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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of the education system and of its structure


2.Organisation and governance

2.3Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Last update: 15 February 2024

Home education

Early childhood education and care (ECEC)

Early childhood education and care comprises care, education and teaching to support children’s balanced growth, development and learning. Participation in early childhood education and care is a universal right for all children under school age (aged 0-6 years). It is available on a full-time basis (for a maximum of 10 hours a day) or on a part-time basis (for a maximum of 5 hours a day) depending on parents’ working life status. There are moderate fees based on parental income. 

Municipalities have a statutory duty to provide ECEC services and pre-primary education for 6-year olds  according to the local need. Most common ways to provide early childhood education and care are early education centre, family day care and group family day care. Private service providers, parishes and NGOs offer alternative opportunities for early childhood education and care. Regardless of the provider, the ECEC is guided by the national core Curriculum for ECEC and local curricula based on it. 

The language and culture of each child is taken into consideration. All children who speak Finnish, Swedish or Sami are offered early childhood education and care services in their mother tongue. Children with other language and cultural backgrounds are supported in collaboration with representatives of their respective cultures. 

Pre-primary education

The objective of pre-primary education is to promote children’s prerequisites for growth, development and learning. Participation has been compulsory for children of the age six since August 2015. Pre-primary education normally lasts one year.
Providing a place in pre-primary education free of charge for all children is a statutory duty for municipalities. Pre-primary education is usually provided both in early education centres and in schools. Pre-primary education is normally provided from four to five hours per day and the rest of the day is early childhood education and care

The parents or guardians of the child are responsible for making sure that the child takes part in pre-primary education or other activities that meet the objectives for pre-primary education. Education and the objectives are based on a local curriculum drawn up within the framework of the national core curriculum for pre-primary education.

Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

The objective of primary and lower secondary education is to support pupils’ growth towards humanity and ethically responsible membership of society and to promote them with acquiring the knowledge and skills needed in studying and developing themselves later in life.

Primary and lower secondary education is provided within a single-structure system. This level education lasts 9 years and is provided in comprehensive schools.

Comprehensive schools have year grades 1–9. Education starts in the year a child turns 7 and lasts until pupils are 15–16 years old.

Municipalities have a statutory duty to organise comprehensive school education for all 7 – 15/16-year-olds living in their area. Municipalities assign a school place to each pupil close to their homes. However, parents or guardians are also free to apply for a place in another school of their preference, where the pupil can start if there is room for them.

If a municipality has both Finnish and Swedish-speaking inhabitants, it is required to provide basic education separately for both language groups.

The Government may also grant registered associations, foundations and the State the right to organise comprehensive school education. 

Although compulsory education does exist, school attendance is not compulsory, and parents may also arrange instruction for their children at home. In such cases, the task of the municipality of residence is to supervise that the compulsory education syllabi are completed. Home education is however a marginal phenomenon in Finland.

Preparatory education for upper secondary education

A preparatory education (TUVA education) for the transition from lower secondary to upper secondary education is intended for pupils of compulsory education age, and for students with immigrant background as well as for those adult learners, who are lacking the upper secondary qualification. TUVA education provides students with the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to apply for an upper secondary qualification. 

The training lasts for a maximum of one year. TUVA is not compulsory; it is designed to provide an extra support for students. During the preparatory year students also have more time to think and plan about their further studies and career choices.

Upper secondary education

After completing the compulsory nine-year primary and lower secondary education, students continue to upper secondary education. It is divided to general upper secondary and vocational upper secondary education and training, and students choose which path they continue. Upper secondary education, similarly as basic education, is free of charge. Also learning materials, daily meals and transportation for students living further away from the school are free for the students.

Completion of upper secondary education, either general and vocational, gives students eligibility to continue to higher education.

After completing primary and lower secondary level students also have a possibility to choose one year preparatory education for upper secondary education.


General upper secondary education

General upper secondary education builds on the basic education syllabus. The objective of the education is to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary for further studies, working life, their personal interests and the diverse development of their personalities. In addition, the education should support and provide the student with skills for lifelong learning and self-development later in life. 

The scope of the general upper secondary school syllabus is three years. At the end of general upper secondary education, students participate in the national matriculation examination, which provides general eligibility for higher education. Most of the general upper secondary students are from 16 to 19 years old and have continued their studies immediately after completing the basic education.

Upper secondary schools select their students autonomously. Most commonly the selection is based on the applicant’s performance in prior studies. The Ministry of Education and Culture has granted some education providers the right to a special educational mission. This right allows such education providers to emphasise a given subject in their teaching, such as sports, arts or music. These providers often use additional entrance or aptitude tests for their student selection.

General upper secondary education can be provided by local authority, a joint municipal authority, a registered association, a foundation or the State as longs as the provider has been authorised by Ministry of Education and Culture. Education providers have a statutory duty to cooperate with the area's other education providers.

Vocational upper secondary education and training (VET)

The objective of upper secondary vocational education and training is to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to acquire vocational competence and to provide them with the potential for self-employment as well as further studies. After completing a vocational qualification, students are eligible to continue their studies in higher education institutions.

The scope of upper secondary level vocational qualifications taken after basic education is often 3 years. Even if the education and training mostly takes place in institutions, all qualifications include on-the-job-training.  All vocational qualifications may also be completed as apprenticeship training, which also contain courses arranged in the institutions.  Completing a qualfications is very flexible and depends a lot of student's own interests and prior learning. 

Most of the vocational upper secondary students are at age 16 to 19 years old and have continued their studies immediately after completing the basic education. Among compulsory school leavers, the proportion enrolling directly in VET is around 40 per cent.

The licenses to provide vocational education and training are granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture. VET provider may be a local authority (municipality), joint municipal authority, a foundation or other registered association, or a state company. Vocational education and training providers are responsible for organising training in their areas, for matching provision with local labour market needs, and for devising local curricula based on the national qualification requirements.

Higher education

The Finnish higher education system consists of two sectors: universities and universities of applied sciences. The mission of universities is to conduct scientific research and provide education based on it. Universities of applied sciences (UAS) provide more practical education that aims to respond to the needs of the labour market. 
Higher education is free of charge for students from EU/EEA area and Swiss citizens. Around 40 per cent of university and UAS students are between the ages of 20 and 24.  

After completing general upper secondary school or vocational upper secondary education and training, students can apply for higher education.  Students can apply for higher education institutions with qualification certificate from VET or with matriculation examination certificate. The majority of new students applying to universities have completed the matriculation examination. Students apply for universities of applied sciences and university studies in a national application system. Each higher education institution decides on the criteria on the basis of which students are selected for admission. Entrance examinations are often an important part of the selection process.


Universities, offering higher scientific and artistic education, award bachelor's and master's degrees as well as postgraduate degrees, for instance licentiate and doctoral degrees. The target completion time for a bachelor’s degree at a university is three years and for a master’s degree two years.

Finnish universities are either foundation universities or public corporations. To guarantee the freedom of science, the arts and higher education, universities are autonomous actors. 

University consortiums supplement the Finnish university network in regions that do not have their own universities and they coordinate academic activities in their respective areas. The universities of applied sciences, the municipalities and the regional council of the region often also take part in this cooperation.

University of applied sciences

Universities of applied sciences award UAS bachelor's degrees and UAS master's degrees. The completion of a UAS degree usually takes between 3.5 and 4.5 years. The requirement for master's studies at a university of applied sciences is a UAS bachelors' degree or another suitable degree and at least two years of work experience after the completion of the previous degree.

The Universities of applied sciences are run by a private or municipality-driven company or foundation. The Universities of applied sciences always require the operating licence granted by the Government. 
Universities of applied sciences have extensive autonomy and freedom of education and research. They are also independent legal entities and make independent decisions on matters related to their internal administration.

Adult education

Adult education and training offers citizens the opportunity to obtain education and complete qualifications at any stage of life. Adults can study either in the same educational institutions as young people, or at separate institutions and units aimed at adults. Adult education is organised at all levels of education. 

Provision is intended to be as flexible as possible in order to enable adults to study alongside work. For example, vocational upper secondary qualifications, further vocational qualifications and specialist vocational qualifications can also be obtained through competence-based qualifications These qualifications, independent of how the vocational skills have been acquired, are usually completed by adults. 

Liberal adult education offers non-formal studies and therefore does not provide a degree or qualification. Unlike other educational programmes, its content is not governed by legislation. In other words, liberal adult education organisations are independently responsible for the education they provide and its development.

Liberal adult education providers comprise local authorities, joint municipal authorities, associations, foundations and limited liability companies. The affiliated organisations can represent various world views or religious beliefs or act on the basis of local or regional civic needs. Liberal adult education provides are called adult education centres, folk high schools, learning centres, sports training centres (sports institutes) and summer universities.