Liberal adult education

Educational institutions that provide liberal adult education include adult education centres, folk high schools, learning centres, sports training centres (sports institutes) and summer universities.


Purpose and objectives

The purpose of liberal adult education is to promote people's versatile development and provide education and training that supports the cohesion of society, equality and active citizenship based on the principle of lifelong learning. An essential aspect of liberal adult education is that everyone has the right to apply to take part in it. The education does not provide a degree or qualification, and its content is not governed by legislation.

Education providers make all decisions on the objectives and content of the studies. Liberal adult education providers comprise local authorities, joint municipal authorities, associations, foundations and limited liability companies. Liberal adult education includes both activities based on various sets of values and those that are neutral. The affiliated organisations can represent various world views or religious beliefs or act on the basis of local or regional civic needs.

Liberal adult education institutions offer studies that improve civic skills, social studies, general education studies and studies for hobby-based or interest-based information and skills acquisition. The goal of instruction organised in the form of liberal adult education is to promote people's versatile development and wellbeing as well as the realisation of democracy, pluralism, sustainable development, multiculturalism and internationalism. Adult education emphasises self-motivated learning, a sense of community, and inclusion.

Provision of education

Liberal adult education organisations are independently responsible for the education they provide and its development. Studies vary from night school to full-time short-term or long-term courses, distance studies and intensive courses.  

Adult education centres

Adult education centres are educational institutions chiefly maintained by local authorities. Some are privately owned. Tuition is available in all municipalities and activities are usually decentralised to different parts of the municipalities.

Adult education centres are tasked with responding to local and regional civic needs and enabling self-motivated learning and the development of civic skills. They provide a large part of basic education in the arts.

Teaching is organised in the evenings, at weekends, as intensive courses, as distance studies and as online courses. Adult education centres also provide open university studies.

Folk high schools

Folk high schools are national education providers. They are boarding schools that provide full-time, self-motivated studies for young people and adults, promote the learning skills of students and help them grow as individuals and members of society. Folk high schools make decisions on the objectives of the education they provide. Folk high schools can emphasise their value base and ideological background or their educational objectives. Most folk high schools are maintained by different associations and foundations and some are maintained by local authorities.

The long-term education provided by folk high schools, i.e. the different subject studies, usually last for a period of one academic year. They also offer courses of different duration, for example summer courses and weekend courses. Tuition given at folk high schools usually provides general knowledge, in other words it consists of non-formal instruction in areas such as language, arts or cultural studies, and communications. Folk high schools also provide tuition in open higher education studies.

Learning centres

Learning centres are maintained by private civic organisations. Half of the organisations that back learning centres are affiliated with political parties or labour unions, and the rest are independent non-governmental organisations.  

Learning centres provide education independently or in cooperation with their member organisations. The range of studies offered is determined on the basis of the ideologies of the centre's collaborating affiliations. Their objective is lifelong learning, wellbeing and active citizenship, as well as the promotion of democracy and the activities of civil society.

Studies take place in the form of courses and learning clubs, for which instructors are trained.

Sports training centres

Finland has national and regional sports training centres (sports institutes) that provide vocational upper secondary and vocational further education and training as well as non-formal education for youths and adults. They function as training centres for athletes and some institutes also provide vocational education in the field of sports and physical exercise.

Summer universities

Summer universities are regional educational organisations, which provide open university studies, vocational further education, language studies and short-term, non-formal education, for example. They also provide university-level courses in arts and culture, seminars and events as well as university activities for mature students. Their activities are focused on open higher education as well as on responding to the region's other learning and civic needs, also taking into account people who already have a degree in higher education.

Summer universities are maintained by regional associations and some regional councils. Summer universities are decentralised and operate in facilities owned by other educational institutions. All summer universities operate year-round, but most of their activities take place during summer. Summer universities do not have age limits or any requirements for prior education.



Senior Ministerial Adviser Annika Bussman: folk high schools and summer universities

Specialist Petra Heikkinen: adult education centres and learning centres

Senior Specialist Samuli Rasila: sports training centres (sport institutes)