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The bildung review describes the development of Finland’s education and culture sector over the past decades up to the present moment

Ministry of Education and Culture
Publication date 12.1.2023 9.30
Press release

The Ministry of Education and Culture has published the first bildung review, which provides an overview of development in the Ministry’s administrative branch over the past decades. The latest stage, which began in the 1990s, is characterised by a decline in the achieved learning outcomes, the plateauing of the rising level of education among Finns, as well as a gradual decrease in public input into education.

From the 1950s to the early 1990s, the education sector experienced strong growth. Comprehensive school, the reform of upper secondary education, and the expanding higher education sector offered Finns greater access to education. The achieved learning outcomes topped international rankings, and the level of education of Finnish young adults was the highest of industrialised countries. By the early 1990s, libraries and art institutions had come to form a nationwide network.

In the 1990s, financing for the education sector began to decrease in most areas. The improvement in the educational level of young people ended with the age group born in 1975. The long-term improvement in young people’s learning outcomes ceased and turned down by the end of the millennium. The reach of libraries began to decline in the 2000s, and public subsidies for many fields of art decreased, never to return to the level preceding the recession of the 1990s.

After the mid-2010s, the introduction of compulsory pre-primary education and the extension of compulsory education made for longer obligatory attendance in education. The share of young people pursuing upper secondary education of their age group increased for the first time since the 1980s. The range of higher education opportunities began to increase, as education was targeted increasingly at first-time applicants to reduce multiple higher education studies, and student intake was raised substantially during the coronavirus crisis. There is a wide consensus about the need to increase research and development funding until 2030. 

Attendance in education

In Finland, participation in early childhood education and care was long different from the other Nordic countries. In the latter, 90 per cent of 3–5-year-olds participated in early childhood education and care, compared to 70 per cent in Finland in 2005. The rate of participation in early childhood education and care increased rapidly in Finland especially after 2015, and in 2020, it was nearly 90 per cent.

In 1960, one in every ten young people completed the matriculation examination. In 2000, this figure was 55 per cent of all 19-year-olds. After 2005, the number of completed matriculation examinations took a downturn. Since 2016, the number has been very close to 50 per cent of all 19-year-olds.

In the early 1990s, the total number of students attending lower and secondary vocational education was around 150,000. Since the 1990s, the increase in education attendance has mainly taken place in vocational upper secondary education, where the number of students has increased to more than 340,000. 

Decline in achieved learning outcomes

Proficiency in reading and mathematics strengthened in Finland from the 1960s to the 1990s, reaching the international top in the learning outcomes assessments conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Internationally speaking, the decline in achieved learning outcomes, which began in the early 2000s, has been exceptionally rapid in Finland, and the drop in reading and mathematics proficiency observed in several studies corresponds to the learning attained in one year – even two years, according to some research data. Despite the notable decline, young people’s achieved learning outcomes are still good in international comparison, as indicated by many international assessments. 

Differences in learning outcomes related to social background have become more pronounced than earlier. Moreover, the differences between genders are exceptionally large from an international perspective, and have continued to increase in the 21st century. 

Decrease in the level of education

The Finnish population’s level of education has been decreasing for a few decades. Those born in 1978 are the most highly educated age group. Today’s 30-year-olds are unlikely to ever reach a level of education corresponding to that of people born in 1978. However, the favourable development in the initiation of higher education studies, seen in the latter part of the 2010s, has led to those under the age of 28 being more highly educated in 2020 than in 2010. It looks as if the age groups born in the 1990s may end up having a higher level of education than those born at the end of the 1970s. 

Appreciation of the teaching profession

In 2012–2019, slightly more than 130,000 people worked as teachers annually. Over the same period, the number of 20–64-year-olds with a degree in educational sciences went from slightly more than 70,000 to around 77,000. 

The appreciation of the teaching profession has continued to increase for decades. The academic education of the profession and the improved international reputation of the Finnish education system seem to have significantly boosted the appreciation of class teachers in Finland.

Companies account for the steepest growth in the number of researchers

The educational level of research and development personnel has risen especially in the 21st century. In 2000, doctoral degree holders accounted for 15 per cent of the R&D personnel, compared to 23 per cent at the end of the 2010s. The share of employees with a university education increased from around one third in the early 1990s to nearly 45 per cent in the 2010s. Women’s share of researchers has remained at around one third since 1987.

The increase in the number of R&D staff and full-time equivalent employees has long been faster in companies than in higher education institutions, the public sector or private non-profit organisations. Since 2017, the number of researchers has surged especially in the corporate sector, and is now approaching 90,000. 

Since 1993, research in the public sector has decreased by 0.21% of GDP, while research conducted at universities has increased by 0.16% of GDP. In terms of the scope of research, universities have grown nearly 2.5 times as much as the public sector. The role of universities of applied sciences in research and development funding is still very small. 

Public libraries

The collections of public libraries and the number of borrowers increased from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Funding for public libraries decreased significantly in the 1990s, and the drop in resources could be seen especially in the sharp decrease in the libraries’ purchases of books and other materials. Library borrowing has decreased notably after 2006, while libraries’ book collections have shrunk. In the early 2020s, the share of borrowers of the general population had decreased from half to one third. Library use has fallen especially in the younger age groups.

Culture and art

Employment in the culture sector and the sector’s economic significance have decreased in the past decade. In 2008–2020, employment in the sector developed more slowly than employment overall, and the number of employees decreased by one fourth. This change is largely attributable to the notable drop in employment in the press and printing business, but a similar decrease has also taken place in many smaller areas of cultural employment, including the organisation of cultural events and related activities. 

Art audiences have increased widely for different forms of art. For example, the long decline in the number of filmgoers turned upward in the 1990s, increasing by some 60 per cent from 1995 before the coronavirus crisis. The boost in the film industry has resulted in trend-like growth in the support provided by the Finnish Film Foundation, in more Finnish film premiers and in increasing audiences for Finnish films. 

Decline in exercise and sports

Around 80 per cent of adults say they exercise. The share of the population that does not exercise has decreased by one third since 2000. The number of people employed in sports and exercise is increasing. Among other things, this is related to the increasingly professional operations of sports and exercise clubs.

According to the results of the Move! test, carried out among pupils in the 5th and 8th grades, the aerobic fitness of schoolchildren has declined in recent years. 

In Finland, municipalities are largely responsible for the construction of sports and exercise facilities, supported by the state. Construction picked up especially in the 1960s, and in the 1980s, municipalities annually constructed nearly 500 sports and exercise facilities. In the 1990s, construction slowed down and remained at a low level for the following twenty years. In the late 2000s, the construction of sports and exercise facilities picked up again, and in the late 2010s, it nearly reached the level of the 1980s.

Student financial aid

The costs of student financial aid have followed a downward trend since the recession of the 1990s. In the 2000s, the costs decreased partly because of the smaller number of aid recipients and partly because the level of student financial aid lagged behind. In 2017, the costs of student financial aid dropped significantly, as student housing allowance was discontinued and students came under the scope of general housing allowance.

Inquiries: Aleksi Kalenius, Ministerial Adviser, (Ministry of Education and Culture), tel. +358 2953 30291

Culture Early childhood education and care Education General education Higher education and research Libraries Research Sports Student financial aid Vocational education and training Youth