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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Fundamental principles and national policies


2.Organisation and governance

2.1Fundamental principles and national policies

Last update: 28 March 2024

Overview of key principles

A key principle of Finnish education policy is to ensure equal opportunities for all regardless of their individual circumstances. For instance education is free of charge from pre-primary to higher education. Equity is promoted via

  • Individual support measures that aim to guarantee that every pupil and student can reach their full potential.
  • Education system has no dead-ends.
  • High quality teaching all around the country and only small differences between schools
  • Life-long learning and adult education are provided at all levels of education.
  • In the same manner, the aims of migrant education, for both children and adults, include equity, functional bilingualism and multiculturalism. The objective of migrant education is to:
  • Prepare migrants for integration into the Finnish education system and society. 
  • Support their cultural identity.
  • Provide them with an as well-functioning bilingualism as possible so that, they will have a command of their own native language in addition to Finnish (or Swedish).

A major objective of Finnish education policy, in addition to equity, is to achieve as high a level of education and competence as possible for the whole population. One of the basic principles behind this has been to offer upper secondary education to whole age groups.

Another key principle is that the education system is based on trust and responsibility. The provision of education is steered through regulations, information and funding.  Local autonomy is strong. For example, one of the key regulations, the national core curriculum, leaves room for local variation and individual schools and teachers have a lot of freedom in designing their own curricula and instruction.

In addition, there is very little external control, such as school or textbook inspections. The first national examination - the Matriculation examination, see chapter 6.3.1. - takes place at the end of general upper secondary education. The most important quality assurance mechanism is the self-evaluation carried out by the education providers themselves. National sample-based assessments of learning outcomes are carried out according to a national assessment plan. Higher education institutions are also expected to follow the quality of their operations and teaching.

Legislation promoting the key principles and national policies

In Finland, education is one of the fundamental rights of all citizens. Therefore, compulsory education and the right to free education apply to everyone who is a permanent resident in Finland, not only Finnish citizens. Primary and lower secondary education is stipulated in more detail in the Basic Education Act. 

Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Therefore, public authorities are obligated to provide education in both languages, as these language groups have the right to education in their own mother tongue. Regulations on the language of instruction are stipulated in legislation concerning different levels of education. The self-governing province of Åland, an entirely Swedish-speaking province, has its own educational legislation. 

In the very north of Finland, there's a group of people called the Sámi. The Sámi population has been living there for a long time, and they have their own language and culture. The Act on the Sámi Parliament came into force in 1996 and the Sámi Language Act in 2003. These Acts guarantee the Sámi-speaking population cultural autonomy concerning their language and culture. The Sámi language can be the language of instruction in primary and lower secondary education as well as in upper secondary education. The language can also be taught as the mother tongue or as a foreign language. In four municipalities located in the Sámi domicile area, pupils speaking the Sámi language must primarily be provided with primary and lower secondary education in that language if the pupil’s parents or guardians so choose.


Early education and care

The new Act on Early Education and Care came into force in 2018. The Act lays down provisions on the right of a child to early childhood education and care, organisation and provision of early childhood education and care, and the data repository for early childhood education and care. Furthermore, the Act is applied, where appropriate, to the arrangement and provision of open early childhood education and care activities.

Pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education  

Basic Education Act and Basic Education Decree were stipulated in 1999. The Act governs compulsory education: pre-primary primary and lower secondary education – the former English translation for primary and lower secondary education was basic education. The Act concerns the objectives, contents, evaluation and levels of education as well as students’ rights and responsibilities. 

Upper secondary education

The new Act on General Upper Secondary Education entered into force in 2018. The Act concerns for instance provision, the objectives, contents, student intake, evaluation and students’ rights and responsibilities. 

Vocational education and training is governed by the Act on Vocational Education and Training, which came into force in 2017. The Act regards for example provision, student intake, degrees, the objectives, contents, evaluation and students’ rights and responsibilities as well as data repository. 

Higher education

Legislation governing universities took effect in 1998. The Universities Act and Decree lay down provisions on issues such as the mission of universities, their research and instruction, organisation and administration, staff and official language, students, appeals against decisions made by universities and legal protection for students. Amendments to the Universities Act concerning, among other things, the two-tier degree structure, came into force in 2005. 

Under the new Implementation Act of the Universities Act, which was passed by Parliament in 2009, Finnish universities are independent corporations under public law or foundations under private law (Foundations Act). The universities have operated in their new form from 2010 onwards. Their operations are based on autonomy and the freedom of education and research. 

The legislation on universities of applied sciences  defines, for example, the status, mission and administration of UAS. Universities of applied sciences are independent legal entities, either municipal or private institutions, which have extensive autonomy and freedom of education and research.