History of the University of Helsinki goes all the way back to the 17th century. Throughout the centuries, the University has played a key role in building Finnish civilisation, identity and well-being.

The history of the University of Helsinki can be divided into three phases that correspondence with the development of the Finnish society.

The first phase of its history extends from its establishment as a university of the Swedish Empire in 1640 to the Finnish War of 1808. The university was founded as the Royal Academy of Turku in 1640. Already in the 14th century some members of the diocese of Turku travelled to University of Paris to receive higher education. The founding of the Academy of Turku was a logical step in that tradition. 

The second phase of the University’s history as a university of the Russian Empire covers the history of the Grand Duchy of Finland from 1809 to 1917. The university was named the Imperial Turku Academy in 1809. When the university was moved to Helsinki in 1828, the name was changed to the Imperial Alexander University in Finland.

The third phase of the university’s history as a university of the Republic of Finland begins with the independence of Finland in 1917. The name of the university was changed to the University of Helsinki in 1919.

The following chapters were originally edited by FM Pia Österman in Finnish. Note: part of the text has been translated by using automated translator tools. 

From the Royal Academy of Turku to present day University of Helsinki

History of academic education in Finland

The Royal Academy of Turku, was founded in 1640 as part of the multi-hundred-year European university tradition that began with universities such as Bologna or Salamanca and in Nordic countries with the universities in Copenhagen and Uppsala. Current day University of Helsinki is the oldest university in Finland.

The establishment of the Royal Academy of Turku in Finland (then part of Sweden) in 1640 was a continuation of a long term tradition of education for residents of the Finnish region. Several talented young people of the Diocese of Turku are known to have studied at the University of Paris as early as the 14th century. The Finnish Olavi Maununpoika even served as the rector of the University of Paris in the 1430s. In the Middle Ages, people of Finnish origin were also found studying at universities such as Prague, Rome and Louvain. Mikael Agricola, who translated the New Testament into Finnish, is known to have studied at Wittenberg around the time of the Reformation in the 1530s and collaborated with Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and other representatives of the Reform Movement.

Founding of the Royal Academy of Turku

The University of Helsinki was founded during the reign of Queen Kristina on 26 March 1640. The Royal Academy of Turku was incorporated into the traditional university system, marked by features common to all European universities, such as Latin teaching and the fourfold division of faculties. The establishment of the Academy was preceded by a thorough reform of the Swedish Education Institute in the 1620s. The reform reflected Sweden's position as a European superpower in the 17th century. As a result of the reform, centuries long flow of students to foreign universities shifted towards Sweden's own universities; Uppsala (1477), Tartu (1632), Turku and Lund (1666). 

The establishment of the university in the eastern part of Sweden, Finland, was primarily promoted by Count Per Brahe, Bishop of Turku Isaacus Rothovius and President of the Turku Court of Appeals, Jöns Kurck. Count Brahe expected that the University would "seed the people with true godly fear, honor, fitness, virtues, permitted livelihoods, and any kind of good life" also in Finland.

As one of the four national universities of the Swedish Empire, the Royal Academy of Turku's primary task was to conduct teaching, which was centred on Lutheran theology and European humanism, and to train priests, officials, doctors and officers to make use of the best available information. In the founding document, the Academy was assigned the task of teaching and practicing permitted subjects, the Holy Bible, law and justice, medicine and other sciences. In addition, the Academy conducted research, argued and promoted graduates. 

The Academy was the center for the education of the clergy. Most of its students became priests. The university also shared general education and the spirit of Renaissance humanism with the noble and bourgeois youths. Research topics included, among other things, the structure of the universe, the nature of matter and the laws of mechanics. It also surveyed the country’s resources and studied Finnish language and culture.

Administration of the Royal Academy of Turku

The University of Christina or the University of Aura, as the university was also called, remained relatively small throughout the Turku period. In 1640, the academic community consisted of 250 students and eleven professors: three theological, one legal, one medical, and six philosophical faculties. The number of students and professors remained almost unchanged throughout the Turku period, 187 years. 

Students first studied at the Faculty of Philosophy, after which they had the opportunity to specialize at the Faculty of Theology, Law or Medicine. Even though the university was small in size, it played a decisive role as a mediator and awakener of new ideas.

The university was established as an independent institution. In addition to having the right to share degrees, the university had its own administration, jurisdiction, punitive authority and tax exemption. The Academy's independent position was guaranteed by its own sources of income. The university's economy was based until 1811 on tax concessions; the academy collected taxes on hundreds of farms and tithes of several parishes to maintain its operations.

Queen Christina, the founder of the university, was interested in science. He supported universities and hired scholars at his court. Among them were the famous philosopher, mathematician René Descartes. In the year when the University of Helsinki was founded, the Queen was only 13 years old.

The first century of the Royal Academy of Turku

The Royal Academy of Turku was firmly bound to the European university tradition, but a relatively peripheral, deprived and scientifically isolated university. However, thanks to the Academy, Finnish students no longer had to travel to other European universities in order to receive appropriate education.

On the other hand, this reduced the direct contact between Finns with European science centres in the late 17th century, and that is why science in Turku, especially natural science and medicine, was lagging behind the rapid development of continental Europe.

The strong affiliation of the church and the university had a decisive impact on the science practiced at the university. The Bible was diligently studied and explained while its authority was absolute; questioning the Bible was not allowed, not even through science. All ideas that differed from Lutheran recognition were strongly rejected. At the university, many of the views that have already been adopted in continental Europe were shown to be suspicious. For example, Cartesianism and Copernicanism were perceived to be in conflict with the Bible and these views were rejected.

Unlike today, in the 17th century, the university was not intended to engage in new creative thinking or to conduct scientific new research. The Royal Academy of Turku was not actually a university of science, but rather a teaching and training institution for churchmen. The Academy taught only those works which were prescribed in the university's statutes. This way only proven and accepted knowledge was passed on to the new generations of priests.

A total of over 3,000 Master's dissertations were written at the Royal Academy of Turku in the years between 1640 and 1808. By defending these dissertations, which were often written by their professors, the students demonstrated their scientific qualifications. They were also responsible for the cost of printing the dissertations. The dissertations on various topical topics formed a central forum for the transmission of the latest scientific results and ideas but also provided an important alternative to lecture literature that was precisely defined by the statures. Several professors published their larger works as a dissertation series.

The professors lectured for one hour on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday in accordance with the regulations. Wednesday and Saturday were reserved for debate. In addition, the students were given paid private education by professors as well as private teachers and older students. The professors of the Academy were multi-taught, for whom the transition from one discipline to another was a rule rather than an exception. The Academy’s teaching languages were Latin and Swedish. In the absence of funds, the academy did not conduct scientific experiments or acquire instruments in addition to the personal instruments of professors.

Of the faculties, the largest, philosophical faculty was by nature a fundamental faculty, where all the students started their studies. Only then did they have the opportunity to specialize in one of the other faculties. Within the Faculty of Philosophy, the study of the Finnish language started quickly. Professor Aeschilleus Petraeus (1593-1657) published the description of the Finnish language Linguae Finnicae brevis institute in 1649. Other languages that were studies included the classical languages; the original Bible languages Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The teaching of rhetoric was also well suited for priestly training.

The best scientific results at the Academy of the 17th century were obtained in the Hebrew study of the original Bible language. Bishop Johannes Gezelius the Elder began in the early 1670s to write a text-critical Swedish-language commentary on the Bible. He also trained his son Johannes Gezelius the Younger to continue this work. Their internationally high-level work was published in 1728.

The university provided instruction in music, drawing, fencing, horseback riding and modern languages such as French and Italian. These skills, which were necessities for young members of the estate, were taught by professionals of their field, masters hired specifically for that purpose. Therefore the university staff included a fencing and riding teacher as well as professor in greek.

Thanks to these masters, the university's activities were considerably diversified. Many current disciplines such as research and teaching of modern languages, music science, sports sciences, as well as institutions such as the Drawing Room of the University of Helsinki have their roots in those early activities.

The Age of Utility 1740-1769

With the rise of the Hats Party to power in 1739, the idea of better exploitation of the resources of the country in both the industrial and agricultural sectors spread in the Swedish Empire. This required accurate mapping of the country's natural resources and population.

Statistical research became an integral part of the scientific activities of Swedish universities, including Turku. While data from different localities were collected, several local descriptions were made, which have since proved valuable resource.

The era of 1740-1760 was the golden age of utility thinking at the Academy of Turku. Just like other Swedish universities, a new chair of economics was established in Turku. The material conditions of doing science were also improved by building a chemistry laboratory in Turku, an anatomy department, the academy’s own garden and pharmacy. A modest library was also expanded.

The era of utility thinking marked an increase in the appreciation of natural sciences in relation to classical sciences. In the early 18th century, Swedish scientists such as Anders Celsius (1791-1744) and Carl von Linné (1707-1778) made Swedish science world famous. According to a new trend in theology, natural theology, nature itself demonstrated the existence of God, and man praised God by using natural sciences. Thus, scientific research was not found to be in conflict with religion. On the contrary, God had created an entity in which every thing and object had a task to do and this task science had to figure out.

The Royal Academy of Turku favored socially meaningful and practical research. The dissertations conducted under the leadership of Professor P. Kalm (1716-1779) and Professor P. A. Gaddin (1727-1797) were quite similar to a text book and were intended to be published in Swedish instead of Latin. The intention was that the rural priests could use the research findings when returning to their home municipality.

Practical research focused primarily on agriculture and forestry. The dissertations provided guidance on drainage of fields, seeding of grains, forest management, the management of one's own kitchen garden, and also on the preparation of different kinds of food, beverages and medicines based on domestic raw materials. In the field of chemistry, color plants, alkali, potash, salpietar, wall mortar and cement were studied. One of the goals of the Hats Party's mercantilistic policy was to avoid expensive import. Therefore, imported goods such as silk, spices, dyes, tobacco and cotton were also sought through the expertise of university professors to produce domestically, mostly with poor results.

New ideas about the population as a social resource and new medical trends, in turn, led to greater attention being paid to disease and health care. The country was sparsely populated and trained doctors were often not available when needed.

The people resorted to folk healers and tradition, as well as to the help of sacristans, barbers, and soldiers who had been trained in the field. As leaders of the parish administration, the priests also handled matters related to health and medical care, since they had the ability to read and had the connection with higher powers.

Vicarages operate in several localities as a kind of health center. In the era of utility, the priests needed better basic medical skills to be of greater help in their hometown. The higher goals set for priests required the development of the medical field at the university.

In Turku, the teaching of medicine was renewed by Professor Elias Til-Landz (1640-93), who, among other things, performed the first anatomical act in Turku, i.e. the anatomical dissection of the first human body. Til-Landz was also interested in botanics and promoted the pharmaceutical sector by developing and cataloging healing herbal plants.

The Golden Age of Academy

Science developed rapidly in late 18th century Europe. A number of new insights were made in the fields of mathematics and physics, such as the gravitational theory presented by Sir Isaac Newton. The Royal Academy of Turku also experienced a significant stage of development in the late 18th century. Instead of purely practical aspects, more focus was given to theoretical research and systematic observations in such areas as astronomy, physics and chemistry. Research was done on the the structure of the universe, the essence of matter, and the laws of mechanics.

The rise of the Academy in the fields of natural sciences was based on increased international contacts and particularly talented individuals. The most notable of them were astronomer A. J. Lexell (1740-1784), who calculated the track of the comet observed in 1770, subsequently named after him, and mineral chemist Johan Gadol (1760-1852), who reached world fame when he discovered a new element, yttrium (Y), in 1794.

The contacts of the Academy members with other science centres in Sweden and continental Europe increased considerably in the late 18th century. Students and teachers made trips to other European universities to maintain links with new trends in science. Professors such as neohumanist H. G. Porthan, theologian J. Gezelius, chemist J. Gadolin, and doctor E. Til-Landz brought back to Turku new ideas they received on their journeys. This helped the Academy to be much more up-to-date on new scientific trends and research methods.

In addition to the evolution of natural sciences, classical languages and ancient ideals were vigorated once again thanks to a new pan-European ideology, neohumanism, in the late 18th century. This was reflected, among other things, in the strengthening of Latin as a language of instruction and degree. Neohumanism was inspired by excavations in Herculaneum, Pompeii and Rome. In Turku, its main spokesman was the overall central figure of the era, Professor of Eloquence, H. G. Porthan (1739-1804).

The Royal Academy of Turku had its heyday at the end of the Swedish period.

The Finnish War between Sweden and Russia (1808-1809) was a transformative in Finnish history. As a result, Finland was transferred under the Russian Empire as a Grand Duchy of Finland and gained self-government and state character. The university became an imperial Russian university known as the Imperial Academy of Turku, the Alexander Academy in Finland and the Imperial University of Turku.

The Imperial Alexander University in Finland had a special status; the heir to the Russian Crown served as the chancellor of the University nearly throughout the 19th century. The University was therefore directly subordinate to the Emperor, not subject to the regime under the Governor-General and the Senate. The chancellor of the university was higher than the Governor-General.

Emperor Alexander I gave the university a central place in the new Grand Duchy and expanded the university in an unprecedented manner. The university's spending status was doubled in the new expenditure estimate in 1811. However, the university’s financial independence decreased as its economy moved from its own tax base to the general government finances. Several new positions were also established at the university. Six of these were professorships: one in theology, one in law and one in medicine, and as many as three new in the philosophical faculty. In addition, 12 assistant positions were established, three lecture positions for language teaching and three practice master positions were made permanent.

The expansion was so large that it almost made the university entirely a new institution. Also  during the entire Russian period from 1809 to 1917, the university expanded significantly. The number of professors increased tenfold and the number of students increased from about 400 to just over 3,000.

The university continued to operate in well-established manner in Turku but it was dramatically interrupted by a fire in the city in 1827, where almost the entire city of Turku was destroyed. Much of the university's buildings were also damaged and some of its collections and other assets were destroyed. The new tsar, Emperor Nicholas I, also offered additional drama. Shortly after the fire, the courier brought a manifesto to the university’s management, which ordered that the university, with its possessions, staff, professors and students, transfer to the new capital and administrative centre of the Grand Duchy of Finland, Helsinki.

Humboldtian university

With the move, the university gained symbolically important status and several spectacular buildings in the center of the capital. The university's main building (1832) was located in the most central location in Helsinki opposite the Senate. The academic community was thus able to follow Finnish society from a central location and the representatives of the emperor to supervise the university.

The main building, just like the other buildings in Senate Square, was designed by architect C. L. Engel (1778-1840). In his architecture, the new capital represented the Greek-Caesarical Humanism of Russia. The classical architecture of the university's main building refers to the ancient cultural heritage. In addition to the main building, the university received several other facilities: a clinical hospital and a midwifery facility (1832), a botanical garden (1832), an astronomical observatory (1834) and a university library (1840). The university’s strong presence in the heart of Helsinki was thus established.

All of the university’s natural science collections had been destroyed in the fire in Turku, so the collection work had to tbe started from scratch. The collection and mapping of data and the systematisation tradition began by Linné flourished in Helsinki in the early 19th century. Finnish nature, landscape and climate were mapped and collections of Finnish plants, animals and mineralogy were collected. The Finnish parasitic worm researcher Alexander von Nordmann (1803-1866) and lichen scientist William Nylander (1822-1899) became internationally famous due to the collection, research and systematization of their samples.

In the 1820s, the university adopted the idea of the German educational university Wilhelm von Humboldt ( 1767-1835) in 1809. The goal was to educate man and increase his self-awareness through science; Bildung durch Wissenschaft. Humboldt's idea was very modern and far-sighted in its liberalism and scientific emphasis. The most notable application of the neohumanist idea in Helsinki was Professor J. V. Snellman.

German neohumanism was applied in the new statutes of the university in 1828. In accordance with the German university model, multidisciplinary studies should be replaced by in-depth knowledge of a limited topic. The doctoral decree, which had previously been synonymous with the master's decree, was converted into a more research oriented decree that required further study. It was also a requirement that the doctoral candidate had to write his own thesis. The research became considerably more central and, unlike the previous ones, most disciplines sought to specialise. It was an important step towards a modern-day university of science.

The rankings of the faculties also changed. Admission to study was tightened, which partially lifted propedeutical responsibility from the shoulders of the Philosophical Faculty. The Philosophical Faculty became a doctoral faculty and other faculties focused on professional education. The Faculty of Law played a key role in its participation in the construction of the legal order of the Grand Duchy of Finland, and it grew the most in relation to other faculties in the early 19th century.

In line with the idea of the university of being about education and Science, the university also adopted a national and general educational mission. The contents of the first section of the University's statuses were as a whole: "The Imperial Alexander University has been established to promote the development of the Sciences and Free Arts in Finland, and alongside it to raise its youth to the service of the Emperor and the Fatherland". The university had to take responsibility for the morality of the citizens and civil servants, share culture and values and to grow people into free thinking and research.

It was the university that was tasked with creating a nation out of the inhabitants of the Grand Duchy of Finland. In the face of the ideal of the University of Education and the national romantic idea that prevailed in Europe, an idea of Finnish nationality arose at the Imperial Alexander University of Finland. Nowhere else in the world has the university played such a central role in awakening the national spirit as in Finland.

The era of critical thinking and expansion 1890-1918

The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was an eventful period. Both research and politics applied new, more critical thinking. Forms of study and research developed, and an increasing number of disciplines specialized and differentiated.

The end of the 19th century and the early 20th century saw a powerful boom in science and research in Europe. With the development of printing technology and lower prices of printing, the amount of up-to-date information printed and researched grew rapidly. The expansion of research activities and the increase in travel also changed the teaching and research of the Imperial Alexander University of Finland in the late 19th century. The change took the form of the launch of laboratory and seminar research, overall improvement of teaching and research as well as the improvement of the quality of dissertations and new disciplines.

In science, critical research was intensified. Source criticism increased and measurements became more accurate. Quantitative methods were characteristic of the time; operated by numbers, experiments, and statistics. The metaphoric grip replaced the religious-idealistic worldview and the idealizing romantic scientific grip. The contemporaries felt that there had been a shift from mystical and supernatural explanations to exact scientific research.

In the natural sciences, laboratory work increased. New facilities were built for laboratories, such as the Department of Chemistry, Physics, Physiology and Botany and the Pathology Anatomical Institute. Laboratories enabled a new kind of scientific research. Finnish scientists were successful in emploing the new empirical methods, measurements and experiments.

The most significant Finnish scientific achievements in the early 20th century include Robert Tigerstedt's research on bloodstream, Gunnar Ekman's work on the embryo development of a water lizard, Fredrik Elfving's experiments on the direction of plant growth, E. A. Homén's streptococcal experiments, V. A. Heiskanen's gravitational observations, George Väisälä's triangulations to the geodetic baseline, the measurements of the size ofatom by Jarl Wasastjerna, J. J. Sederholm's bedrock studies and the inventory project of the forests of George Ilvesssalo. In terms of theoretical sciences, K. F. Sundman solved the problem of three-body problem in dynamics in 1912 and Gunnar Nordström competed with Albert Einstein in the area of scalar gravity theory of relativity.

In humanities, seminar or small group education was introduced. Seminars were often accompanied by a library consisting of literature related to the seminar's topic collected for the purpose. Facilities such as natural sciences laboratories were later developed around them, including study rooms and lecture halls. As manifestations of the statistical nature of the era, the National Museum of Finland, the National Archives of Finland, House of the Finnish Literature Society and the Ateneum were built. These was also important places for researchs in their respective fields. The National Museum for archaeologist and ethnographers, archives for historians, the Finnish Literature Society for language researchers and the Ateneum for art historians.

In addition to changes in science, there was also a significant change in society. The society evolved towards civil society and the general knowledge level of the society rose significantly. The university's student union became Finnish-speaking (previously Swedish-speaking) and its social background changed. University education developed into a more significant pathway of social rise. In the years of World War I, more than three-quarters of new students enrolled at the university reported that they spoke Finnish as their native language.

At the turn of the century, the university experienced a period of strong growth. The teaching staff multiplied and the number of previously established docent positions started to grow significantly. The growth was due to more disciplines being born and therefore was quite natural. Through new posts, many disciplines such as chemistry, geology, geodesy, meteorology, hydrology, food science, agricultural science, and forest science established themselves. The number of students grew so much that contemporaries talked about a flood of students. During World War I (1914-17), the university had an average of 3,000 students present. One of the reasons for the growth of the numbers of students was the admission of women into higher education. The growth also meant that the faculties grew in size and also started to specialise in different areas.

The turn of the century was a time of economic growth for both Finland and the university. Economig growth was lead by the forest industry which helped the country prosper and apply new technologies such as telegraphs and railroads to modernize the society. The demand for education increased; the number of state officials increased sixfold from 1870 to 1910. The growing technological and electrifying industry also needed more research knowledge and highly qualified people to serve in its service. As a result, the University of Technology (1908) and the School of Business (1911) were established separately from the University under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Under the Philosophical Faculty of the University, an agricultural-economic department (1902) was established to promote teaching and research in the agricultural and forestry sectors. The department quickly developed into its own agro-forestry faculty (1924).

The strong growth of student numbers at the turn of the century and the establishment of higher education institutions sparked a debate on university education outside Helsinki. The funds were collected by citizens to create two new universities in Turku. However, World War I broke these plans and the Swedish-speaking Åbo Akademi (1919) and the Finnish University of Turku (1922) were only established by the independent Republic of Finland.

At the end of the First World War (1914-17), Finland gained independence from the Russian Empire. The university was once again able to adapt to the new situation. By a decree in February 1919, its name was changed to the University of Helsinki. In the same year, K. J. Ståhlberg, Professor of Administrative Law at the University, was named the first President of the Republic.

The university also took on the task of a national education project in independent Finland. Science was directed to promote the construction of a new nation and social development. The sciences that the new state needed to survive and prosper were strongly developed. These included, for example, state, pharmaceutical, folk, forest and agrarian science. Science supported national ideology and justified the independence of Finnish society and the birth of a new nation. One of the cornerstones of the White-side politics that won the Finnish Civil War (1917-18) was the spread of education and civilization among the people; this would prevent future developments such as civil war.

The Senate of Finland took over the power previously vested in the emperor over the university. Thus, the university was not placed directly under the top leadership of the country, the president; the position of emperor and chancellor was replaced by the Minister of Education and Church Affairs and the Government of the Republic. Section 77 of the Administrative Form of the Republic of Finland provided that the University was allowed to retain its autonomy. In the future, the Chancellor should also be a representative of the university in relation to the state authority. The Chancellor was also granted the right to participate in the Council of State meetings when matters concerning the university were discussed. The operating principles of the University of Helsinki were recorded in new statures in 1924.

Immediately after the independence, the foreign representation of the Republic of Finland was largely built on the University of Helsinki. The university’s professors and researchers had the necessary language skills and cultural knowledge for the work, as well as extensive international connections. The university's teachers also played a very central role in the Parliament and the Government. Half of the Prime Ministers of Finland in 1918-1944 were university professors. Finland’s extended administrative machinery, educational institution, army and business also needed academically trained persons for their service. The need to increase academic education was great.

However, the Republic of Finland had great difficulty in financing the university’s activities. In the absence of funds, new university positions could not be established and research projects could not be supported. Science was in crisis. Many researchers switched fields, moved to industry and administration, or moved abroad. In the early 20th century, the development of Finnish science was at risk. When it turned out that Finland was lagging behind in the rapid development of science, some ministries, funds and both domestic and foreign foundations began to fund part of the university’s research.

Since 1924, the university consisted of five faculties. They were theological, legal, medical, philosophical and agricultural-forestry faculty. The Faculty of Philosophy was divided into two departments: Historical-Language and Mathematical-Natural. In the early 20th century, nearly two-thirds of the students were enrolled at the Faculty of Philosophy. The situation gradually changed as the new fields of study in other faculties stabilized. By the mid-20th century, the focus of university education shifted from the humanities and social sciences to techinacl, natural and medical sciences.

In 1920, the University of Helsinki had 56 actual professors. By 1930, 30 possitions were added. The total number of teaching positions was 142 in 1920 and 256 in 1940. By separating disciplines, establishing new positions in new fields and establishing additional professorships research and teaching was diversified. Part of the reason for the increase in the number of positions was the establishment of parallel positions in Swedish and Finnish, which resulted from language disputes that had manifested quite radically at the university.

The university’s premises were also expanded. New facilities were built in Siltavuorenpenkere and Töölö, and a longer-term construction plan was made for both the extension of the main building and the construction of Metsätalo, the odontological-serological facility and the women’s clinic.

The number of students started to rise sharply in the late 1920s. In 1930, the number of students present exceeded 5,000. In the early 1930s, Finland was one of the countries with the highest number of higher education students compared to the population.

With the independence of Finland, the University of Helsinki was the only university in the Republic. Two new universities were soon established alongside it; Åbo Akademi (1919) and the Finnish University of Turku (1922) as well as new higher education institutions, which soon provided a significant contribution to the scientific community in the country.

The Second World War and rebuilding the society

World War II cut off the university's activities for several years. After the war, the relationship between the university and its surrounding society changed.

In December 1939, Winter War stopped teaching and research at the University of Helsinki. Serviceable men were assigned to the army and university collections were evacuated. In the Winter War, 520 young researchers and students were killed. During the Continuation War (1941-44), the university did its best to give students the opportunity to study anyway. Reading packages and even guest lecturers were sent to the front. Even then the war meant the interruption of studies for many people. After the wars, returning to lecture halls was a major challenge for many. In the 1944 Helsinki air bombings, the university's main building was hit, where, for example, the original works of art in the festive hall were destroyed. In 1940, Marshal Mannerheim handed over the Finnish Cross of Liberty to the University for its patriotic contribution.

After the end of World War II, the Allied ordered Finland to pay war compensation. Between 1944 and 1952, the political climate was inflamed. However, the wars had strengthened the image of the national solidarity between classes. The University contributed to the post-war goal of the state to build a powerful social state in which social equality would be realized.

After World War II, Western countries generally believed that economies with a good research system would be able to respond to economic fluctuations caused by global economy and market. Scientific knowledge would ensure economic, political and cultural competitiveness. This changed the relationship between the university’s scientific community and the world around it. The society surrounding the university became increasingly determined to direct the science practiced within the university. The university settled in support of the government's ideas on the nature and function of research.

Science developed at a staggering rate; in 1953 the structure of the DNA molecule was found and in 1969 man landed on the Moon. After World War II, the nature of the research also changed when collaborative projects carried out by large research groups partially replaced previous individual research. Throughout Europe, major projects, called "Big Science",  were launched. They were funded by state or private companies, managed centrally and employed dozens, even hundreds of researchers at a time. Significant scientific breakthroughs were expected from the projects and the division of labour between their researchers was clearly defined.

Large international research projects often produced valuable new basic research knowledge and economic innovations. Finnish scientists were happy to participate in this new frontier of science. However, Finland did not have the financial resources in the 1950s to implement the creation of laboratories and research groups that would require large investments. The first Big Science project in which Finland participated was a peaceful research project launched by U.S. President Eisenhower in 1955 in the field of atomic energy and nuclear physics. The project was attended by researchers and experts from the University of Helsinki, the University of Technology, the Academy of Finland, other research institutes and major power companies.

The Finnish scientific community strongly believed in the Western scientific tradition. As a result of the globalisation of research, the aim was no longer to create only Finnish science. The connections were strengthened by increasing trips abroad, which enabled the latest research data to be obtained in Finland and the knowledge of Finnish scientific achievements to spread beyond the borders of the country.

Gradually Finnish science began to reach an international peak. In 1936, the Finnish mathematician L. Ahlfors received the Fields Medal, 1945 Professor A. I. Virtanen Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Professor Ragnar Granit awarded the Nobel Medical Prize in 1967. In the same year (1945), a long-planned new faculty of political science was established at the University. In the years following the war, the Academy of Finland (1948) was also established, which soon became a national symbol of Finnish science. As a link between the tops of science and art, it developed into a powerful financial institution for science.

Building Finnish Welfare

In the 1950s, Finnish society experienced major changes in economic and social structures. These included the construction of the welfare state, a change in the economic structure, population growth and a breakthrough in modern technology. At the same time, social policy reforms and economic growth were combined and social activities were planned.

Science was now seen as a significant productive force and research was seen as a key factor in the economic growth. Education was considered an investment that would pay itself back many times over. It also sought to alleviate social ills and to compensate for disparities in development between the different regions of the country. All of this had a significant impact on the University of Helsinki.

In the 1960s, state higher education and science policy was introduces and as a result,  the Finnish higher education institution expanded in an unprecedented way. The number of professors increased sevenfold, students ninefold, and university education spread into a nationwide network. In addition to the two universities of Helsinki and Turku, the universities of Tampere (1925), Jyväskylä (1934), Vaasa (1968), Oulu (1959), Joensuu (1969), Kuopio (1972) and Lapland (1979) were founded.

This was also an internationally significant regional expansion of the higher education institution. These "motors of regional development" were also aimed at solving the educational needs of the new age groups. The University of Helsinki maintained its character as a national university which attracted students from all over the country. The university in the capital region attracted students, for example, with a wide range of study opportunities and the country’s largest labour market.

The number of students grew sharply from the late 1950s as the post-war baby boomers began to study. In general, the increased desire to study and the demand for qualified workforce strengthened the development. Compared to other higher education institutions, the relative share of the University of Helsinki of new students decreased.

In 1945, 75% of all new university students in the country were placed at the University of Helsinki. In 1950, their share was 59%, in 1970 29% and in 2000 only 20% .Despite this, the growth in the number of students at the University of Helsinki was so high that it was forces to limit the number of new students in all the faculties in the 1960s.

The University of Helsinki was by far the largest institution providing academic education in Finland. In 1954, the university had 135 actual professorships as well as 28 additional professorships and students of about 9,600. In total, the universities and institutions of higher education in the country had 301 professorships and 16,000 students at the time. The number of teachers soon increased. The number of professors and assistant professors increased in the period from 1965-75 261 to 399, the number of lecturers and teachers from 96 to 239, and the number of assistants from 277 to 602. The number of teachers and students in 1954 would increase tenfold by the end of the century.

In connection with the expansion of the higher education institutions, active higher education policy planning, reflecting the spirit of the time, was launched. Unlike other countries, the students were the initiators of planning in Finland. Until the 1950s, university policy had been led by professors at the University of Helsinki. Since the 1960s, the Ministry of Education also sought to participate in the planning and guidance of higher education and research. In the 1970s, the Ministry of Education developed into a real force in higher education policy and the era was marked by tensions between universities and the ministry.

1965-75 was a major period of change at the University of Helsinki, characterized by ideological and political turmoil. The student revolution that began in Western Europe and the United States also spread to Finland. There was a contradiction between traditions and radical ideas, the most spectacular manifestation of which in Helsinki was the takeover of the Old Student House in 1968.

The university world became politicized and student radicalism proletarized into the force of the class struggle against capitalism between 1970 and 1971. One of the objectives of the student movement was to democratize university administration by transferring decision-making power from professors to students and other staff. After a long period of conflict, a tripartite system was implemented in the administration of the University of Helsinki in the 1990s, in which professors and assistant professors, other staff and students received each third of the seats in the administrative bodies. This was an essential change in the university’s traditional power structure.

The power struggle was also fought between researchers and the Ministry of Education, represented by the political system, on the independence of teaching and research and on the freedom of teaching of teachers. In the 1960s, there was a strong belief in the efficiency achieved through design, steering and harmonisation. The working groups set up by the state administration presented plans for the development of the country's higher education institution. Their starting point was that science had been lagging behind general development in Finland, which could be corrected, for example, by means of research training and long-term planning. The aim was also to shorten study periods and reduce the number of students who dropped out of their studies.

A number of in-depth degree reforms were carried out at the university and study guidance and counselling were launched. The university received additional tasks when performance management, reporting and evaluation systems were introduced. The central administration of higher education institutions was centralized in the Ministry of Education and a common university law was passed for all universities in 1992.

In the 1960s, there was also a significant increase in the number of researchers. In the early 1960s, the activities of the researcher were established, i.e. a professional body of researchers was created. The university administration, which had remained relatively small in the past, also grew significantly. In the 1960s, the University of Helsinki also received the first full-time press officers. The university's domestic publicity increased significantly. The visibility of Finns in the international scientific community also increased as Finns participated and organised international seminars, congresses, symposiums and related publications..

In 1972, Finland moved to the primary school system and the class teacher training was transferred entirely to universities. To this end, a new Department of Educational Sciences was established at the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Helsinki in 1974.

In addition, the university acquired research and field stations around the country to meet mainly research needs in the natural sciences. Today, the network of university field stations extends from Hanko in the south to Kilpisjärvi in Lapland.

One of the top universities in the world

At the turn of the millennium, the university underwent significant renewal and became one of the best multidisciplinary research universities in the world.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the faculty division of the university changed more than in the entire history of the university combined. In 1992, the departments of the Faculty of Philosophy were elevated to their own faculty: the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Science and the Faculty ofEducational Sciences. The Faculty of Philosophy now lives only during conferment ceremonies.

In 1995, the School of Veterinary Medicine was incorporated into the University as a Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. In 2004, the Faculty of Pharmacy, Bioscience and Behavioral Sciences began operations, the latter replacing the Faculty of Educational Sciences. Today, the university consists of eleven faculties.

In the 1980s, the rapid development of information technology and global communication, as well as the accelerating international competition, changed the essence of the scientific community and the weight of the university's disciplines. Areas such as information technology, medicine and applied natural sciences grew rapidly.

In 1987, the University of Helsinki was the first to register the Internet address helsinki.fi and in 1991 Linus Torvalds, a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, would code and publish the Linux operating system. In 1997, the first dissertation in electronic form appeared.

At the end of the 20th century, the university began to conclude more research agreements with external parties such as governmental scientific commissions, large research institutes and other public sectors, as well as private industry. In the mid-1980s, the university had signed more than 100 research contracts. Approximately one third of the contracts concerned natural sciences and the other third applied natural sciences.

After the recession that shook the Finnish economy in the early 1990s, science and technology were increasingly seen as tools for national competitiveness that would produce innovations that would be economically exploitable. State research and development funds were directed specifically at applied and technological research.

The turn of the millennium was also characterised by a focus on narrower areas of special expertise. The concept of the Centre of Excellence, which emerged in the 1990s, with the main aim of strengthening the best-performing or best-performing research groups both nationally and internationally, brought the University of Helsinki among the top European universities.

Finland joined the European Union in 1995, but already in 1988, at the 900th anniversary of the University of Bologna, a pact was made between European universities on cooperation and joint development. As international mobility becomes easier, more and more Finnish students spend time abroad at some point in their studies through friendship and exchange agreements between different universities. Also it meant that the University of Helsinki received significantly more foreign students.

In 1992, the university joined the Erasmus Student Exchange Programme, which allowed the the acceptance of basic studies completed at another European university to be accepted also at the University of Helsinki. In 2005 the new degree structure under the Bologna Convention also entered into force at the University of Helsinki.

In the 21st century, the state implemented a university reform that increased the autonomy of universities. From the beginning of 2010, universities were formed as independent legal entities with greater opportunities to organize their economies and organizations as they wish and to conduct an independent personnel policy.

With the reform, nearly half of the members outside of the university community were elected to the Board of the University of Helsinki, all official relations were changed to employment relationships and the number of subject institutions decreased from 67 to 24.

In 2010, the university community consists of approximately 35,000 students and 500 professors, and the University of Helsinki is among the best multidisciplinary research universities in the world. In relation to other universities in the country, the University of Helsinki distinguishes itself by its scientific quality and diversity, as well as by its considerable number of students and teachers.

Between 2010 and current day, the University of Helsinki has been through a lot of changes. Small degree programmes consisting of one subjects have been transformed into broader programmes to meet the modern day requirements of multidisciplinary approach in science but in society as well. Also signifcant cuts and revisions have been made to the university's finances which has forced the university to seek more and more funding from outside sources (such as the European Union, independent companies and foundations) instead of the basic government funding. However, despite financial cuts, the University of Helsinki is still in the top 1% of the world universities and the leading traditional university in Finland.