WENR, September/October 2003: Finland
The Higher Education Development Act of 1986 includes provisions on the mission of the higher education system, appropriations and their allocation. The Universities Act of 1997 and Decree (1998) include provisions on the mission of the universities, research and instruction, organization and administration, staff and official language, students, appeals against university decisions and students’ legal protection. Legislation on higher education degrees comprises the Decree on the System of Higher Education Degrees (1998). These decrees stipulate, for example, the objectives and scope of university degrees, their general structure and content, as well as the distribution of educational responsibility between different universities.
1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees
• Finland has signed the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications, and ratification is expected by the end of the year.
• The National Board of Education acts as the Finnish ENIC/NARIC body and works closely with the Center for International Mobility and the Ministry of Education.
• All Finnish university and polytechnic legislation requires institutions to issue to their students, upon request, an annex to their diploma for international use. The Finnish Ministry of Education has recommended that all institutions follow the Diploma Supplement model. Most universities and polytechnics issue the diploma supplement automatically, free of charge and in English to all students on graduation.
2. Degree Structure
• The structure of the university degree system in Finland was reformed in the early 1990s to provide broad, flexible and internationally compatible programs. As a result, a degree system based on two main cycles was introduced in most fields of study, with the exception of medicine, technology and architecture.
• Despite these reforms, a stand-alone, first-level qualification never really materialized. The bachelor programs that were introduced did not lead to independent degrees but were part of the five-year master programs, and were largely overlooked in the labor market as stand-alone qualifications.
• The Finnish Higher Education Council published an evaluation report on the existing master programs in February 2002. In academic year 2000-01, there were 167 programs in 19 universities.
• The government is introducing a bill in Parliament this fall to address the need for a system that is more internationally compatible. According to the ministry, the reforms, if passed, would be in force by summer 2005. The two-tier degree structure with an obligatory bachelor phase would be introduced in all fields of study except in medicine, where faculties would have the choice of using the new structure or the old integrated model.
• The ministry has earmarked funding to facilitate the transfer to the new degree structure and promote universities’ cooperation in implementing the reforms.
• Currently, polytechnics can offer bachelor-level degrees in all fields and postgraduate degrees in select fields. The postgraduate programs currently are offered on an experimental basis. Although these degrees are a second cycle of 60 to 90 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits in length, they are not strictly master programs. The government approved all the programs after an external evaluation; according to the most recent ministry report, the future of the polytechnics’ degree structure will likely be decided by the end of 2004.
3. Credit Transfer
• A national credit system has been used in Finland since the late 1970s. It is student workload-based and is an accumulation system. There is an average of 40 credits per year, with each credit corresponding to 40 hours of work.
• The national credit system will be replaced by a system based directly on ECTS credits from Aug. 1, 2005, simultaneously with the reforms on university degree structure. The credit reform will be introduced in both universities and polytechnics.
• Nearly all higher education institutions in Finland use ECTS as a transfer system. Some institutions even give both domestic and ECTS credits automatically on transcripts.
Finish Grading Scale
1.5 – 1+
1 – 1-
* Equivalency provided by University of Oulu
• Financial aid from the state is completely portable for studies abroad. The government gives additional national funding for the implementation of European Union programs to the Center for International Mobility, and many universities and polytechnics offer top-up funding for their students who take part in international exchanges.
• Targets set by the Ministry of Education in a three-year performance agreement call for every third Finnish student in higher education to spend at least part of their degree studying abroad. The best performing universities and polytechnics are rewarded for their activities in international cooperation.
• In 2001, a national strategy was set to double the number of foreign students in Finland by 2010.
• All Finnish higher education institutions offer English-language programs. According to government figures, Finland has the highest share of English-language degree programs in Europe outside English-speaking countries. The ministry provides extra funding for the provision of these English-language programs to encourage international students to Finland.
• The Center for International Mobility (CIMO) was established in the early 1990s to promote international cooperation between Finland and other countries. CIMO administers scholarship and exchange programs and is responsible for the national implementation of several European Union education and youth programs.
5. Quality Assurance
• All Finnish universities are required by legislative reforms (1999) to evaluate themselves and take part in external evaluations. The evaluation reports are made public, and many of them are published in English. Students play an integral part in all evaluations. Most evaluations consist of self-evaluation and an external evaluation with international experts.
• Institutions of higher education are assisted in their evaluation work by the Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC), which was established in 1995. The council is independent of both the educational administration and institutions of higher education. Its establishment and the separation of evaluation activities from the direct operations of the Ministry of Education safeguard the independence of the evaluations.
• All Finnish universities have been evaluated at the institutional level, and the council has carried out several program and thematic evaluations.
• The council is a member of the European Network for Quality Assurance (ENQA).
6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education
• Internationalization of education has been one of the key objectives of Finnish education policy since the late 1980s. The prerequisites of institutions of higher education and other educational institutions to participate in international cooperation are supported by separate appropriations, which have enabled educational institutions to develop foreign-language instruction and administration of international affairs.
• In the agreements made between the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) concerning cultural cooperation and the common labor market, these countries are committed to the aims of reciprocal recognition of education completed in another Nordic country. Furthermore, there are joint arrangements between Baltic and Nordic countries in, for example, technical and agricultural fields. However, these often only lead to the award of the home institution degree, thereby not truly qualifying as a joint degree.
— Nick Clark
• Survey on Master Degrees and Joint Degrees in Europe, Christian Tauch and Andrejs Rauhvargers, September 2002
• The State of Implementation of ECTS in Europe, European University Association, October 2002
• Diploma Supplement – State of Implementation, European Commission, June 2003
• Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, Aug. 29, 2003
• The Information Network on Education in Europe – Eurydice, European Union
• Report on the Finnish Implementation of the Bologna Declaration, Ministry of Education, August 2003
• International Relations – ECTS, University of Oulu