Basic facts

- Academic year
- Curricula
- Degree programmes
- Degree structure
- Credit system

Brief history

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.

University life

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.

Social opportunities

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 country.


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 Administration.

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

Academic year

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.

Degree system

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 required.

Degree programmes

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.

Degree structure 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).

Credit system 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.