BUILDINGS AND FACILITIES
SYSTEM OF STUDIES
- Academic year
- Degree programmes
- Degree structure
- Credit system
The University of Helsinki (Helsingin yliopisto) is the oldest and largest university
in Finland. It was founded in 1640 as the "Academy of Turku"; Turku being the
former capital of Finland, which was then part of the Swedish realm. After Finland was
annexed to the Russian Empire in 1809, the capital was moved to Helsinki. In 1827 the
University was transferred to Helsinki, where it opened the following year under the name
of the Imperial Alexander University, after the Russian Czar Alexander the First. It was
the only university in Finland until 1919.
By Scandinavian standards, the University of Helsinki is a large university, with over
40,000 members when students, teachers and other staff numbers are combined. About 40 per
cent of all doctoral degrees in Finland are completed here. A total of about 33,000
students in the nine faculties make up a quarter of all university students in Finland.
The University is bilingual with instruction and services offered in both Finnish and
Swedish: about 2,000 of the registered degree students are Swedish-speakers. In some
fields of study, such as law and medicine, quotas are reserved for Swedish-speaking
students in an effort to guarantee equal linguistic rights for all. The total enrolment of
international students at the University of Helsinki is presently over 1,300.
The University of Helsinki is an older, more traditional educational institution and
admission is difficult. The pace of studies is usually up to the individual. One
outstanding feature of studies at the University of Helsinki is the emphasis on the
student's own initiative and individual work. Much of the instruction is still in the
lecture form, and the relationship between the student and instructor generally can remain
quite official and hierarchical. However, many teachers and entire departments have moved
towards more student-to-student and student-to-instructor discussion-orientated lessons
and tutoring, and most instructors welcome active student participation.
Because of the individual nature of the University, much of the institution's social
life must be sought after; it is not readily apparent at first. The student nations, are
generally quite active, arranging dance parties and excursions, but can also be
members only. The 15 nations are the hub of social life in the University and
a lot of students participate in nation parties and activity groups. In earlier days, the
student nations offered a communication channel for people born and grown up in the same
region of Finland. For example, freshmen from the Häme region would upon arrival in
Helsinki join the Hämäläis-Osakunta, where former neighbours and old school friends
were likely to hang out. Today, all nations are open to any student who is interested in
their activities and clubs. Most activities are open to all university students. In
addition to the nations there are over a hundred student clubs, ranging from department
associations to hobby and sports clubs.
Buildings and facilities
The University was moved to Helsinki a year after the Great Fire of Turku had destroyed
most of the old Academy. New buildings for the University were erected in the centre of
the new capital. The Main Building (yliopiston päärakennus) and the Observatory were
completed in 1832, while the University Library (yliopiston kirjasto) was completed in
1840. Several other buildings were erected in the vicinity of the Main Building in the
late 19th century and in the early 20th century. These buildings are some of Helsinki's
most beautiful sights.
The Main Building's older half faces the famous Senate Square (Senaatintori), the site
of many national ceremonies and celebrations. Until the 1950's, the entire university was
located in the centre of Helsinki. Today it occupies about 60 different premises in the
Helsinki area, including several training and research centres in other parts of the
The Universities Act and Statute, implemented on August 1, 1997 and August 1, 1998
respectively, regulate the administration of all Finnish Universities. Earlier, each
university had its own University Act and Statute: the latest version for the University
of Helsinki is from 1992. The former regulations concerning administration at the
University of Helsinki dated back to the 1920's and the administrative model had its
origin in the 17th century, the early years of the University.
The University of Helsinki enjoys legal autonomy and has the freedom to decide on its
research and teaching policies. The highest official is the Chancellor, who bears overall
responsibility for promoting science and monitoring the interests of the University as
well as supervising its operations. The Chancellor has the right to attend sessions of the
Council of State whenever matters concerning the University are being discussed. The
Chancellor also has the right to make proposals and statements about university issues.
The highest decision-making organ at the University of Helsinki is the Senate,
comprised of the Rector, the first Vice Rector, one professor from each faculty, three
other teachers and researchers and seven student representatives, one of whom must be a
post-graduate student. The other two Vice Rectors have the right to be present at the
Senate meetings, but they are not senate members. The practical management of the
University in accordance with these guidelines is the duty of the Rector. The Rector is
assisted by the three Vice Rectors and the Administration Office, led by the Director of
The Deans and Faculty Councils run the faculties. The Faculty Councils are composed of
professors, associate professors, other teachers and researchers, representatives of the
non-teaching staff and student representatives. The Faculty Council elects the Dean and
Vice-Deans from among its professor and associate professor members, and is responsible
for developing research and instruction in the faculty. In addition, proposals for the
financial and activities plan and budget as well as the decisions for the overall lines of
resource allocation are carried out at the Faculty Council.
Each department has a Steering Committee of three, six, nine or twelve members,
depending on the size of the department. The Faculty Council, based on recommendations
from the Steering committee, appoints the Head of each department.
System of studies
The academic year (lukuvuosi) at the University of Helsinki consists of two terms: *
The autumn term (syyslukukausi) begins on August 1 and lasts until December 31. Classes
begin normally on September 11, one day after the official Opening Ceremony of the
academic year with the exception of the Faculty of Medicine and the Department of
Pharmacy, which start in mid-August. Christmas vacation is ten days before and ten days
after New Year's Day. * The spring term (kevätlukukausi) begins on January 1 (classes
begin normally in mid-January and end in mid-May) and runs until July 31.
The curricula are revised each year and are published in the programme books of the
faculties. Unfortunately, programme books are currently available in Finnish and Swedish
only. However, the International Relations Office publishes "Courses in
English"; a multi-disciplinary compilation of classes offered in English, available
before the beginning of the academic year. Updates are posted on the home page of each
faculty. In addition, all faculties and a growing number of departments publish ECTS guide
books, which include detailed information on their English-speaking courses available.
The first, lower degree available is kandidaatti (Bachelor). The second, higher degree
is maisteri (Master). In the fields of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine,
however, the first degree is lisensiaatti (Licentiate), otherwise the first post-graduate
degree. The two last mentioned correspond to Master's degree in European universities, and
are usually referred to as the Master's degree whenever international comparability is
In most faculties the first degree available is the Bachelor's degree. The scope of the
Bachelor's degree is 120 (Finnish) credits. The minimum number of credits that make up a
Master's degree is 160. In the Faculty of Medicine (both medicine and dentistry) and in
the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine the basic degree is the Licentiate. The scope of the
Licentiate ranges from 200 to 250 credits. A Bachelor's degree is divided in studies in
major and minor subjects: there is no advanced level, but thesis work is included. A
Master's degree usually includes studies in major and minor subjects. Studies in the major
subject are further divided into intermediate subject studies and advanced studies. A
central part of advanced studies is the Master's thesis, which alone gives 20 credits.
Degree requirements for international students also include studies in the Finnish or
Swedish language. Foreign students who already have a Bachelor's degree are considered
graduates in the selection process. Earlier studies can be transferred to be included in
the Master's degree at the University of Helsinki: the better the student's earlier
programme compares with the programme offered in Helsinki, the better the transfer of
credits will be. The time to complete a Master's degree, from start to finish, varies from
five to six years, depending on the field they are studying in and on the number
Finnish/Swedish language credits students have to earn.
The basic unit of a degree programme is a study module (opintokokonaisuus). One module
may contain several types of work: lectures, exercises, set book examinations, seminars,
etc. The study modules are usually of three major types. This classification reflects the
level and general aims of the study modules. The extent of basic studies is usually about
15 credits; the extent of intermediate subject studies is generally 20 credits. The
advanced studies plus thesis normally take at least one quarter of the total. General and
basic studies (perusopinnot) The purpose of general and basic studies is to familiarise
the student with the basic principles of scientific thought and research and to give a
wide foundation for further studies. Students are also given an overall picture of the
disciplines, which form the basis of the degree programme, as well as multi-disciplinary
theoretical and methodological guidance.
Intermediate subject studies (aineopinnot) In subject studies students concentrate on
the acquisition of the basic skills required to fulfil the aims of the degree programme.
They learn the main problems, theories and methods of the discipline. Advanced studies
(syventävät opinnot) Advanced studies concentrate on some central, scientifically
relevant problems within the degree programme. The central aim of advanced studies is to
develop the student's ability to do independent scientific research. All students
graduating with a Master's degree have to write a Master's thesis (20 credits).
A credit (opintoviikko) is defined as comprising 40 hours of work. Lecture hours,
exercises and other forms of instruction as well as independent work at home or in the
library are all regarded as work required to complete set credits. A Bachelor's degree
usually comprises 120 credits and a Master's degree 160 credits. Normally it takes three
years of full-time studies to complete a Bachelor's degree and a total of five years (or
two years after a Bachelor's degree) to complete a Master's degree. An international
student who is required to learn either Finnish or Swedish should be prepared for one
additional year. However, there is variation in the time needed for graduation, as the
pace of studies is in most fields up to the individual student.