Adult education and training in Finland has expanded and diversified during the last four decades in particular. Although the educational needs of the adult population have been recognised for over a hundred years, adult education and training did not become targets of systematic education policy until the 1970s. In 1978, the Government made a decision-in-principle on the planning and development of adult education and training. The decision was based on the principle of continuing education, which aimed to create a flexible education system where all citizens would have the opportunity to develop their personalities through study at all stages of their lives.
Finnish adult education and training has traditionally been divided into two main areas: general adult education and vocational adult education and training. Earlier, adult education was primarily general or interest-oriented, the education of the unemployed being an exception. The general adult education expanded strongly up until the 1970s.
The increased provision of adult education and training has been influenced by changes in society, such as an increase in the standards required for work assignments, the change in the economic structure and migration from rural to urban areas. Adult education and training has significantly provided for improving employment opportunities. Educational provision has increased along with development of financial aid for adult students.
The Vocational Qualifications Act enacted in 1994 created a new system of competence-based qualifications, where people may take vocational qualifications by demonstrating their vocational skills in competence tests irrespective of how they have acquired their skills. At the same time, a uniform quality assurance system was created for vocational adult education and training.
Polytechnic adult education started gradually alongside education provided for young people in the late 1990´s. Activities have expanded on an annual basis as polytechnics have become an established form of operation. As from 1 August 2000, all polytechnics have operated on a permanent basis. The name of polytechnics was changed to universities of applied sciences. Educational provision has increased and diversified. Adult education is provided on the same degree programmes as education for young people and it leads to the same universities of applied sciences degrees. In addition, universities of applied sciences offer professional specialisation studies as a form of continuing education as well as open universities of applied sciences education.
Adult education at universities is provided by their own continuing education centres, the first of which were founded in the 1970s.
Adult education is popular in Finland
During the last four decades, participation in adult education and training has increased significantly. In 2017, every second person aged 18 to 64, or 1.6 million or 48%, took part in adult education, that is, education or training arranged specifically for adults. In 1980 the corresponding percentage was 32 and in 2000 as high as 54. In 1990, more than three million people participated in adult education or training at some point in their lives, which equals to 85% of the adult population. Women are more active than men in both general and vocational studies. In 2017, 54% of women and 43% of men aged 18 to 64 participated in adult education. However, men have traditionally more in-service training in terms of training days than women.
The participation in adult education is mostly related to work or occupation and among those taking part out of general interest the most common subjects were fine and applied arts, physical education and foreign languages.
In terms of the participation rate, in-service training is the most extensive form of adult education and training. According to studies carried out by industrial organisations, companies have started to invest more in the professional development of their personnel. In all companies, at least half of the salaried employees participate in some form of training. In every second company, many of the workers are also trained this way. However, the economic depression of the early 1990s led to reduction in in-service training. The share of employees participating in in-service training was approximately 41% in 1991-1993. At the end of the decade this share has varied from 42 to 44 per cent. In 2017, the share of employees participating in in-service training was 53%.
Adult employment training (labour market training) is mainly intended for unemployed people. Some training is also offered to those at risk of losing their jobs and those who are becoming excluded from the labour market.
Vocational education and training for young people and adults in the same framework
The vocational upper secondary education has been reformed since 2018. The barriers between vocational education for young people and adults has been removed and the provision of education, its funding and steering has been merged into a coherent package under the Ministry of Education and Culture. This means, for example, that the previous separate Vocational Education and Training Act and Vocational Adult Education Act have been unified into one new act.
Reform of continuous learning will improve upskilling opportunities for working age people
The changing demands of work will significantly increase the need for upskilling and continuous learning. In Finland, the term continuous learning has been introduced to emphasise the urgency of upskilling and reskilling.
The reform of continuous learning is being prepared by a parliamentary group nominated by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which includes members from all parliamentary parties. Labour market organisations, education providers and other key organisations and ministries are represented in the monitoring group. It is the task of these groups to prepare the proposals for implementing continuous learning in line with the Government Programme. The continuous learning policy will be published by the end of 2020.
According to the Government Programme, continuous learning responds to the need to develop skills at different stages of people’s lives and careers. In order to raise the employment rate, Finland needs a supply of skilled labour.
The measures envisaged by the Government include increasing opportunities for retraining, continuing professional development and professional specialisation education throughout working life, developing apprenticeship training as a channel for reskilling and adult education, and providing flexible opportunities to study in higher education institutions. Study leave and financial aid for adult students will be developed, and the opportunities for people to study while looking for work will be improved.
The education system and its financing and guidance will be developed to better support learning in the workplace. In addition, common principles will be set out for recognising prior learning acquired outside formal education. Services will be created to facilitate lifelong guidance, and such services will also focus on supporting groups that are currently underrepresented in adult education. Anticipation of structural changes affecting labour and skills needs will be developed and, in the event of restructuring of work or production, employees’ skills and access to new employment will be improved through employee protection measures.