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Finland, Academic Career Structure


Higher Education in Finland

The Finnish higher education system consists of two parallel sectors: polytechnics and universities. Universities are characterized by scientific research and higher education based on it. Polytechnics are practically oriented and aimed at training professionals. There are 14 universities and 24 polytechnics in the Ministry of Education and Culture sector; two of them are foundation universities and the rest are public corporations.

Under the Universities Act, which passed by Parliament in June 2008, Finnish universities are independent corporations under public law or foundations under private law (Foundations Act). The universities operate in their new form from 1 January 2010 onwards. The universities are governed by the Universities Act but have full autonomy in designing their own syllabi and curricula, in internal administration, and in admitting their students. There are no tuition fees and all students are eligible for study grants from the state. However, the government has made a proposal to introduce tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students.

The overall university funding comprises appropriations allocated to universities in the state budget and supplementary funding (paid services, donations, sponsoring). The core funding is divided among the universities based on a formula, which comprises strategic funding as well as the financing of education and research. Basic research in universities is primarily financed and evaluated by the Academy of Finland, which is an agency in the Ministry's sector. This competed research funding is an important source of additional financing and plays an especially important part in enhancing quality and impact of research.


Career Curriculum

1. Licentiate/Ph.D. Candidate
2. Postdoc/Senior Assistant
3. Full-time teacher
4. Assistant Professor (Yliassistentti)
5. Lecturer (Lehtori)
6. Professor (Professori)

The average age for finishing a doctorate is 38.

Requirements for Positions

Licentiate (2 years) is an optional degree that can be taken before the PhD degree (4 years), but it is not required. To become a Senior Assistant or Postdoc, one has normally finished the PhD and is required to have good teaching skills. These can be proved in two ways: the experience of teaching is one, taking courses in pedagogical skills and education, which increasingly occurs, is the other. Both are given attention at the recruitment stage. Postdoc and Senior Assistantships are most often temporary positions.

To become Lecturer (lehtori) and Assistant Professor (Yliassistentti) a PhD degree is normally required, although one can become a lehtori with a Licenciate thesis also. The Lecturer position is normally a permanent position, the Assistant Professor (yliassistentti) is for 5 years. The choices of who will get these posts is made on the basis of individual research record (publications etc.) and teaching experience. Usually researchers work for several years on temporary teaching and research posts (postdoc positions) before being chosen to these permanent/more long-term posts as lecturer and Assistant Professor. An approved test lecture, as a part of appointment process, must also be delivered.

To advance to Professor one needs to document highly-qualified research measured by publications. The needed research record may be difficult to obtain due to the relatively high teaching load expected by Lecturers in Finland. Calls for applicants are made publicly, often in newspaper ads. Applicants provide their CV and either all publications or a specified selection together with their application. The faculty board appoints 2-3 external reviewers, who on the basis of the written material rank the applicants according to their scientific excellence.

In practice, publications play the major role in the ranking process, although other merits like teaching experience, production of doctoral dissertations, fund-raising abilities, successfully completed research projects, management abilities etc. might be taken into consideration. In addition, the short-listed candidates give a short test-lecture. Today, test-lectures are in some cases supplemented with more or less extensive teaching portfolios. When the candidates have been approved in the test-lecture, the faculty board makes its own ranking list of the three most excellent candidates to the head of the university. In most cases this list is identical to the reviewers’ list, but minor changes do happen. The head of the university then normally appoints the person, who was ranked number one.

There is also a system of appointment by invitation to professorships, which is used more rarely. A fast procedure takes around a year from application deadline to appointment, a normal one under two years, and a very slow one several years.

Research Career

In 2006 a working group proposed a strategy for development of professional career in research. The committee put forward that a four-stage research career system should be developed in Finland. The proposal was formulated in to a procedure programme in 2007. The proposed four steps are:

1. Junior Researcher (PhD)
2. Post-doctoral Researcher
3. University Researcher
4. Professor

This system covers research careers in universities and public research institutes and in other sectors when applicable. It is based on the parallel development of the funding instruments of the Academy of Finland, Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, and as widely as possible also of foundations, and on the reform of research post structures in universities and research institutes.

This academic research career path is just one example of how to built a successful career in research. Each year it is followed by some 150-200 of the country's 1.500 doctoral graduates, most of whom will at some stage of their career take up other research and advisory positions in research institutes, industry or public administration.

Barriers to Career Advancement

The main barrier for career advancement in Finland is that there are many PhD holders and only a few jobs available at the university for them. The Academy of Finland (the research council) provides post doctoral funding as do some universities, but still many PhD graduates find it hard to find work in the academic world.

In the Finnish system the career advancement is often achieved through informal and rather invisible processes, where gatekeepers play a crucial role. Professors in departments in practice decide on department positions, project leaders on project positions and very established professors on stipends. This is especially true at the very beginning of a scientific career. At this stage there is also a problem with lack of junior positions. Most of the funding for junior academics comes from external sources and is given for research projects that are based on short term research contracts. Posts that are often given by professors to their own students. These temporary research posts are often not publicly advertised.

The proportion of women in Finnish academia is relatively high compared to other European countries. For both Assistants and Lecturers the proportion of woman is about 55%, for senior assistants it is 45% and among professors 25% are female (Aarrevaara & Pekkola 2010).

Job Security

The tenure track-system has been introduced to Finnish universities and is nowadays increasingly deployed, although with much variation in the form of the system.

Staff at, both temporary and permanent positions, are allowed maternity benefits and health benefits based on wages, and to a pension. For researchers working of external funding from foundations the job security is lower. Most grants from foundations, only allow minimum maternity benefit, no pension and minimum health insurance.

Contracts and Duties

As a consequence of the new Universities Act (2010) universities became individual employers and public-service employment relationships and public officies were altered to contractual employment relationships. This meant that people serving as academic staff were no longer civil servants. 

Individual universities post positions and hire personnel under their own criteria. However, some widely shared principles for criteria can be detected:

Assistant/Research Assistant:
Assistant positions are normally held by students (PhD) who perform a variety of tasks for Professors and Lecturers. Teaching is often a main task in these positions.

Postdoc/Senior Assistant:
Postdocs and Senior Assistants are normally expected to do both teaching and research. At this level teaching experience is expected.

The Lecturer position is a teaching-oriented faculty position usually with more than 50% of the time devoted to teaching. The close link between research and education in Finland mean that a certain amount of research is also expected from Lecturers.

Professors do research and teaching. Supervision of students is also a professorial task. Professors are furthermore expected to participate in managing, developing and expanding departments. A Professor thus has more administrative tasks and often less teaching obligations.

Adjunct Professor (Dosentti):
An Adjunct Professor is not necessarily permanently associated with the school but holds the right to teach (similar to the German Privatdozent). An Adjunct Professor will normally have another job and is paid expert or lecturing fees by the university.

The university sector in Finland is based on research-based teaching. The majority of academic positions therefore entail both research and teaching. The exact duties and skills required for each positions are decided by the universities (in accordance with the law), so they differ between universities. According to Statistics Finland the general academics time is divided by 44% teaching, 40% research and 16% administrative (of course this varies between disciplines, departments and individuals).

Sabbatical Opportunities

Other than maternity leave rights, there is no system of sabbatical in Finnish universities.

Gross Salaries

Montly Gross Salaries 2007


Research Assistant


1.772 €/month




2.290 €/month


Postdoc/Senior Assistant
( Yliassistentti )


3.220 €/month


Full time Teacher


2.520 €/month


( Lehtori )


3.420 €/month


( Professori )


5.218 €/month


Source: Finnish Ministry of Education
Note : taxes in Finland are 25-32% depending on personal income level.

Salaries are based on the salary system for Finnish universities (YPJ), according to which a requirement level is defined for each position, and a level of personal performance for each employee. 
The portion of the salary determined by personal performance is between 4 and 46.3% of the salary for the requirement level of the position.

The job demand component is in principle independent of position's title, but in practice certain job demand levals are occupied by certain titles. For example all professors have a job demand level between levels 8 and 11. But, as mentioned, the job demand component may vary. In practice, therefore, the individual salary may differ considerably especially at lecturer and professor level. PhD researchers have to find their own funding and often work as research assistants, whilst writing their PhD. 

Number of Existing Positions

Existing Positions in Finnish Universities 2005










Senior Assistant




Full time Teacher












Source: Ministry of Education, Universities 2005 Annual Report


Internal Recruitment

It is reported that mobility is generally low in Finnish universities and the unofficial importance of a well established contact at institutions makes internal recruitment very high. Of the faculty 76% work in the university where they obtained their last degree (Valimaa 2001). Professors and lecturers often hire their students as assistants and positions are not necessarily publicly posted.

Accessibility for Non-Nationals

The official languages in Finland are Finnish and Swedish. University education is provided in both languages at all levels, but not necessary in every university. Finland has two monolingual Swedish-language universities (Åbo Akademi University and Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration) plus a monolingual School attached to the bilingual University of Helsinki (Swedish School of Social Science).

Most of the Finnish universities are increasingly offering programs and courses in English. At all universities there are international degree and non-degree programmes available in English. Steps are being taken to attract foreign candidates to Finland and several exchange programmes exist (Fulbright Programme for example).

However, for temporary research posts and permanent positions at universities the lack of internal contacts in the institution may penalise foreign candidates.

Finnish universities provide employment to approximately 3.000 foreign teachers and researchers, roughly 1.000 more than in 2010. The share of foreigners of the teaching and research staff employed by Finnish universities has increased from roughly 10 to 20 per cent over the past few years. 


National Universities

Aalto University 

Hanken School of Economics

Lappeenranta University of Technology

Tampere University of Technology

University of Helsinki

University of Eastern Finland

University of the Arts, Helsinki

University of Jyväskylä

University of Lapland

University of Oulu

University of Tampere

University of Turku

University of Vaasa

Abo Akademy University

Research Institutions

The majority of research in Finland is undertaken by the universities. Apart from professors, who are responsible for research and teaching in their own subject, research work is carried out by researchers mainly financed by outside funds (funding from the Academy of Finland for example).

In addition to the universities there are also 12 public research institutions, which operate under different ministries.

Academic Unions

AKAVA - Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals in Finland

FUURT - Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers

OAJ - Trade Union of Education in Finland

Professoriliitto - Trade Union for Professors

Useful Websites

Academy of Finland

Centre for International Mobility (CIMO)

Finnish Council of University Rectors (Suomen yliopistojen rehtorien neuvosto)

Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council (FINHEEC) (Korkeakoulujen arviointineuvosto)

Finnish Science and Technology Information Service

KOTA - the statistical database on universities

Ministry of Education (Opetusministeriö), Department for Education and Science Policy (Koulutus-ja tiedepolitiikan osasto)

National Board of Education (Opetushallitus)

Statistics Finland

Euraxess Finland

Info for History

The Finnish Graduate School of History made a career survey in 2005. This is how they summarise it:

'The graduate school has made one large follow-up of the careers of the doctors in history, and there is much feedback from current students. About half of those who have graduated during the past decade were satisfied with their degree, i.e. they had markedly benefited of it. The other half was less satisfied because the degree had not promoted their career as they had expected. Total frustration was not expressed and unemployment was not reported. In the normal case a history Ph.D. already has a job when he/she graduates. The future looks worse for some of those who want to stay in the departments, but who are not the very best students. In the close future their numbers seems to be increasing.'


Info for Economics

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.

Info for Law

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.

Info for Social and Political Science

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.

Postdoctoral Information

Postdocs are normally posted at the individual university websites but see also the Academy of Finland which is the main funding body for humanities and social sciences research in Finland. It is sub-organized into four sections or Research Councils of Culture and Society; Biosciences and Environment; Natural Sciences and Engineering; and Health respectively. Research proposals are dealt with on a disciplinary basis.

Websites for Job Postings

On the websites of the universities

On the website of the Academy of Finland

Euraxess Finland


Aarrevaara, Timo & Pekkola, Elias 2010 Muuttuva akateeminen professio Suomessa: maaraportti. Tampere University Press

The Academy of Finland 2010 Get ahead in your career: Get a doctorate

CIMO 2006, International Mobility in Finnish higher education in 2005

The Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council 2006, Audits of Quality Assurance Systems of Finnish Higher Education Institutions

Keskinen, Suvi & Silius, Harriet 2005, 'Disciplinary Boundaries between the Social Sciences and Humanities - National Report on Finland', Report written for the Research and Integration Project, University of Hull

Griffin et al. 2005, 'The Relationship between the Process of Professionalization in Academe and Interdisciplinarity: A Comparative Study of Eight European Countries', Report written for the Research and Integration Project, University of Hull

Valimaa, Jussi 2001, 'The Changing Nature of Academic Employment in Finnish Higher Education', in Academic Staff in Europe , edited by Jurgen Enders.


Special thanks to:

Jani Erola, Visiting Fellow, EUI 2006/07
Tiina Forsman, Academy of Finland 
Jukka Haapamäki, Senior Adviser, Ministry of Education
Eeva Kaunismaa, Senior Adviser, Science Policy Division, Ministry of Education
Suvi Keskinen, Aabo Akademi University
Taina Koivula, Statistics Finland
Sini Salminen, Academy of Finland

Page last updated on 28 August 2018

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