Skip to main content
European Commission logo
EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general upper secondary education


6.Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general upper secondary education

Last update: 31 May 2023

Types of institutions

There are two types of general upper secondary education: for young people and for adults. In 2021 there were:

  • over 100 000 young students in 358 schools
  • nearly 7 000 adult students in 95 institutes.

General upper secondary education is provided by

  • upper secondary schools (Finnish: lukio, Swedish: gymnasium)
  • upper secondary schools for adults (Finnish: aikuislukio, Swedish: vuxengymnasium)
  • other educational institutions such as folk high schools.

Both lines have their own type national core curriculum.

The general upper secondary education is based on study units with no specific year-classes. The studies take two to four years to complete, but most students graduate in three years. There are compulsory and optional studies: optional studies are divided into national elective and school-specific elective studies.

The scope of a study unit is defined as credits. One credit is equivalent to an average of 14 hours 15 minutes of teaching time for young people and 9 hours 20 minutes of teaching time for adults. The minimum requirement for competing the syllabus is

  • 150 credits for young people
  • 88 for adults

Licences to provide general upper secondary education are granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The providers are most often municipalities

  • municipalities 70 %
  • joint municipal authorities 3 %
  • private associations or foundations 8 %
  • the State 2 %

The licence may be granted also for education organised outside Finland. However, in 2021 there was only one general upper secondary school outside of Finland.

The Ministry of Education and Culture may grant general upper secondary schools with special educational tasks based on the curriculum; in 2018 the ministry granted special educational task for 75 general upper secondary schools. These specialised general upper secondary schools emphasise their instruction in accordance with their special educational task, but they always offer the opportunity to complete also a basic study programme. Specialised upper secondary schools primarily function in the following fields: music, visual arts, creative dramatics, art and media, languages, environmental sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, technology, technical studies and sports. Several general upper secondary schools offer non-traditional instruction.

There are also general upper secondary schools offer non-traditional instruction. In 2019 there were

  • 9 schools offering their general upper secondary instruction in accordance with the Steiner pedagogy
  • 19 of the general upper secondary schools offer instruction leading to the International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • 1 to European Baccalaureate (EB) in European school of Helsinki
  • 1 to Deutsche Internationale Abitur in the German School of Helsinki.

For adult learners, there are six folk high schools which are given permission to arrange general upper secondary education and the matriculation examination.

Furthermore, general upper secondary studies can be accomplished via distance learning. Distance learning is offered in general upper secondary schools and in all general upper secondary schools for adults. Distance learning complies with the National Core Curriculum (Lukion opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2019) and time allocation governing upper secondary schools for adults. Students enroll at an educational institution providing general upper secondary distance education and draw up their personal study plans together with the institution’s principal, student counsellor and subject counsellors. The majority of studies are completed in the form of distance learning under the supervision of teachers. Distance learning students may also participate in their school’s contact and counselling classes, where necessary. The entire general upper secondary school syllabus can be accomplished virtually via distance learning.

Finally, one or more courses in general upper secondary education can be taken in summer in Summer high schools, in-between the two semesters, during a study period of one to three weeks. These Summer high schools organise also preparatory courses for general upper secondary students before matriculation examination in Spring term.

Geographical accessibility

Geographical accessibility of education in Finland is high. The school network is comprehensive at all levels of education. However, demographic changes have caused challenges regarding accessibility. The decrease of general upper secondary schools is partly caused also by the growth of the popularity of the vocational upper secondary education.

The regionally uneven development of age groups poses a particular challenge to the future of the school network. From the beginning of 2000 until 2021 the number of institutions providing general upper secondary education decreased a little over 100 schools. The trend will continue in the future, and more general upper secondary schools will be closed down particularly in small municipalities. This will pose challenges to the accessibility of general upper secondary education, as the distance to the closest school increases.  

Great changes in age groups require that the network of educational institutions adapt and develop. The future challenge will be to organise teaching and educational services so that the high standard of teaching and versatile service selection can be secured for everyone as required by legislation. The utilisation of ICT, distance and e-learning may be a central means to reach the objective.

To reach the school, students are supported by various methods. Education providers are obliged to give support for transportation in case the distance to school is at least 7 kilometres, the studies cover at least ten travelling days a month and the studies are part of free education e.g. the student was born in 2004 or later and has completed comprehensive school in 2021 or later. If the studies are subject to a fee the subsidy is granted under certain circumstances (Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland: School transport subsidy).

Admission requirements and choice of school

There are no restrictions for the choice of general upper secondary schools.

Educational institutions use Finnish application system when selecting new students to general upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools and some folk high schools.

International Baccalaureate (IB) is included in the joint application system, but for European Baccalaureate (EB) and Deutsche Internationale Abitur students apply directly to the European school of Helsinki or to the German School of Helsinki.

The application period is arranged in February-March for instruction starting in autum. Educational institutions may also offer admission year-around. Usually this admission concerns adult students or students, who did not get a study place in joint application. 


Everyone who has completed comprehensive school is eligible for general upper secondary education.

Students can apply for any general upper secondary school they wish, there are no other official restrictions but the grades in the comprehensive school certificate. The selection is based on student’s grade point average for the theoretical subjects in the basic education certificate. The minimum grade point average is most often around 7 out of 10.

Entrance tests may be used when applying to general upper secondary school with special educational task. Students may also get extra points for hobbies and other relevant activities.  

If the school certificate of a foreign students is not comparable with their Finnish peers, the student’s potential for attending general upper secondary school can be separately assessed.

Students who apply for general upper secondary education for adults, that is students over 18 years, do apply directly to the school, not via the Finnish application system.

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

Students in general upper secondary education intended for young people are usually 16 to 19 years of age. General upper secondary education is based on study units with no specified year-classes. The scope of the syllabus is three years but the studies may be accomplished in two, three or four years. There are no national regulations concerning the students/teacher ratio.

Organisation of the school year

The education system in Finland is, to a large extent, decentralised. Thus, in general upper secondary education, there are no specific provisions on the number of working days, the school year and holidays in legislation. Instead, the start and end dates of schoolwork and holidays are established by the education provider, only the end date of the school year is the same all over the country: schoolwork ends on Saturday of the week 22.

Similarly, education providers are free to decide the number of weekly hours. However, instruction has to be organised in such a way that the students may complete the studies included in the upper secondary school syllabus within three years.

According to the General Upper Secondary Schools Decree each education provider is obliged to produce an annual school schedule, based on the National Core Curriculum (Lukion opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2019) in which, for example, the provision of instruction, working days, distribution of lesson hours and other school activities are outlined.

The school year consists of two semesters: the autumn semester and the spring semester. The autumn semester ends and the spring semester begins at the turn of the calendar year. School work begins in mid-August and ends the Saturday of week number 22 (end May/beginning of June). As a rule, the school year ends at the end of July.

General Upper Secondary Schools Decree (810/2018)

Organisation of the school day and week

School is usually attended five days a week at all levels of education, with the exception of universities. This means that both Saturdays and Sundays are usually free, unless the maintaining body of the educational institution makes an exception. A Saturday may be a school day for example, if there is a public holiday on a weekday.

A lesson usually lasts 60 minute. Instruction accounts for at least 45 minutes and the remaining time is used for a break. Timetables vary from one institution to another and according to individual students' choices. Several education providers have nowadays 90 minute lessons with a 15 minute break.

General upper secondary schools usually observe a five- or six-period system, which means that there are five or six different timetables in use during the school year. Students choose study units from the "course tray" offered for the period in question. Their individual daily and weekly timetables are thus determined by their subject choices.

Lessons in general upper secondary schools are usually held between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Education providers are free to decide the starting and finishing time of lessons as well as the time at which lunch breaks are held. There are no central regulations.

During lunch breaks students in general upper secondary education are offered free daily meals.

There is no specific regulation regarding out-of-hours provision.