''An equal society seeks to provide opportunities for every citizen to study to their full potential''

3.7 Finland that promotes competence, education, culture and innovation

Current situation

Education and training provide the best safeguard against exclusion and lack of prospects. Having invested in education, research and innovation to foster economic growth, we paved the way for building a welfare state and for boosting productivity. An equal society seeks to provide opportunities for every citizen to study to their full potential. By the same token, we hold learning and educational achievement in high regard. Education and culture are an important part of our value system and are considered to be a means of guaranteeing individual freedom.

By international standards, we have a reputation for having created a top-performing system of comprehensive school education. However, inequality, exclusion and differences in learning outcomes are beginning to threaten the Finnish success story. Those born in the 1970s are likely to be the age cohort with the highest level of education in Finland, leaving all others behind. What is more, we have not been able to keep up with the trend towards more international systems of education in our increasingly globalised world.

Regional, socio-economic and gender disparities and the correlation between the level of parental education and the performance of children have all become more noticeable in learning and educational achievement. We also have marked gender segregation of education and work. The educational achievement and skills of first and second-generation immigrants, people with disabilities and other groups in a vulnerable position lag behind those of the rest of the population. Studies indicate that commitment to education during the early years has a major impact on educational achievement later in life. In Finland, the participation rate in early childhood education and care lags far behind that of the other Nordic countries. Meanwhile, problems with children's and young people’s ability to cope and mental health have increased to an alarming extent.

Despite an upper secondary qualification having been recognised as the minimum level of education for anybody to find work and participate in a modern society, 16 per cent of the age cohort fails to complete this educational level. While the vocational education and training reform has rightly sought to increase workplace learning, so far it appears to have failed to deliver the desired skills.

To promote employment, we need a strong commitment to education and skills. The changing demands of work will significantly increase the need for upskilling and continuous learning. To respond to the rapidly developing needs of working life, education providers will have to become more agile. However, those who most need education and training are the ones with the lowest participation rates.

Finland's expenditure-to-GDP ratio for research, development and innovation is currently 2.8 per cent against a target of 4 per cent by 2030.

Objective 1

The level of education and competence among the population will rise at all levels of education, differences in learning outcomes will decrease, and educational equality will increase


By the end of 2020, the Government will draw up a roadmap for skills and learning in 2030, outlining the shared long-term measures to increase the level of education and competence in Finland, to increase equality in education, and to reduce the differences in learning outcomes. The Government will then begin to follow the roadmap and take appropriate action. The roadmap will examine the entire education system and its development in both national languages with a view to ensuring that education, culture and skills continue to build the foundation of our society, to create jobs and sustainable growth, and to provide tools for strengthening Finland’s influence around the world.

We will carry out a comprehensive review of the special features, challenges and development needs of education provided in Swedish (from early childhood education and care to higher education), and we will create a long-term action plan to ensure parity.

We aim to draw up an accessibility plan for higher education that will include a review of how universities and universities of applied sciences realise equality in terms of social aspects, regions and languages. The review will also identify the obstacles minority groups are facing when seeking higher education. We will then take appropriate action on the basis of the review outcomes. We plan to introduce clear and measurable targets to facilitate access to education and boost the rate of completion among the underrepresented groups.

Each county will have a higher education institution. We will secure the operating conditions for the university centres.

The Vision for Higher Education and Research in 2030 includes a commitment to increasing the share of higher education graduates to 50 per cent of young adults by 2030. Over this government term, we will increase the number of available student places in tertiary education with a view to increasing the general level of education, reducing the backlog of applicants and addressing the lack of skilled workers across sectors and regions.

As part of this increase, we will ensure that the number of available student places at universities and universities of applied sciences meet the needs of society and that the number of places is based on employment foresight for each sector and region, while keeping in mind that higher education also creates new jobs.

Besides increasing the number available student places, to enable 50 per cent of the age cohort to complete a higher education degree by 2030 we will continue our efforts to allocate student places particularly to those applicants who will study for their first higher education degree. We also plan to develop alternative options for gaining admission to degree education for those who wish to retrain or gain further qualifications.

In order to improve learning outcomes and tackle inequality, we aim to introduce an action plan for quality and equality in comprehensive school education.

We will advocate the learning of basic skills during the early years by reconfiguring pre-primary education and the first two years of primary school into a more coherent system that allows pupils to move flexibly to the next level after they have gained the required basic skills.

As part of this approach, we will examine the possibility of providing pre-primary education over a two-year period.

We will support the development of management systems and competence at schools. We will commit to the long-term development and funding of comprehensive school education and to the implementation of the curriculum.

We must secure equal opportunities for pursuing individual learning pathways. We intend to do this by funding positive discrimination, encouraging more flexible teaching and providing adequate support. We will reinforce the position of schools as community hubs and advocates of wellbeing.

We will also examine the effectiveness of the legislation on special needs teaching, including the principle of inclusion contained in that legislation and the allocated resources. We aim to approach these subjects from various perspectives; for example, how equality of students is realised and how teachers are coping.

We will include teachers, researchers and families in the long-term development of comprehensive school education.

We must pay particular attention to the growing inequality recognised within and between schools, in larger towns, between regions, in learning outcomes between genders, and among first and second-generation immigrant children and young people.

We will draw up a specific programme that will ensure the learning conditions for first and second-generation children and young people and secure their transition to the next level of education. We will make the teaching of Finnish or Swedish as a second language compulsory in early childhood education and care and commit to efforts to supporting first and second-generation students during their transition to the next level of education.

In our horizontal efforts to reinforce educational equality, we will also take into account healthy premises, housing policy, regional development and, for example, development of suburban areas. 

We will ensure that, having completed their comprehensive school education, every student gains an upper secondary qualification:

  • We will improve student guidance and student welfare services, along with the capacity of comprehensive schools to provide everyone with the skills to complete upper secondary education.
  • We will raise the minimum school leaving age to 18 years. With this in mind, we plan to introduce a range of study and support options for compulsory education, such as voluntary additional primary and lower secondary education, folk high schools, workshops, rehabilitation and preparatory education, which may be included in the range of upper secondary qualifications. However, compulsory education cannot be extended unless the fees for upper secondary education are abolished. As part of preparing for the extension, we will investigate the reasons why students discontinue their upper secondary education, and take the appropriate measures to address them. We will also carry out a study on non-fee-paying upper secondary education and a reduction in learning material costs and, based on that, take the appropriate measures to implement upper secondary education that is genuinely free of charge.
  • In the context of compulsory education, we will develop preparatory education and guidance in transition phases to help students move on to the upper secondary level. The need for budget appropriations must be verified for each form of study and type of support. The providers of the various forms of education whose task it is to fulfil the compulsory education obligation will receive full compensation for the costs arising from this task. With regard to the statutory provisions on education and training for immigrants, this compensation is already in place.

We will implement a parliamentary reform of continuous learning, responding to the people’s lifelong need for upskilling and reskilling. This comprehensive reform will apply to each point of the educational pathway at which the educational system interfaces with the provision and funding of education, social security, relocation security, unemployment security, independent and labour market training, and recognition of prior learning. The reform of continuous learning will be implemented through tripartite cooperation with the education providers.

At each level of education, we will develop the activities, guidance and funding with a view to creating a comprehensive national system of diverse continuous education that focuses on meeting the needs arising in the world of work.

We will draw up national principles for recognising and acknowledging learning. The principles will seek to make visible the competence which individuals have gained by various means in working life and in the education system.

We will create comprehensive services for lifelong guidance in order to ensure equal opportunities for continuous learning, and to enable a strategic approach to guidance, both from the perspective of individuals and from the viewpoint of society. Guidance will also help those groups who are currently underrepresented in adult education to participate in continuous education. We recognise that the transformation of work and the digital shift create a special challenge in that they will have the biggest impact on jobs with low educational requirements. This highlights the importance of retraining population groups whose engagement in adult education is currently low.

We intend to implement near-term measures to respond to the shortage of skills and to train adults with a low level of basic skills.

Degree education will remain free of charge.

Objective 2

Children and young people will feel well


As part of early childhood education and care and primary and lower secondary education, and in line with the Child Strategy, we will promote low-threshold support services for children, young people and families, such as maternity and child health clinic activities, psychologists’ services, home help services and family counselling, employment services, and high-quality student welfare services. In addition, we will reinforce the language training provision for immigrant parents who are not in work.

We plan to improve student welfare services at all levels of education so that all children and young people receive the support they need. We will lay down provisions on binding levels of student welfare services at the upper secondary level. We aim to develop a three-tier model for early childhood education and care and strengthen the three-tier support in comprehensive schools by increasing the resources for collaborative team teaching, special needs teaching and study guidance.

We will strengthen the study guidance provided at different levels of education. As part of our preparations for raising the compulsory education age and introducing free upper secondary education, we plan to investigate the possibilities of instituting a binding number of guidance counsellors in upper secondary education, of extending the obligation to provide guidance for former students to vocational education and training, and of providing study guidance for the transition from comprehensive school to the upper secondary level. We will improve the capacity of first and second-generation immigrants to access further studies by providing more study guidance and multidisciplinary collaboration with their families.

We will guarantee every child and young people a genuine opportunity to pursue a leisure activity of their choice as part of the school day. We plan to create a Finnish version of the Icelandic model. We intend to reinforce and improve the quality of the schools’ morning and afternoon activities, clubs and cooperation with the municipalities and third-sector providers. We will launch preparations for promoting free-of-charge leisure activities during the school day.

We will further develop our healthy, communal and ecological school meals and, as part of our work to reorganise the school day, explore the possibility of providing a snack.

We will reinforce a collaborative culture in schools and the role and influence of students in school communities. We will have a zero tolerance rule against bullying and will offer school staff and students training for recognising and tackling bullying. We will also pay attention to preventing and recognising discriminatory bullying. We aim to extend the identified best practices nationally and secure the continuation of effective projects. We will develop a programme for preventing bullying in early childhood education and care.

Objective 3

Education and training will enhance gender equality and non-discrimination in society


We will implement an action plan to improve the quality and equality of early childhood education and care and to increase the participation rate. As part of the action plan, we will extend the pilot of free part-time early childhood education and care for 5-year-olds, pilot a two-year pre-school, create a pathway from maternity and child health clinics to early childhood education and care, and develop a model of three-tier support for early childhood education and care. We will create a research project around the action plan to follow up the impact and outcomes of the measures.

We will develop the maternity and child health clinics into a pathway to early childhood education and care. We have decided to implement a multidisciplinary and universal research-based intervention project extending over several years for one age cohort, to be implemented at maternity and child health clinics with a view to increasing the long-term rate of participation in early childhood education and care.

We will implement a subjective right to full-time early childhood education and care, and we will reduce the group sizes for over 3-year-olds (1/7 ratio).

We aim to ensure the availability of early childhood education and care professionals throughout the country.

We will draw up quality criteria for early childhood education and care.

As part of developing early childhood education and care with the view to integrating it in every child’s educational pathway, we will monitor and advocate the principle of local early education centres that is advancing in some towns.

In the long term, we seek to progress towards part-time free-of-charge early childhood education and care.

We will assess the staffing and additional training needs for all staff groups in early childhood education and care. In allocating available student places for teacher training, we will pay attention to the availability of teachers in early childhood education and care in terms of languages and regions. In this context, we will enable the staff currently working in early childhood education and care to update their skills.

Private early childhood education and care services must observe the same quality criteria as the public services. Private early childhood education and care providers cannot operate without a permit. We will explore the opportunity of limiting profit-seeking in early childhood education and care in the same way as in comprehensive school education.

We will carry out a study on how the right to early childhood education and care is realised for paperless children and children seeking asylum.

We will make obligatory the equality and non-discrimination plans according to the level of education. We will also lay down provisions on the equality and non-discrimination plans for early childhood education and care.

We will investigate the need to amend the legislation on early childhood education and care and on comprehensive school education to make them compatible with the Sign Language Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We will continue the programme to revive the Finnish-Swedish sign language, for example by determining the body responsible for research in the language.

We will reinforce the support given to Saami language nest activities to meet their increased needs.

We will ensure the right of every young person, person who has had to discontinue their studies before arriving in Finland and paperless person to complete their comprehensive school education.

We will reinforce the implementation of the reform of vocational education and training, particularly supporting the provision of full hours of learning per day and per week, workplace learning and the development of apprenticeships. Together with the education providers, the Ministry must draw up a model to implement full school days, which may also be delivered by making use of workplace learning and by promoting innovative local solutions. We will increase the number of teachers.

To ensure quality, we will increase the level of funding for vocational education and training.

We will immediately address any issues observed in the quality of upper secondary education in order to implement evidence-based measures to improve the quality, teachers’ working conditions and young people’s wellbeing in all general upper secondary schools and vocational education and training institutes. In particular, we will take into account the appropriate level of resources for contact teaching and guidance in relation to the changed requirements. The broad range and complexity of learning difficulties requires the reinforcement and updating of the pedagogical methods used in vocational education and training.

We will reinforce the general academic studies in vocational education and training (basic skills, critical thinking and learning to learn). In particular, we will improve the opportunities for vocational education and training graduates to apply to and successfully study in higher education institutions.

We will investigate how the actual opportunities of upper secondary students to complete study modules in both vocational education and training and in general upper secondary education are realised. We also plan to examine how all education providers would be able to offer this opportunity, for example by developing financial incentives and reinforcing cooperation between upper secondary education providers, including in sparsely populated areas, in order to increase the number of applicants for higher education.

We will improve the quality of general upper secondary education and facilitate the implementation of the new Act on General Upper Secondary Education.

We will take into account education in sustainable development and climate change, digital transformation, financial literacy and working life skills, and sexual and equality education as horizontal themes across the different levels of education.

We will investigate the possibility of improving integration training in order to cover all population groups equally across the levels of education and to enable integration training with the related language training also for those immigrants who are not able to access the labour market.

We will create a near-term programme to reinforce the learning of the second national language at school. The Government plans to reinstitute the second national language as a compulsory subject for the Matriculation Examination.

Objective 4

Finland will be an internationally attractive place to study, conduct research and invest


We will reinforce the role of foreseeable and long-term core funding for higher education. We will implement the full index increases over the entire term of government.

We will examine the challenges and opportunities concerning the foreseeability, long-term nature and usability of research funding. On the basis of the study, we will create an action plan for implementing research funding that fits the purpose. 

We will create a long-term plan to bring about improvements in the research, development and innovation environment and through them reach an expenditure-to-GDP ratio for public and private investment and funding of 4 per cent.

On the basis of the current models, we will create conditions across Finland for successful clusters of excellence with higher education institutions, research institutes and businesses.

We plan to reinforce the vocational competence chains by highlighting how important universities of applied sciences, schools and SMEs are for the Finnish research, development and innovation system.

We must improve the overarching coordination and management of innovation and research policy across the central government.

We will promote Finland’s attractiveness as an investment opportunity for the research and development activities of both foreign and domestic businesses.

We will reinforce the international competitiveness and attractiveness of the Finnish research and science community by investing in research environments and infrastructure.

We will facilitate the opportunities for foreign researchers, students and graduates and their families to stay in Finland by reforming the permit practices, streamlining the residence permit processes and reinforcing the connections between higher education and working life. Students will be granted a residence permit for the full period of their studies and after graduation it will be extended for a period of two years.

We will continue to assess how the tuition fees payable by the non-EU and non-EEA migrants affect international access and the funding base of higher education institutions.

We will reinforce the trust within the higher education system and the higher education communities. We plan to support the higher education institutions in their voluntary efforts to develop their activities, to find their strengths, to divide the responsibilities among themselves and to develop their mutual cooperation.

We will implement an assessment of the status of administrative autonomy and its relationship with the provisions laid down in the Constitution and how they differ in universities according to their administrative forms. The assessment will take into account the tripartite university democracy.

We will further strengthen the transparency and openness of strategic funding. We will not erode the autonomy of higher education institutions.

We will develop the higher education system with a view to providing a platform for learners and continuous learning. Our aim is that learners with different status – degree students, lifelong learners and those without a student place – could study flexibly, selecting courses from all Finnish higher education institutions irrespective of organisational boundaries or geographical location.

We will focus on the guidance and funding of universities so as to encourage higher education institutions to open their doors as much as possible to other degree students in addition to their own students and to provide tuition with other higher education institutions. We will develop information systems to support flexible studying across higher education institutions.

We will draw up a package of measures that focuses on the international dimension and global impact of education and that will reinforce the international aspirations of the entire system of education.

We will determine the level of national co-financing of EU programmes so as to make full use of the EU funding for Erasmus+ and Horizon.