Literature review Three Characteristics of the Finnish National Profile Defining Engagement Readiness

Aurora borealis, snow and pine trees.

Engagement is a complex process that, despite the effort for clear definition and categorization of activities (Galán-Muros & Davey 2019; Jääskö et al 2018), cannot be perfectly unified. Even within united Europe, the structures of society, industry and higher education vary from country to country, and as main actors in the observed interaction they define the character of engagement to a great extent. By considering the specificities of a, so to say, national profile, we can reveal a clear picture of what is possible and impossible for engagement, what is the natural readiness of country’s HEIs to interact with the surrounding environment and what could and should be done for this readiness to be improved.

This writing presents a few major features of the Finnish national profile, which are of importance for HEI’s engagement readiness and activity.


1. The dual system of Finnish higher education

For about three decades Finland has had a dual higher education system, consisting of universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS). Universities conduct scientific research and provide education based on it. UAS provide more practical, professional higher education according to the concrete needs of the labour market and engage in applied research and regional development. Both universities and UAS award bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but universities also have the right to award doctorates (The Finnish education system 2021; The Finnish education system N.d.).

Since 2010 universities are independent entities separated from the state – either as autonomous public institutions or as private foundations. By this, they gained financial autonomy and greater flexibility to acquire external funding and utilize capital. They are now responsible for their human resources. The public accountability is ensured by a mandatory inclusion of non-university representatives (at least 40% of the members) in the governance of the universities. UAS have been independent legal entities since 2015 in the form of non-profit registered limited companies (Melin et al., 2015).

In addition to education and research, HEIs have a “third mission” of societal and economic engagement, which reflects most clearly the differences of institutions in the dual system. While universities have a more general obligation to engage, the UAS have an “explicit legally based regional role to deliver education which is aligned with the needs of the surrounding society and industry, and they undertake applied R&D and facilitate cluster development”. Both types of HEIs however, have a legal obligation for the participation of external stakeholders in their governance in order to ensure the relevance of education and research. In Finland there has recently been an effort to evaluate the impact of HEI’s engagement and to develop indicators measuring it (Melin et al., 2015).

In the recent years Finland has made steps towards less fragmented HEI engagement (Melin et al., 2015).

The dual system does have implications for engagement. Finnish UAS are, for example, engagement ready by law. It is their task to closely follow the needs and changes of society and economy and to provide solutions, which can be applied in practice. In addition, they need to act in the context of their region, considering the regional industrial and societal structure. By providing education UAS produces adequate manpower for the labour market. The role of universities in engagement is more general. They need to consider the relevance of education and research on governance level, but the research they conduct can be more theoretical, which makes their education more theoretical as well. In this way the benefits produced for society are more indirect and the graduates may join the labour market or to decide to stay in the academic field. The level of engagement readiness of a university might be lower compared to a UAS. Industry and society, however, need cutting-edge research and innovation as much as quick on-point solutions, so the engagement of universities is crucial.

In the recent years Finland has made steps towards less fragmented HEI engagement, although bureaucratic obstacles still exist (Melin et al., 2015). In future more cooperation needs be considered not only between HEIs and the society, but also within the higher education sector. Good practices and examples are EduFutura educational community in Jyväskylä (EduFutura Jyväskylä – Sharing the Knowledge, N.d.) and some consortia comprising of universities and UAS of a region. This increases the flexibility of HEIs when serving businesses and the society and ensures a fluent transition of students between the different levels of education.


2. SMEs dominating the entrepreneurship structure in Finland

“Finland is a country of small businesses”, proclaims the Federation of Finnish Enterprises in its recent statistics report (Entrepreneurship statistics 2021). The statistics are based on data from 2019, when there were altogether 292.377 companies in Finland, excluding agriculture, forestry, and fishing. 93% of these companies are microbusinesses, having less than 10 employees, and single-person businesses account for 68% of business owners. Only 0,2% of Finnish companies are large enterprises. (Entrepreneurship in Finland 2021).

Table 1: The structure of entrepreneurship in Finland (adapted from: Entrepreneurship statistics 2021)

There is a paradox in that. Some of the experts interviewed for the Engagement Readiness Project expressed a concern that it is much easier for a HEI to be ready to engage with larger enterprises. The large companies have established practices of contacting partners and cooperating, they know what to expect from the HEI. In addition, they are ready to pay for the services and they bring image benefits for the HEI. On the other hand, the smaller the company is, the less resources it has to engage into cooperation, and the smaller the chance is for it to clearly identify the need or benefits of a potential cooperation (Jääskö, interview, 19.4.2021; Korpela, interview, 31.3.2021; Seppälä, interview, 8.4.2021). As indicated in table 1, SMEs are predominant in Finland. Their share of the total number of companies is 99,8%. The share of turnover of SMEs from the total turnover produced by enterprises in Finland is 57,5% and the staff engaged in SMEs’ activity is 63,9% of all the staff on Finnish enterprises.

As it seems, SMEs are the ones really needing cooperation – for growth and internationalization, but the HEIs are not as motivated to engage with them, because the cooperation is resource-consuming, unstable, and dealing with very pragmatic issues. However, in the case of Finland, 99,8% is a too large share to be ignored. Combined with the legal obligation of UAS as regional developers, it makes it their task to engage with SMEs. This means that UAS should first ensure a sufficient resource – time, finances, platforms and the right experts, to create the culture of cooperation on a grassroot level, even if it takes encouraging one single-person company at a time to participate and explaining to them how it works and what to expect.


3. Finland is a rural society

According to an OECD report (2008), Finland is one of the most rural countries within the OECD. The country has a Rural Policy Committee, which key priorities are “delivering public services to an ageing and dispersed population more equitably and efficiently, enhancing the competitiveness of an increasing number of non-farm related rural firms, and improving the business environment in rural areas by fully utilizing their abundant natural amenities” (OECD Rural Policy Reviews: Finland, 2008).

It is characteristic for Finland, that Northern and Eastern Finland are more rural than Southern and Western Finland. The rural municipalities close to urban areas also differ from the distant ones. Despite the effort to maintain the services throughout the country, the rural areas face challenges connected to depopulation and an aging population.

Figure 1. The rural structure of Finland (Finnish Rural Policy in a Nutshell 2014).

By 2004, rural municipalities had only 15% of Finnish jobs and 20% of the population. The industrial structure of these municipalities has two focuses: agriculture and public services (From slash-and-burn fields to post-industrial society – 90 years of change in industrial structure 2007). Since then this trend has become even more pronounced. The Rural Policy of Finland (2021) attempts to promote entrepreneurship, sustainability, and social participation of rural areas.

The rural profile of Finland influences HEIs’ engagement. HEIs operating in regions with a predominant rural character should be ready to be involved in topics relevant to these regions, i.e., agriculture and forestry, rural and nature tourism, optimization of public services. In many cases the rural partners and clients of HEIs represent the public sector, i.e., municipalities and local administration. A great effort is needed to change the negative social and economic trends in rural areas and HEIs could play a crucial role by being active and engagement ready.


Bonus: Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and organizational culture

Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, a framework for cross-cultural communication, is a widely used tool for understanding how culture and values relate to behaviour. Culture and values are strongly related to engagement, thus they are relevant for the organizational culture. In this case under investigation is the Finnish model of cultural dimensions (What about Finland? 2021).

  • Power distance

Finland has a low score, which means hierarchy exists only there, where it is needed, power is decentralized and “managers count on the experience of their team members”. Communication is direct and participative, and informality exists between different levels (What about Finland? 2021). This setting should be assisting engagement readiness, since there is no threshold for contacting people with different functions in the organization, a HEI or a business.

  • Individualism

With its high score, Finland is an individualist society. Individuals are expected to take care of themselves (What about Finland? 2021). In terms of engagement this is bad news, because a bigger effort is needed to partner up and start a cooperation.

  • Masculinity

Finland is considered a feminine society, which means it values equality and “decision making is achieved through involvement” (What about Finland? 2021). A feminine society is a good ground for engagement, because involving different groups of society into decision making means cooperation.

  • Uncertainty avoidance

Finland has a high preference for avoiding uncertainty. In such a country “there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work)”, a need for security, and innovation may be resisted (What about Finland? 2021). Engagement’s precondition is that there is trust between the potential partners. To assume engagement readiness a HEI should first work hard to build this trust in a uncertainty-avoiding society.

  • Long term orientation

With a low score Finland is rather normative than pragmatic country in that measure. This means that it respects traditions and focuses on achieving quick results rather than the distant future (What about Finland? 2021). This factor also affects engagement. It might be easy to involve business and society members in the cooperation with HEI, when there is evidence of the concreteness, practicality and fast delivery of results. This favours, for example, the applied research implemented in UAS, but not the cutting-edge, years-long research conducted in science universities.

  • Indulgence

By its relatively high score Finland is an indulgent country, which means a weak control over desires and impulses. Such countries possess a positive attitude and have a tendency towards optimism (What about Finland? 2021). This factor is the least related to engagement readiness, but a positive attitude always helps, when it comes to human relations.


The author Rositsa Röntynen works as a project manager, tourism and R&D specialist at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences, Finland.



EduFutura Jyväskylä – Sharing the Knowledge, N.d. Article on the EduFutura website. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

Entrepreneurship in Finland, 2021. Page on the website of The Federation of Finnish Entreprises. Updated 25.1.2021. Tetrieved on 22.7.2021 from

Entrepreneurship statistics, 2021. Report of The Federation of Finnish Enterprises. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

Finnish Rural Policy in a Nutshell, 2014. Ministry of Employment and the Economy. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

From slash-and-burn fields to post-industrial society – 90 years of change in industrial structure, 2007. Article on the website of Statistics Finland. Updated 20.2.2007. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

Galán-Muros V. & Davey T., 2019. The UBC Ecosystem: Putting Together a comprehensive Framework for University-Business Cooperation. Journal of Technology Transfer. DOI: 10.1007/s10961-017-9562-3. Journal of Technology Transfer, 44, 1311–1346 (2019). Retrieved on 19.7.2021 from

Jääskö P., Korpela M., Laaksonen M., Pienonen T., Davey T. & Meerman A., 2018. Korkeakoulujen työelämäyhteistyön tilannekuva [Situation Analysis of UBC]. Study, Ministry of Employment and the Economy and Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland. Retrieved on 20.7.2021 from

Melin, G., Zuijdam, F., Good, B., Angelis, J., Enberg, J., Fikkers, D.J., Puukka, J., Swenning, A. K., Kosk, K., Lastunen, J. & Zegel, S., 2015. Towards a future proof system for higher education and research in Finland. Reports of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2015:11. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

OECD Rural Policy Reviews: Finland, 2008. Report on the website of OECD. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

Rural Policy, 2021. Page on the website of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland. Updated 18.2.2021. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

The Finnish education system, 2021. Article on Finnish National Agency for Education’s website. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

The Finnish education system, N.d. Article on Ministry of Education and Culture’s website. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from

What About Finland?, 2021. Article on the website Hofstede Insights. Retrieved on 22.7.2021 from



Jääskö, Pekka, Account Manager. University of Oulu. Zoom interview of 19.4.2021, interviewed by Minna Tunkkari-Eskelinen.

Korpela, Mikko, Expert & Partner. Crazy Town Consulting. Zoom interview of 31.3.2021, interviewed by Minna Tunkkari-Eskelinen.

Seppälä, Jaana, Managing Director. Kasvu Open Ltd. Zoom interview of 8.4.2021, interviewed by Minna Tunkkari-Eskelinen.



Blog editors: Alexandra Zinovyeva (UIIN) and Fleur Schellekens (UIIN)


Header photo by Maria Vojtovicova on Unsplash

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