Introduction

December 1, 2006

For a small country - in terms of population, one of the smallest in the European Union and the group of industrialised countries comprising the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - Finland's universities and research institutes punch above their weight.

The country's 5.2 million inhabitants have access to 20 universities and 29 polytechnics. The rate of participation at degree level hovers around 70 per cent, and Finland's emergence from the recession of the 1990s has been led by a research-hungry new-industry economy. The polytechnic sector, created to deliver vocational higher education at about the time that the UK was losing its distinctive division, is widely admired for contributing to economic regeneration.

Its universities are highly rated by the World Economic Forum; its school students produce outstanding results in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey.

Finnish undergraduate students live in a largely fee-free zone. They pay only their student union fee and other incidentals, and they are entitled to a study allowance and other benefits.

But the system is not without its problems. Only one university - the University of Helsinki - is in The Times Higher 's ranking of the top 200 world-class institutions. The country's Education Minister thinks the ratio of one higher education institution for every 100,000 citizens is too generous. Its best and brightest graduates leave for jobs and academic careers overseas. And its decentralised university entry system delays the point at which students begin their first degree, inevitably advancing the normal age of graduation. Despite the Government's astute management of the economy, the money is not there to solve these problems.

This publication examines the latest steps by the Academy of Finland and its partners to fine-tune the system to produce a higher education and research sector fit for purpose in the globalised world of the early 21st century.

Back to Finland index page

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