (just over 10%) or special (less than 10%) support. The size of the starting and ending age group is about 60,000. About 420 education providers have more than 2,100 comprehensive schools.

Vocational education and training

Vocational education and training is intended for both young people who have completed basic education and others who don’t have a vocational degree as well as adults who are already in working life. Vocational institutions and vocational adult education centres provide vocational education and training. In addition, some liberal adult education institutions provide vocational education and training.

The aim of vocational education and training is to develop the student’s professional competence. It contributes to the development of working life and responds to the skills needs of working life, promotes entrepreneurship and supports lifelong learning. Vocational education also provides an opportunity to continue studies at university.

340,000 students study in the vocational education leading to a vocational qualification on an annual basis, more than half of whom are aged 15–24 and a little less than half are over 24 years old. About 270,000 students complete the training in an educational institution and 70,000 in apprenticeship training. A little fewer than 140,000 students start qualification-oriented education every year. A total of about 70,000 students complete a vocational qualification each year. Of the completed qualifications, just over two-thirds are vocational basic qualifications and less than a third are vocational qualifications and specialist vocational qualifications. Vocational degree training is organized by more than 130 training providers.

Upper secondary school

Upper secondary education provides the student with a broad general education and the preparation to start studying at a university, university of applied sciences and in vocational education based on the secondary school curriculum. At the end of upper secondary school studies, the student completes a nationwide matriculation examination.

Upper secondary school studies can be completed in an upper secondary day school, an upper secondary school for adults, a distance learning upper secondary school and some folk high schools. There are almost 270 organizers of upper secondary school education, offering education in about 370 secondary schools.

There are more than 100,000 students in upper secondary school education every year. Approximately 35,000 students begin upper secondary school education each year. Approximately 30,000 students complete the matriculation examination every year.

Liberal adult education

Applying for education in liberal adult education is open to everyone. The training is not a degree-oriented. However, some liberal adult education institutions also provide basic education, upper secondary education, vocational training and basic education in the arts.

Liberal adult education training is provided in folk high schools, adult education centres, workers’ colleges, study centres, physical education training centres (sports colleges) and summer universities. There are about 250 of these state-funded training providers. There are about 1,500,000 gross annual contributions to education in the form of liberal adult education. Taking into account non-graduate education from other education providers, the number of gross participation in adult education rises to just under two million.

Basic education in the arts

Basic education in the arts is out-of-school art education for children and young people. Basic education in the arts is provided by music schools, art schools, dance schools, crafts schools and other educational institutions. Students will be empowered to express themselves and apply for vocational and higher education in the arts.

There are 120 providers of state-funded basic education in the arts. Approximately 130,000 students study basic education in the arts annually. More than 50,000 new students start each year.

Higher education

Universities and universities of applied sciences form the Finnish higher education system. There are 22 universities of applied sciences and 13 universities under the Ministry of Education and Culture in mainland Finland.

Universities of Applied Sciences

Universities of applied sciences (UAS) are mainly multidisciplinary and regional higher education institutions, whose activities emphasize the connection with working life and regional development. The task of the universities of applied sciences is to provide higher education based on the requirements of working life and its development, as well as research and artistic starting points, for professional expert tasks.

There are about 140,000 students in education leading to a university of applied sciences degree and a little fewer than 20,000 students a year in education leading to a higher degree. There are about 50,000 new students a year. The degree is completed by around 30,000 students a year.

Universities of applied sciences are non-profit limited companies. They have wide freedom of teaching and research and the right to decide on matters of internal administration.


The basic task of universities is to conduct scientific research and provide the highest education based on it. Universities promote lifelong learning, interact with society and promote the social impact of research results and artistic activities.

The universities have a little fewer than 160,000 degree students annually. More than 30,000 new university students start each year. A little more than 30,000 university degrees are completed each year.

Universities have constitutionally guaranteed autonomy and freedom of research, art and teaching. Of the universities, 11 are public and two are foundations.

Click here for more information:
Ministry of Education and Culture
Finnish National Board of Education

The Finnish education system in a nutshell in Finnish