Higher Education in Finland

There are two sectors in the tertiary education: traditional universities (yliopisto, universitet) and universities of applied sciences (ammattikorkeakoulu, yrkeshögskola, or AMK/YH for short). Admissions are based on the high school final GPA, the high school final exam (the abitur), and the university entrance examinations. The selection process is fully transparent, merit-based, and objective; there are no application essays, no human factor in selection, no underrepresented minority support (except for preset quotas for Swedish speakers), and no weight on extracurricular activities. Moreover, the entrance examinations are rarely long multiple-choice exams, and instead consist of a smaller number of longer and more complicated questions that are supposed to test more than memorization and quick mechanical problem solving. Therefore, the selection process is very different from many other countries.

The focus for universities is research, and they give theoretical education. In many programs graduating with a master's degree is expected, with no separate admissions process between Bachelor and master's degrees. The universities of applied sciences focus more on responding to the needs of the world of work and they engage in industry development projects. The nature of research is more practical and theories are applied to advanced problem solving. For example, physicians are university graduates, whereas registered nurses and engineers graduate from universities of applied sciences. (However, universities also award degrees in Nursing Science and Engineering.) The vocational schools and universities of applied sciences are governed by municipalities, or, in special cases, by private entities. (As an exception to the rule, Police College is governed by the Ministry of the Interior.) All Finnish universities, on the other hand, were owned by the state until 2010, after which they have been separated from the state into foundations or corporations under public law. A bachelor's degree takes about three-four years. Depending on the programme, this may be the point of graduation, but it is usually only an intermediate step towards the master's degree. A bachelor's degree in a university of applied sciences (a polytechnic degree), on the other hand, takes about 3.5-4.5 years. Polytechnic degrees are generally accepted as lower university degrees.

Graduates from universities and universities of applied sciences are able to continue their studies by applying to master's degree programmes in universities or universities of applied sciences. After bachelor's degree graduates have completed three years' work experience in their field, they are qualified to apply for master's degree programmes in universities of applied sciences which are work- and research-oriented. Lower university degree graduates are also qualified to apply, but with additional studies. The master's degree programme in universities of applied sciences takes two years and can be undertaken in conjunction with regular work. After the master's degree, the remaining degrees (Licentiate and Doctor) are available only in universities. All master's degrees qualify their recipients for graduate studies at doctoral level.

The equivalence discussed above is only relevant when applying for public sector jobs.

No tuition fees are collected. However, since the 1990s there have been plans at government level to introduce tuition fees to students from outside the European Union/EEA. The students' organisations have opposed those plans. In universities, membership in the students' union is compulsory. Students' unions in universities of applied sciences are similarly recognized in the legislation, but membership is voluntary and does not include special university student health care (which is organised and partly financed by the students' unions). Finnish students are entitled to a student benefit, which may be revoked if there is a persistent lack of progress in the studies.

Some universities provide professional degrees. They have additional requirements in addition to merely completing the studies, such as demonstrations of competence in practice. An example of such a degree is Lääketieteen lisensiaatti, medicine licentiat, Licentiate of Medicine. A Bachelor of Medicine (lääketieteen kandidaatti, medicine kandidat) is allowed to conduct clinical work under the supervision of senior medical staff. The Licentiate of Medicine is not equivalent to licentiate's degree in other fields, but to a master's degree. For this reason, no Licentiate's thesis is required unlike in other fields. The equivalent of a Medical Doctor in the U.S. sense is therefore not called "doctor", but licentiate. The research doctorate, which is equivalent to a PhD in Medicine, is called "Doctor of Medicine" (lääketieteen tohtori, medicine doktorsexamen).

After the master's degree, there are two further post-graduate degrees -- an intermediate postgraduate degree, called Licentiate, and the doctoral (Doctorate) degree. A Licenciate programme has the same amount of theoretical education as a Doctor, but its dissertation work has fewer requirements. On the other hand, the requirements for a doctoral dissertation are a little bit higher than in other countries.

The most typical Finnish doctoral degree is Doctor of Philosophy (filosofian tohtori, filosofie doktorsexamen). However, universities of technology award the title Doctor of Science (Technology), tekniikan tohtori, teknologie doktorsexamen and there are several branch-specific titles, e.g., in medicine lääketieteen tohtori, medicine doktorsexamen, in art taiteen tohtori, and in social sciences valtiotieteen tohtori, politices doktorsexamen.