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I Part: Descriptive Section


1. The country and it’s population

Finland has been a sovereign parliamentary republic since 1917 and a Member of the European Union since 1995. With it’s area of 338,000 square kilometres Finland places as the fifth biggest EU Member State. At the same time it has the third smallest population - 5.2 million people – and the lowest average population density: 17 inhabitants per km2. The population is concentrated in the south of the country, particularly in the Helsinki capital area, which accounts for about a fifth of the entire population, equivalent to approximately one million people. Approximately 64% of the population live in densely populated areas. The proportion of the population under the age of 15 is declining and that of old age pensioners increasing. The current life expectancy is 74 years for males and 81 years for females. The number of foreign nationals in Finland is relatively small – less than two per cent of the entire population.

Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. The majority of population - around 94% - speak Finnish, the Swedish-speaking minority comprising about 6% of the total. According to the constitution, public authorities shall take care to provide for the educational, cultural and social needs of both language groups according to similar principles. The third national language is Sami. Most of the approximately 7,000 Samis live in the northernmost parts of Finland. Other small national minorities are the Romanies, the Jews, the Tatars and the Old Russians. The constitution secures the Sami as an indigenous people as well as other groups the right to maintain and develop their own languages and cultures.

The economy and welfare have grown steadily in Finland throughout the period of independence until the 1990's. At the beginning of the 1990's, the Finnish national economy was hit by depression, which has been worst since the war. The Finnish economy surged upwards again during the third quarter of 1993, when the annual change in GDP volume became positive. The GDP per capita was USD 21.659 in 1998. The size of labour force was 2,5 million in 1998, women’s share amounting to nearly half (47.5%). The unemployment rate has fallen rapidly from the peak of 16.6% in 1994 to 10.0% in 1999.

2. Basic principles of the education policy

The main objective of the Finnish education policy is to provide all citizens with equal opportunities to receive education, irrespective of age, domicile, economic situation, sex or mother tongue. Education is considered to be a fundamental right of all citizens. The right to free basic education for all residing in Finland – not just Finnish citizens – is guaranteed by statutes, which also set out compulsory education.

Moreover, the public authorities are obligated to secure an equal opportunity for all to obtain education other than basic education according to their abilities and special needs, and to develop themselves regardless of their economic situation. In principle, post-compulsory education, is also free of charge and entitles students to the State’s financial aid.

In addition, the public authorities are obligated to take care of the educational needs of the Finnish- and Swedish-speaking population according to the same criteria. Both language groups have the right to education in their own mother tongue. Regulations on the language of instruction are stipulated in the legislation concerning the different levels of education. The Swedish-speaking Province of Åland has its own educational legislation.

The Sami language can be the language of instruction in basic education as well as in general upper secondary and vocational education, and it can also be taught as mother tongue or foreign language. In the four municipalities located in the Sami native area, students mastering the Sami language must be primarily provided with basic education in that language, should their parents so desire. The objectives of immigrant education, for both children and adults, are equality, working bilingualism and multiculturalism.

A major objective of the Finnish education policy is to achieve as high level of education as possible for the whole population. With regard to the performance in working life and life-long learning, the completion of upper secondary education is regarded as being the minimum requirement. One of the basic principles has thus been to offer post-compulsory education to the whole age group. In international comparison, a high percentage of the age group continues to upper secondary education after the comprehensive school: currently, approximately 94% of age group of those completing comprehensive school continue their studies in general upper secondary schools or vocational upper secondary education.

3. Administration

The Finnish Parliament enacts laws on education and decides on the general principles of education policy. The Government, the Ministry of Education and the National Board of Education are responsible for the implementation of these principles at the central administration level.

Nearly all publicly funded education is steered or supervised by the Ministry of Education. Most existing private institutions are in the vocational sector, but they, too, rely heavily on public funding, and the education they provide is subject to public supervision. Training related to national defence, law and order, and some aspects of communications and transport is administered by other ministries.

The National Board of Education is a national expert agency responsible for development of primary and secondary education as well as adult education. The National Board of Education draws up and approves national guidelines for curricula and qualifications. It is also responsible for assessing the education system, with the exception of institutions of higher education

For the purposes of regional administration, Finland is divided into six provinces. Over the past few years, the duties of the provincial state offices have diminished; in the field of education they now only manage the national joint application system within the province and allocate specific government subsidies.

Local administration is managed by municipal authorities, which have self-government and the right to levy taxes. As in the other Nordic countries, education and culture in Finland are marked by the prominent role of local authorities in organising activities and providing services. Most comprehensive schools, upper secondary schools and vocational institutions, as well as adult education institutions, are maintained by local authorities.

4. Funding

4.1 Public funding system

Finland’s regular education system is financed almost entirely out of public funds. Public expenditure on educational institutions came to 6.6% of gross domestic product in Finland in 1995, which is one of the highest percentages in the OECD countries.

The responsibility for education provision, construction and financing, is divided between the State and local authorities or other education providers. In addition to their own funding, local education providers are entitled to receive a state subsidy for the founding and operating costs of educational institutions. Teachers' salaries are paid by the school or the owner of the school.

Most primary and upper secondary level institutions are maintained by municipalities and federations of municipalities. Only about 1% of basic level institutions are privately maintained. In 1997, 6.5% of general upper secondary schools and 11% of vocational institutions were privately owned. The principles of public financing are the same irrespective of ownership.

Universities are financed directly from the State budget. In addition to the public funding, universities are increasingly acquiring external funding and expanding their chargeable services.

4.2 Trends in educational expenditure

The trend in educational expenditure in 1985-1996 has been parallel with that of GDP. As a consequence of the economic recession beginning in 1990, the educational expenditure fell in 1993 to the level of 1988.

The savings targeted at education were achieved in the comprehensive school by combining schools, reducing the range of tuition (remedial teaching and club activities) and increasing the size of the teaching groups. The biggest relative cuts were, however, made in the administrative expenditure. Savings on real estate and student welfare were made at the general and vocational upper secondary level. Finland started to recover from the recession after 1993 and the funds for education once again began to increase.

4.3 Key figures

Table 4.1 Current educational expenditure by type of educational institution in 1996

  EUR million Real change on previous year (%)
Comprehensive schools 2 187.7 1.7
Upper secondary general schools 387.4 0.6
Vocational schools and colleges 1 161.0 -7.0
Polytechnics 194.3 22.2
Universities 1 030.0 8.2
Other education 517.0 4.9
Administration 122.9 4.8
Student scholarships 574.6 -8.5
Total 6 174.8 0.7

Source: Statistics Finland

Table 4.2 Current expenditure per student by type of institution in 1996

  EUR per student Real change on previous year (%)
Comprehensive schools 3 690 1.6
Upper secondary general schools 2 945 -0.1
Vocational schools and colleges 6 867 -1.3
Universities 7 350 1.1
Total 4 773 0.5

Source: Statistics Finland

Figure 4.1 Expenditure on public educational institutions in relation to the GDP 1985-1996

Source: Statistics Finland

Figure 4.2 Expenditure on public educational institutions as a percentage of total public expenditure in 1985-1996

Source: Statistics Finland

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