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Education at a Glance: Vocational education and training is more popular in Finland than in other OECD countries

Ministry of Education and Culture
Publication date 12.9.2023 12.03
Press release

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published its annual Education at a Glance (EAG) publication, which consists of internationally comparable indicators of education systems. This year’s report focuses on vocational education and training. The report mainly covers 2021.

According to the Education at a Glance 2023 report, OECD countries have increased diversity in upper secondary education. Diversification of studies in upper secondary education helps respond to the changing needs of the labour market and the growing demand for vocational education and training.  

The strict boundaries between general and vocational qualifications have been gradually lowered, with a view to enabling more wide-ranging packages that open more flexible study paths for students to pursue further studies and enter the the labour market. 

In Finland, vocational education and training appeals to people of all ages 

Vocational education and training is popular in Finland and attracts a wide range of people of different ages to study. Those who enrol in vocational upper secondary education and training are young people who have completed comprehensive school education (also known as primary and lower secondary education or basic education) and are studying for their first qualification, young people who, after graduating from general upper secondary school, decide to continue their studies in vocational education and training, and adults who wish to change fields or update their skills and develop their competence to meet the needs of working life.  

In Finland, 68% of all those in upper secondary education are enrolled in vocational education and training, whereas in OECD countries the corresponding figure is 44% on average. The high figure in Finland is explained by the number of adult students. A total of 44.8% of 15-19-year-old upper secondary school students in Finland are enrolled in vocational education and training, which is slightly higher than the OECD average (37.4%).

In Finland, the percentage of those aged 25–34 who have completed upper secondary vocational education and training (36.8%) is the third highest among the OECD countries and twice the OECD average (19.7%).

The average age of students in upper secondary vocational education and training is 21 years in OECD countries and 20 years in EU countries. In Finland, the average age of students is clearly higher: 28 years.

Majority of students graduate from the field of technology

On average, 36% of students in upper secondary vocational education and training in OECD countries graduate from the field of technology. The next most popular fields are trade and administration, and the service sector, at 18% and 16% respectively. 

Technology (29%) is also the most popular field of study in Finland, and the next most popular fields are trade and administration (23%), healthcare and social welfare (20%) and services (19%). 

Vocational education and training and the labour market

In Finland, the employment rate of those with a vocational qualification (79%) is relatively low among young adults (25–34-year-olds), well below the general level of Nordic countries (87–93%), German-speaking countries (87–89%) and the EU and OECD countries (83%). However, the employment rate of young people with an upper secondary qualification is clearly higher than that of those with only basic education in Finland.  

Education balances out the gender gap in employment but not in wages 

The benefits that education brings vary between women and men. The employment rate of women without a secondary attainment was only 41% in Finland in 2022, compared with 86% among those with a tertiary attainment. The corresponding percentages for men were 55% and 92%. In other words, lack of education is a particularly high risk for women’s job prospects.

Majority of children participate in early childhood education and care by the time they turn three

In OECD countries, on average 18% of children under the age of 2 participate in early childhood education and care. Among children aged 2, the participation rate increases to 43%, but the situation varies greatly from one country to another. The average participation rate of children aged 3 is 74% in OECD countries and as high as 80% in EU countries.

In Finland where the right to early childhood education and care starts at an early age, the participation rate of children aged 2 is well above the OECD average, standing at 72 %. In older age groups, Finland’s participation rates are very close to the OECD average, whereas in the early part of the millennium Finland still underperformed in international comparisons because of the low participation rates. 

Early childhood education and care is a female-dominated sector everywhere

Early childhood education and care is a female-dominated sector in all the OECD countries with data available. A total of 96% of teachers in early childhood education and care for children over 3 years of age and teachers in pre-primary education are women. Many OECD countries have made efforts to attract more men to work in the sector.  In Finland, the percentage of male teachers remained unchanged in 2013–2021, at 3%. 

Number of compulsory lessons in Finnish comprehensive schools is relatively low by international standards 

In the 2022–2023 academic year, pupils in OECD countries received an average of 7,634 hours of education in compulsory subjects during their compulsory school path that is equivalent to comprehensive school education in Finland. In Finland, pupils in grades 1 to 9 received a total of 6,384 hours of compulsory lessons in the 2022–2023 academic year.

Percentage of international students remained relatively stable during the coronavirus years of 2019–2021

In 2021, a total of 6.4% of all students in OECD countries (i.e. about 4.3 million students) were international degree students. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the average percentage of international students during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019–2021 remained relatively stable in OECD countries.  

In 2021, as in previous years, international students accounted for 8% of all tertiary students in Finland. The percentage of international students grew when transitioning to a higher level of education: international students accounted for 6% of those in lower-degree level tertiary education, 11% of those in higher-degree level tertiary education and 26% of those in doctorate or equivalent level tertiary education. 

In OECD countries, also in Finland, there were more international than local students enrolled in degree programmes in the fields of natural sciences and technology.

- Early childhood education and care, comprehensive school education: Petra Packalen (Finnish National Agency for Education), tel. +358 2953 31162
- Upper secondary education: Erno Hyvönen (Ministry of Education and Culture), tel. +358 2953 30398
- Tertiary education: Jukka Haapamäki (Ministry of Education and Culture), tel. +358 2953 30088

This year’s report and reports from earlier years, including links to background statistics, are freely available on the OECD website

An event to mark the publication of the report will be held at the Paasitorni conference centre on Tuesday 12 September at 12.30–14. A live webcast of the event will be available to everyone on the Ministry’s YouTube channel 

Early childhood education and care Education General education Higher education and research Vocational education and training