Published on 2012/01/30
Finland’s Education Culture and Reform
Sparse resources and booming demand has made some in Finland question the access to higher education guaranteed by their constitution. Photo by ezioman

The basic right to education

The basic right to education in Finland is entrenched in the Constitution. Public authorities must secure equal opportunities for every resident in Finland to get education also after compulsory schooling and to develop themselves, irrespective of their financial standing. Legislation provides for compulsory schooling and the right to free pre-primary and basic education.

As such, degree education is tuition-free in Finland. When you pass an entrance examination to one university, you have practically unlimited permission to study in that field in that university for the rest of your life. Finland is practically the last haven of unlimited tuition-free education for everybody. We, unlike many other European countries, have not introduced service-fees, material-fees etc. because we think that those are only another way of naming tuitions.

Lately it has become clear that we have to think about what we can and want do in the future, how we want to spend the scarce resources. We have launched some tools to make the system more reasonable.  For example, an admitted student may only accept one student place in degree education in a given academic year. But this is not enough, we need more tools in our toolbox.

Higher Education reform

The field of Higher Education is changing in Finland. The change was initiated in Europe by the Bologna Process, a process started by the key educational ministers in Europe already in 1998. The ultimate goal of the Bologna Declaration was to create a common European Higher Education Area by 2010 with a view to improving the competitiveness and attraction of European higher education in relation to other continents.

Finland did not settle for the Bologna Process, but we decided to take the change further. The university reform was one of the previous Government of Finland’s foremost inputs into the future. They saw that in tough economic times it is especially important to invest in higher education and knowledge.

The New Universities Act

The New Universities Act, passed in June 2009, forms part of an overall reform of higher education which includes a reform of structures, strategy formation, internationalization and a reform of the funding model. The NUA extended the autonomy of universities by giving them an independent legal personality, as public corporations or as foundations. The good thing is that the government will continue to guarantee sufficient, index-bound core funding for the universities. In addition, the universities will be able to apply to compete for public funding and use the revenue from their business ventures, donations, gifts and the return on their capital for financing their operations.

The New Universities Act also developed the mission of the universities, upgrading the meaning of lifelong learning by making it visible alongside research and education. This was not at all clear that it would be there when the Act was first outlined.

“The universities promote free research and academic and artistic knowledge and provide higher education based on research. In executing their duties, the universities must promote lifelong education, work in interaction with the rest of society and enhance the impact of research and arts.”

In Part 2, Myllymäki discusses the need for reform in the Finnish higher education system. To read Part 2 of Myllymäki’s three-part series, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Willy 2012/01/30 at 7:06 pm

Great post! I can’t wait for the next one!!

Rob 2012/01/31 at 7:14 am

Very interesting to learn about international systems of education and how they compare to things here at home.

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