RegionNorthern Europe
Expenditure on higher education3,26 %
Unemployment6,88 %
EuroUniversities in top 1001
EuroUniversities in top 2506
EuroUniversities in top 50011
EuroUniversities in top 100023
Foreigner students8,7 %
Enrollment rate in higher education88,4 %

Finland is a Nordic country in Northern Europe. In Finland the higher education system consists of universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS). 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.

Targets for the development of higher education are based on the Government programme. The objectives of Finland’s higher education policy are for example:

•    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

•    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. 

Universities Act (558/2009)

Universities of Applied Sciences Act (932/2014)

Government’s Decree on Universities (770/2009)


Branches of Study

University bachelor’s degree

•    180 ECTS credits

•    target time three years

At universities students first complete a bachelor’s degree, after which they may go for a master’s degree. As a general rule, students are admitted to study for the master’s degree. The two-cycle degree system does not apply to medical fields where students study directly to a master’s level degree.

At universities degrees are usually taken according to subject, but in some fields there are also multidisciplinary degree programmes. The academic degrees usually include studies in one major subject and in one or more minor subjects. Some fields may still offer specialisation areas. Universities have agreed between themselves on flexible minor subject rights in order to widen the supply of education available to students.

UAS bachelor’s degree

•    210-270 ECTS credits

•    target time 3.5 – 4.5 years

At universities of applied sciences degrees are more fixed programmes than at universities. Although degree programmes are often named similarly, their content is not necessary the same, because there can be different orientations in different institutions.

Education fields in higher education

There are 12 fields and both sectors use the same classification.

01 Education

02 Arts and culture

03 Humanities

04 Social sciences

05 Business, administration and law

06 Natural sciences

07 Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

08 Engineering, manufacturing and construction

09 Agriculture, forestry

10 Medicine

11 Health and welfare

12 Services

The classification is based on international ISCED-classification and it helps to compare educations and statistics internationally. Although higher education institutions now have the same field classification, the degree programmes in the same field in different sectors differ. For example in the field of Health and welfare universities of applied sciences offer degree programmes in nursing or a midwifery and universities offer degree programmes in Health Science, which gives the eligibility to administrative jobs.

Admission Requirements

A) General eligibility for higher education is defined in legislation:

•    Upper secondary qualification (Finnish matriculation examination or upper secondary vocational qualification)

•    The International Baccalaureate (IB), European Baccalaureate (EB) or Reifeprüfung examinations

•    Foreign qualification that provides eligibility for higher education studies in the awarding country

•    A student is eligible for higher education studies if the institution acknowledges that he/she has sufficient knowledge and competences irrespective of his/her previous education.

B) Specific eligibility of degree programmes is determined by higher education institutions.

There are flexible pathways leading to higher education

Higher education institutions select their students independently. There is restricted entry, “numerus clausus”, to all fields of study, as there are many more applicants than there are places available. The target numbers of degrees are determined in performance negotiations between the Ministry of Education and Culture and the higher education institutions.

There are flexible pathways leading to higher education. Student admission may be based on:

•    the grades in the upper secondary qualification certificate together with the results of an entrance examination, which is the most common procedure or

•    the results of an entrance examination only or

•    the grades attained in the upper secondary qualification certificate

In addition, some fields may place additional emphasis on work experience, studies, practical training, etc.

Entrance examinations under debate

Entrance examinations are designed by the higher education institutions to assess the applicants’ motivation, suitability and aptitude in the field concerned. The tests are often based on required reading especially at universities. There may also be interviews or material-based examinations, and students may be required to demonstrate their skills or aptitude. Students without the matriculation examination or other certificate are usually selected on the basis of the entrance examination.

There has been started a reform in higher education application system so that it will emphasise more the final grades from upper secondary level. From 2020 onwards the majority of selected applicants are chosen according to their final grades from the matriculation examination or the final assessment from VET.   The target in this reform is to reduce gap years and bring forward the beginning of higher education studies.

Tuition fees are charged in some cases

Higher education institutions have started to charge a tuition fee from bachelor’s or master’s level students studying in languages other than Finnish or Swedish. EU/EEA area and Swiss citizens are not subject to the charge. Tuition fees are charged from studies starting in August 2017 or later.


Higher education institutions decide on their curricula.

At universities studies are organised into study units or modules. In most fields, the study units form larger modules at three levels:

•    basic or introductory studies in the major subject including a bachelor’s thesis

•    subject or intermediate studies and

•    advanced studies

The extent of study units or modules vary and may include several types of work: lectures and other guided instruction, exercises or other independent work, set-book examinations, seminars and so on. Degrees may also comprise either compulsory or optional practical training.

UAS programmes consist of

•    basic and professional studies

•    optional studies

•    practical training to promote professional skills  

•    a final project

Language studies are compulsory

Language and communication studies are compulsory. All students must complete courses in their native language Finnish or Swedish, in the other national language (Swedish or Finnish) and in one or two foreign languages. Most higher education institutions have language centres that offer both compulsory and optional language courses in a variety of languages.

Main teaching languages are often also Swedish and English

Higher education institutions also organise programmes, courses and modules in foreign languages, usually in English or Swedish. In Finland there are higher education institutions, whose role is by legislation give Bachelor’s degree programmes conducted in Swedish. There are two Swedish universities and two Swedish universities of applied sciences. In addition there are a few bilingual (Finnish and Swedish) universities. Bachelor’s degree programmes conducted in English are mainly offered in UAS, while universities offer more Master’s degree programmes in English.

Teaching Methods

Higher education institutions design their own instruction according to national statutes and their own degree regulations. Teachers and lecturers have autonomy regarding their teaching, as well as the materials and methods used.

Different kinds of methods are used in instruction

Alongside the traditional forms of teaching – lectures, demonstrations and examinations based on lectures and literature – instruction makes increasing use of other methods, such as essays, projects, seminar and group work. The use of new information technologies in instruction has also increased.

For example in universities of applied sciences there are various forms of project and teamwork and studies can be transferred outside the institution. The role of the teacher is often instructor-oriented. Compulsory practical on-the-job learning enables many students to combine their final project included in the degree programme with hands-on work experience and to apply their theoretical knowledge in real situations. Topics for final projects come primarily from real cases or problems in working life and are often commissioned by enterprises.

Students can get learning materials from libraries for free

Students in higher education institutions are generally responsible for acquiring learning materials and textbooks. Students have the right to use the institutions’ libraries freely with a library card. Also municipal library services are open to all, and the basic services are normally free of charge.

Progression of Students

At university students have the freedom and responsibility to plan their studies independently. The freedom of choice concerning the order of studies varies between different subjects: in some fields, students are free to plan the sequence of their studies, while the order of courses is defined in more detail in other fields. For some courses, the student may be required to have completed certain preliminary studies or received, for example, the grade “good” from earlier studies.

At the university of applied sciences students can plan their own studies, but the structure of studies may be more determined than at university.

Students progress in their studies by completing individual courses and study modules. If a student fails the examination there are usually a few possibilities to retake a failed course. In order to obtain a degree, compulsory courses must be completed to an acceptable standard.

Students receive guidance and support for progression of studies

The system of personal study plans facilitates the planning of studies and the monitoring of progress in studies. It also supports student guidance and counselling. Higher education institutions can have their own follow-up systems by which they can support progression of students. Many students get financial aid for students. In order to get the aid yearly, students have to progress in their studies in certain speed in a month and in a year.

A student can apply extra time to conclude studies after the period of right to study

If students fail to graduate within the period of right to study but want to conclude their studies, they can apply for extra time. The period of the right to study is not the same as the target time. The period of the right to study can be at maximum two years longer than the target time depending on the reasons what student has.

The student can be granted the right to complete his/her studies after the acceptance of a feasible plan for the completion of the degree. At universities of applied sciences this may be granted for one time for a maximum period of one year.


Higher education institutions have recruitment services and portals where users can find information on degrees and qualifications, career planning and writing applications. These services are meant for students who seek placements for training periods during their studies or vacancies after they have graduated. The services are also used by employers for their recruitment purposes.

Student Assessment

Student assessment in higher education institutions is mainly based on continuous assessment. In most cases, students are assessed on the basis of written examinations at the end of lecture series or larger study units, but there are also oral examinations. In addition, students write papers for seminars and other papers which are evaluated.

For the university bachelor’s degree students write a thesis. At art academies, the thesis may take the form of an artistic production, such as a concert or a play, which also includes a written part. At universities of applied sciences students do an individual final year project that commonly includes a thesis. The examiners of coursework are usually the course lecturers or the teachers responsible for the study unit or module.

Legal protection for students in the assessment of studies

Each higher education institution gives regulations and instructions on student assessment in its degree regulations.  According to legislation students have the legal right to know how assessment criteria are applied to them and to see their graded examination papers or other performance records. Students have also legal right to request correction, if they are not satisfied with the assessment.


When a student in higher education institution has completed all the studies required for a degree, the student may apply for certificate. The certificate is decided and awarded by the higher education institution.   

Students will receive on request

•    a degree certificate

•    a diploma supplement

•    a credit record

The degree certificate generally contains the average grades for the different subjects as well as the grading for the theses. The diploma supplement is an appendix of the qualification certificate and it includes the necessary information on the institution as well as studies and credits referred to on the degree certificate and their level and status in the education system. Each student’s study credits are registered on the credit record. The student may request a transcript of it, where necessary.

The higher education institution must, on request, also provide students with a certificate for the studies they have completed while still continuing on the degree programme.

Second Cycle Programmes

Branches of Study

Although students at universities first complete a Bachelor’s degree, students are generally admitted to study for the Master’s degree (Finnish:  maisterin tutkinto, Swedish: magisterexamen). A Bachelor’s degree is considered mainly to be a stage in the studies for a Master’s degree. Therefore also the degree programmes are the same in both Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes. 

The minimum scope of the Master’s degree at universities in most fields is altogether 300 ECTS, in other words, five years of full-time study or 120 ECTS (2 years) after completing the Bachelor’s degree. In medical fields universities may organise their education without offering the first-level degree. The scope of a Master level degree is 360 ECTS in Medicine and Veterinary medicine and 330 ECTS in Dentistry. This is equivalent to 6 or 5,5 years of full-time study respectively.

The National Defence University grants the second cycle degree of Master of Military Sciences. After taking the Bachelor of Military Sciences, the students deepen their education in practical employment for 34 years. After this period the students continue their studies for the degree of Master of Military Sciences. Officers who have graduated from the university are assigned to various wartime and peacetime tasks in the Defence Forces and the Frontier Guard.

Since 1 August 2005 students have had the possibility to complete a polytechnic Master’s degree (Finnish: ylempi ammattikorkeakoulututkinto, Swedish: högre yrkeshögskoleexamen. These degrees are meant for people who have completed a polytechnic or any other applicable degree in higher education and who have a minimum of three years of work experience. The degree programmes are in principle the same as for the polytechnic Bachelor’s degrees. As the number of students in the Master’s programmes are relatively small, the degree programmes are decided on in the three-year agreements between the polytechnics and the Ministry of Education and Culture. Polytechnic Master’s degrees should amount to a minimum of one year and maximum of a year and a half of full-time study (6090 ECTS). The degree can be concluded flexibly while working at the same time, and without having to leave the labour market.

Admission Requirements

Students apply for admission into the Master’s programmes of universities directly. Thus, there is no separate admission procedure after they have taken their Bachelor’s degree. 

The requirement for Master’s programmes in polytechnics is a polytechnic degree or other Bachelors’ level degree and at least three years of work experience. Master’s programmes are meant for students of all ages. The universities and polytechnics also have to admit students via flexible pathways. Thus a student is eligible for studies if the university or polytechnic acknowledges that he/she has sufficient knowledge and competences irrespective of his/her previous education. 


Similarly to Bachelor’s programmes, universities and polytechnics have autonomy regarding the curriculum and courses. Universities and polytechnics also organise programmes, courses and modules in foreign languages, usually in English.

Progression of Students

Students in second cycle programmes progress in their studies mainly as in first cycle programmes, that is, by completing individual courses and study modules.

The target time for a university Master’s degree is 23 years after a Bachelor’s degree. The regulations for exceptions to the target time are the same as for Bachelor’s degrees (7.2.1). In 2012 the median duration of studies for a completed Master’s degree was 6,5 years. There is, however, considerable variation between different fields. The shortest median time was in the field of dance (4 years) and the highest in architecture (8 years).

Student Assessment

At polytechnics and universities student assessment is based on continuous assessment, similarly to first cycle programmes. For the university Master’s degree students write a Master’s thesis. At art academies, the thesis may take the form of an artistic production, such as a concert, a play or some other performance, which also includes a written part.

University-specific decrees and the universities’ or polytechnics’ specific regulations include provisions on the legal protection for students and the assessment of studies.


The certification and recognition of second cycle Master’s programmes are similar to those in first cycle programmes.

In some fields of study, graduates must have authorisation to practise their profession. These fields include pharmacy and psychology, for example.

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Organisation of Doctoral Studies

In Finland third cycle programmes comprise the licentiate (Finnish: lisensiaatin tutkinto, Swedish: licentiatexamen) and doctor’s (Finnish: tohtorin tutkinto, Swedish: doktorsexamen) degrees. The full-time studies for a Licentiate degree takes ca two years after a Master’s degree and a Doctor’s degree four years after the completion of a Master’s degree

Licentiate degrees are awarded to students when they have completed the part of the postgraduate studies assigned by the university and the specialisation education possibly included in the degree. The licentiate degree further includes a licentiate thesis, in which the student demonstrates good knowledge of the field of research and the capability of independently and critically applying scientific research methods. In the field of music and in the field of theatre and dance, the licentiate degree may include a public demonstration of knowledge and skills, instead of a licentiate thesis.

To be awarded a doctorate, the students must complete the required postgraduate studies, demonstrate independent and critical thinking in the field of research and write a doctoral dissertation and defend it in public. The latter is the most important part of the studies. In the fields of fine arts, music, art and design, and theatre and dance, a student may demonstrate in public the knowledge and skills required by the university as part of their dissertation.

Since 2011 all Finnish universities have renewed the structures of doctoral education in order to involve all students in all disciplines in transparent, planned and supervised programme with a reasonable length and aims relevant to the working life. Most of the universities have one graduate school with multiple doctoral programmes. The Ministry of Education sets an annual goal per university for doctoral degrees, and takes the amount of doctoral degrees up to this goal into account in the lump sum funding provided to the universities. Many of the doctoral students are financially supported during the studies, and have multiple funding sources including the university basic funding, the private sector as well as national and international public funding organisations and foundations. The length of doctoral education is not defined in legislation, but in many of the programmes four years is the basis of planning.

Admission Requirements

Postgraduate programmes, that is, those leading to Licentiate and Doctor’s degrees, are available for students with a Master’s degree or a corresponding foreign degree. The prerequisite is usually the grade “good” in the major subject. The university may also accept a degree taken in another field, if the person is found to have the knowledge and ability required for doctoral studies. If the institution regards a degree or study record to be deficient in some respects, the student may have to take complementary studies before starting the programme.

There is generally no numerous clausus to third cycle programmes. Some universities or faculties, however, apply restrictions and select their postgraduate students. This is mainly because there are not enough resources to supervise all willing students.  The universities are encouraged to offer third cycle studies through the funding system. The state funding for universities is partly based on the target number of doctoral students and the number of degrees awarded.

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates

The majority of doctoral students in Finland are employed. However, this group of students is heterogeneous. A part of them are employed by research institutes or universities where their postgraduate studies are part of their work.  Another group of doctorate students are enrolled in graduate schools. Finally, for many students their doctoral studies are self-motivated and pursued in their free time. In some of these cases employers can support them by for example giving them short paid leaves of absence.

Supervision Arrangements

The universities have full autonomy in organising the supervision of doctoral students. Most commonly students are the responsibility of one supervisor, generally a professor in their field of study. In addition, doctoral students may have instructors in an enterprise, for example. In the final stages the doctoral dissertation undergoes a reviewing process that involves several external, often international preliminary examiners.


The universities have no special measures for doctoral students to facilitate their access to the labour market. Students can utilise the same channels as first and second cycle students. As described above, doctoral students are mostly already in employment and often carry out their research for a specific company or industry.


The coursework required for doctoral studies is assessed similarly to any university coursework, that is, continuous assessment, examinations as well as reports and papers. In addition to the required studies, doctoral students prepare a dissertation, which they defend in public. Again, universities have full autonomy in the assessment. Some universities assess the dissertations and their defence on a pass/fail scale, but some universities use for example the scale approbatur-laudatur.


The certification procedure is the same as in first and second cycle degrees. In some fields of study, graduates must have authorisation to practise their profession. These fields include medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry.

Mobility in Higher Education

Student Mobility

There are several mobility programmes available for students. The national administration of the programmes is in the Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI.


The programme offers possibilities for mobility periods for studies (3-12 months) and traineeships (2-12 months) in another European programme country or countries outside Europe. Studies abroad are recognised based on the Learning Agreement signed prior to the exchange. All Finnish HEIs participate in the Erasmus+ programme and Erasmus+ is the most popular channel for HE students’ international mobility in Finland. Programme is funded by European Commission. 


The programme offers funding for higher education institutions in Nordic and Baltic countries. Student mobility for studies or placements is funded for periods of 1 to 12 months. Express Mobility grants are available for short mobility periods of minimum one week. The programme is funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. 

In addition there are several nationally funded mobility schemes available for students in higher education institutions. They are funded mainly by the Ministry for Education and Culture and administrated by Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI.

FIRST (Finnish-Russian Student and Teacher Exchange) promotes the mobility of higher education students and teachers between Finland and Russia.

Asia Programme promotes cooperation between HEIs in Finland and some Asian countries. Offers scholarships for student and teacher and staff mobility between the countries. 

North2north is a student exchange programme between Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada and Alaska (USA). Students at the participating institutions are eligible to apply through their own institution. Administrated by the Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI and the University of the Arctic

EDUFI Fellowship offers start-up grants for foreign PhD students for their doctoral studies at Finnish universities. 

Finnish Government Scholarship Pool offers scholarships of 3-9 months for Doctoral level studies and research at Finnish universities or research institutes. The scholarships are based mainly on cultural agreements or similar arrangements between Finland and a number of other countries. Only the nationals of those countries are eligible to apply. 

Scholarships for Master’s and post-Master’s level students in Finnish language. The programme offers scholarships for foreign students, who study Finnish at advanced degree level in foreign universities, for their studies at Finnish universities. 

International Traineeship program offers grants for international traineeships for Finnish students in Finnish HEIs. Positions are available in various public sector organisations and enterprises abroad. The programme is funded by Ministry of Education and culture, Ministry of Foreign affairs and Business Finland. 

Degree mobility to Finnish HEIs from abroad has increased over the long term. The International strategy for higher education and research 2017–2025 sets the guidelines for the internationalisation in HEIs. One of the top priorities is to increase the international attraction of Finnish HEIs and to support the entry process and integration of international students in Finland. There is no national scholarship scheme for international degree seeking students coming to Finland but all higher education institutions have their own scholarships available for their international students.

Academic staff mobility

Erasmus+ programme funded by the European Commission and Nordplus Programme funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers offers possibilities for international mobility also to academic staff in higher education institutions. In addition there are nationally funded schemes available for academic staff. They are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and administrated by Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI

FIRST (Finnish-Russian Student and Teacher Exchange) offers funding also for the mobility of HE teachers between Finland and Russia. 

Asia Programme promotes cooperation between HEIs in Finland and some Asian countries. It also offers scholarships teacher and staff mobility between the countries. 

Academic staff receive their usual salary during their mobility periods. Participants are also compensated travel and subsistence costs by the sending institution. The mobility periods are agreed as part of participants’ annual work load by the university.