In Finland the higher education system consists of universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS).
The mission of universities is described in the Universities Act: to promote independent academic research as well as academic education, to provide research-based higher education and to educate students to serve their country and humanity at large. Universities offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral (PhD) level programmes.
The mission of UASs, defined in the Universities of Applied Sciences Act, is to provide higher education for professional expert tasks based on the requirements of the world of work and its development. In addition, UASs should carry out applied research, development and innovation activities that serve education in UASs and promote industry, business and regional development. UASs offer professionally oriented bachelor's and master's level programmes.
The legislation gives autonomy for higher education institutions so that they can make independent decisions on their administration, education and research. In the performance negotiations between the higher education institutions and the Ministry of Education and Culture the decisions are made concerning field-specific educational responsibilities. They also determine performance targets and quantitative targets for degrees.
Overall objectives of Finland’s higher education policy are based on the Government programme:
- to promote Finnish competitiveness, well-being, education and learning as well as sustainable development,
- to anticipate and help regenerate society, culture and working life and make sure the required highly educated workforce is available,
- to develop higher education institutions as an internationally competitive entities where each institution also responds to regional needs.
In Finland, the academic year starts 1 August and ends 31 July. Higher education institutions are autonomous in organising their academic year into semesters. Usually there are two semesters: autumn and spring-semesters, but a third semester at summertime is also used in some institutions.