Education Utopias: Comparing China and the Nordic Countries Interculturally

Helsinki Summer School 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note that Helsinki Summer School 2021 will not be arranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. Students of any field who have an interest in comparative education with an emphasis on China and the Nordic countries. No background in education studies needed.


This brand new course examines how the two educational systems of China and the Nordic countries intersect. China and the Nordic countries are often contrasted by the media, by researchers and by decision-makers. Past years have also witnessed a growth of interaction and intersection between China and the Nordic countries in many and varied educational fields, including joint research, publications and mobility initiatives at different educational levels.

Due to the request of stimulating innovation in education from the Chinese government, educational institutions in China are interested in adopting ‘good’ practices from the Nordic countries, which are known for placing equality and social justice at the core of most societal issues. Furthermore, an increasing number of PhD projects are also being conducted on different aspects of Chinese education from the perspectives of the Nordic countries and vice versa.

This rise of mutual interests calls for attention in educational studies. The media also often present these countries as education superpowers, with Shanghai and Finland on top of the OECD PISA studies. In order to compare these two utopias, the course rejects a simplistic approach that presents both spaces as culturally uniform, confronting ‘East’ and ‘West’ entities, and suggests an intercultural comparative and contrastive approach that is critical and reflexive in both theory and methodology. This does not solely concentrate on difference, but emphasises similarities, including studies on philosophical, conceptual and methodological issues. This nuanced approach to these two education utopias will appeal to students and scholars of Nordic and Chinese education as well as of globalisation and interculturality.


The course is led by Prof. Fred Dervin.

Teachers include:

  • Haiqin Liu, University of Helsinki
  • Ning Chen, University of Helsinki/Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts
  • Mei Yuan, Minzu University of China


The students learn to critically examine Chinese and Nordic education from reflexive and critical intercultural perspectives, questioning global preconceptions and myths regarding the two utopias;

  • they have a good understanding of the pros and cons of comparative education;
  • they are able to critique basic concepts related to comparative education;
  • they have acquired knowledge about how to discuss and examine a specific educational phenomenon across borders; and
  • they are able to transfer the knowledge acquired about comparing the two utopias to other contexts.


Lectures, workshops and discussions with specialists on Chinese and Nordic education. Group tasks will help to prepare for the final essay.


  •  Participation during lectures and in-class assignments (20%)
  • Group exercise (30%)
  • Final project (50%)


City Centre Campus

Preliminary schedule
Lecture 1 – Introduction to the course: What is comparative education? Pros and cons. Towards intercultural comparative and contrastive approach
Lecture 2 – Nordic education: an introduction
Lecture 3 – Chinese education: an introduction
Lecture 4 – Reviewing current comparative research and projects on Chinese and Nordic education
Lecture 5 – The two utopias and international rankings
Lecture 6 – Internationalisation of Chinese and Nordic education
Lecture 7 – Multicultural and Minority education
Lecture 8 – Special needs education
Lecture 9 – Teacher education and training
Lecture 10 – Students’ and teachers’ well-being
Lecture 11 – Vocational education
Lecture 12 – What did we learn? Revising our preconceptions about the two utopias


  • Liu, H., Dervin, F. & Du, X. (Eds.). Nordic-Chinese Intersections within Education. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Dervin, F. & Simpson, A. (2019). Transnational Edu-Business in China: A Case Study of Culturalist Market-Making from Finland. Frontiers of Education in China 14(1): 33–58.
  • L, Y. & Dervin, F. (2019). Constructions of Social Justice, Marginalization, and Belonging. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.132