Excellence in Education Helps Give Finland Its Competitive Edge

Finland has earned an outstanding reputation for the quality of its educational institutions, which include 16 universities and 25 polytechnic institutes. The OECD ranked Finland’s schools as the best in the OECD countries for the past decade based on Finnish students’ results on the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment tests. Around 140 delegations from different countries and groups came to Finland last year alone to observe the country’s successful educational system first hand.

Henna Virkkunen, Minister of Education and Culture
Henna Virkkunen, Minister of Education and Culture

Showcasing Finnish education’s success story

“We put together programs where they can observe our teacher training courses, classroom dyna-mics, researchers at universities, school administrators and more, to allow them the direct opportunity to see how Finland’s educational system works,” explains Henna Virkkunen, Minister of Education and Culture. She adds that this focus on excellence in education has helped to give Finland its competitive edge in fields requiring innovation, research and development.

Finland combines affordability with high standards to achieve the highest quality educational system. Thanks to significant government support, all educational institutions in Finland are free, including for foreign students, and the teaching profession is in demand by young people looking for a career.

Teaching regarded as a prestigious profession

Intense competition for spots in teacher training programmes reflects the prestige of the teaching profession in Finland. “This year approximately 8,000 students applied for teacher training programmes and universities selected only 800 of the best students. In addition, all teachers in public schools must have at least a Master’s degree. Because our teachers are so well trained, they are allowed to use their own teaching methods and materials to best resonate with their students. I believe that it is because of this latitude we provide our teachers in relating and connecting to their students that we have been honoured with such outstanding rankings,” Henna Virkkunen says.

Opportunities for international professors and researchers

The government is currently working to make Finnish education more international, both by encouraging more Finnish students to study abroad for part of their school careers (around 20% already do) and by creating more opportunities for foreign students to study in Finland.

Both local and foreign students can count on free tuition at all Finnish institutions of higher learning. Henna Virkkunen adds, “We are not only looking to attract foreign students but also international professors and researchers. However, attracting international students to Finland does present us with a challenge, due to a perception that we are a far away Scandinavian country as well as the fact that Finnish is a very complex language, which can present a barrier to students wishing to enter our universities. We have implemented steps to combat this challenge. Now, many universities in Finland offer courses in English. In fact, Finland offers the most English led courses in our polytechnic institutes than any other non-native English speaking country in Europe.”

“An education policy based on the principle of lifelong learning strengthens society, gives citizenship new meaning and increases welfare.”

Partnerships between public sector and universities

Close cooperation between the public sector and universities has also enhanced the quality of Finnish higher education. As the minister points out, “This is a tradition that dates back quite some time. Information technology companies, for example, very frequently cooperate with our universities to advance their research base and expand their market share. Nokia is a great example of a company that works closely with academic institutions to better its research and products. It is extremely important for our economy that this unique collaboration between academia and the private sector continues to take place.” The minister adds that while continuing to partner with the public sector, Finnish universities will soon have more autonomy through the new University Act.

Emphasis on sustainability

The minister notes that Finland launched an education strategy for the period 2006 to 2014 which emphasises sustainability. The strategy’s mission statement explains, “We have to include the whole population within our education policy; everyone must acknowledge their responsibility when it comes to creating an ecologically, economically, socially and culturally sustainable future. An education policy based on the principle of lifelong learning strengthens society, gives citizenship new meaning and increases welfare. The education system is an important way of transmitting values, information and skills.”

Focusing on key strengths

While Finnish students’ exceptional results on international tests continue to make headlines, Finnish universities have not been involved in promoting themselves, but that is changing. “Branding universities is a very new concept in Finland, but international rankings of universities are becoming increasingly important worldwide. I believe that it is important for Finnish higher education institutions to focus on what they are good at as opposed to attempting to be the best at everything. Because our universities are smaller, this is the best way for them to compete,” the minister believes.