Influence the Cities of Today and Tomorrow – Study in the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning

With its multidisciplinary approach and joint forces with Aalto University, the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning (USP) prepares students to become interdisciplinary experts in urban development.

To learn more about the USP programme, we talked to two students and one teacher from the programme. Mikko Saukkomaa from Finland and Eurídice Hernández from Brazil are current students in the programme. Venla Bernelius is Assistant Professor and Docent in Urban Geography at the Department of Geosciences and Geography and a member of the Helsinki Institute for Urban and Regional Studies (URBARIA).

Who is the Master's programme in USP for?

Venla Bernelius: In the USP programme, students can build a truly transdisciplinary understanding of cities through multiple perspectives, like urban sociology, geography, ecology and architecture. It’s a great programme for all students passionate about understanding urban life through various lenses and creating their own unique expertise on their chosen topic within the field.

Mikko Saukkomaa: My interest in cities grew through learning about their relevance to the formation of societies worldwide. I found social sciences too abstract to convincingly explain the growth and the decline of human settlements. Meanwhile, USP provided some settling logic to the chaotic spaces that we call our homes.

Euridice Hernandez: After I graduated with my bachelor’s in São Paulo, Brazil, I searched for a Master's in Urban Studies in Europe and limited my search to cities I believed were ahead in discussing urban topics and planning cities for people. In this search, I found the USP programme and became very interested in its multidisciplinary approach, which welcomes everyone interested in urban topics.

What is it like to study USP in practice?

Venla Bernelius: Many of our courses have direct links to ongoing research projects and topical societal questions. Students get to be connected to the very latest developing urban knowledge and even participate in doing research.

The programme is also well-connected to the URBARIA institute, a multidisciplinary research centre for urban and regional research. Many researchers in URBARIA regularly teach in various USP courses, and their networks and institutional connections to several municipalities are great for students wishing to get strong links to public and private actors outside academia.

Euridice Hernandez: The first year in the programme is quite structured as the courses help to create a common ground for all USP students. From the second semester onwards, we specialise in one of the three offered study tracks. I chose the study track USP Peoples: Urban Life, Economy and Cultures, which allows me to comprehend people's behaviour in the city and the impacts that urban development has on citizens' lives better.

Mikko Saukkomaa: The highly interdisciplinary collaboration is a constant theme running through the programme. USP offers an unusual mix of Helsinki University and Aalto University courses. Coming from a less technical background, working at Aalto University has given me particularly interesting lessons about design processes. Yet also the courses on geoinformatics and sociology offered by the University of Helsinki have been very valuable.

What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?

Venla Bernelius: Depending on the chosen topic of the student’s own interest, students can become anything from researchers to urban planners or consultants. Many have also started their own businesses, offering services from placemaking to feminist consultancy in planning.”

Euridice Hernandez: I came here knowing I wanted to keep working as a researcher and do a PhD to prepare myself to teach someday. The programme organises a thesis market every year, where students can learn more about different thesis topics and projects. Through this, I got a part-time position in a research project that is joined with many other universities in Europe. In this project, we discuss the topic of deradicalisation and public spaces in different countries – a fantastic opportunity for me to learn and network internationally!”

Mikko Saukkomaa: A great number of existing planners are due to retire in the near future, so there is a high demand for young talent across Finland. I look forward to working as a planner for the public sector or continuing as a researcher after graduation.

What is it like to study and live in Helsinki?

Euridice Hernandez: I enjoy that the university culture here is not very hierarchical – students and professors engage in horizontal discussions. This connection is immensely fruitful for me as I get to express my thoughts and gain more confidence in the learning process.

Mikko Saukkomaa: Having lived abroad with many things to worry about, I find Finnish student life relatively carefree. USP’s student organisation Mesta also offers various fun events to keep spirits up throughout the year.

The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning

The programme prepares students to excel as professionals capable of understanding and addressing complex urban development challenges. Students learn to address such challenges through a curriculum and pedagogical approach that includes interdisciplinary breadth as well as depth in core areas of knowledge, skill and practice. USP is a joint programme between the University of Helsinki and Aalto University.

There are three study tracks in the Master’s programme in Urban Studies & Planning:

  1. USP Plans: Urban planning and Design

  2. USP Peoples: Urban Life, Economy and Cultures

  3. USP Systems: Urban Ecologies and Systems