Structure, content and courses

The credit requirement for the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning is 120 ECTS credits, which can be completed in two years.

Please note that the programme requires full-time studying.

The USP 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. The programme balances theoretical, historical and conceptual knowledge with the acquisition of methods, skills and experiences. Thus, students gain a broad understanding of urban phenomena as well as practical experiences in collaborative and concrete situations. This is the basis both of the structure of the programme and of elements in the curriculum.

All teaching is given in English. Exams can also be taken in Finnish or Swedish, and the Master’s thesis can be written in English, Finnish or Swedish.

Please note that at the University of Helsinki, USP students can graduate from four different target degrees. The target degree is selected in the application process and cannot be changed later. Students will be appointed a tutoring teacher from their home faculty who will help the students to draft their two-year study plan. Below you find the programme structure and curriculum explained in detail.

Overview of programme structure

The curriculum of 120 credits (ECTS) consists of:

  • Core skills and methods coursework (20 credits)
  • Core Urban Challenge Studios (20 credits)
  • Specialisation module (20 credits)
  • Electives (25 credits)
  • Master's seminar (5 credits)
  • Master’s thesis (30 credits) 
Core skills and meth­ods course­work (20 ECTS)

Core skills for professional practice and research are offered as basic courses during the first Autumn semester. This includes skills relevant to digital representation, analysis and communication, modalities and techniques of communication and argumentation, research methods and methodologies of academic research. Students will learn, for example, how to use digital tools to analyse and study urban phenomena and how to illustrate ideas and solutions visually and graphically. They will also become familiar with classic urban research and planning theories as well as most recent urban studies. The core studies include:

  • Introduction to Urban Studies & Planning (10 ECTS)
  • Urban GIS and Visual Tools (5 ECTS)
  • Research Methods (5 ECTS)
Core Urban Chal­lenge Stu­dios (20 ECTS)

Common urban challenge studios integrate multiple expert areas to study and address contemporary urban phenomena from different perspectives. Urban challenge themes are explored theoretically through perspectives from the different areas and are addressed practically through experiential learning within specific cases, sites or initiatives. Teachers represent key disciplinary areas and professions, and studios are conducted in cooperation with partners in research and municipalities. Examples of urban challenge themes include:

  • Urban economies and the challenge of governance and welfare
  • Social integration and the challenge of urban typologies and heritage
  • Livability and the challenge of a high-speed and global cities
  • Socio-Ecological habitats and the challenge of densification

Urban Challenge Studio 1 (10 ECTS) takes place on Fridays during the first autumn semester with an annually changing theme. In 2017, the studio's theme was "Confused suburban identities" and in 2018 "Trans-urbanism". The studio includes a kick-off excursion, which offers the new USP students an opportunity to get to know each other and to gain first-hand knowledge of (sub)urban development in the context of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. The work done in the Urban Challenge Studio 1 concludes in an annual book. Read more about the first ever USP publication!

Urban Challenge Studio 2 (10 ECTS) takes place in the first spring semester and is more advanced in terms of the breadth and depth of research and planning skills and applications. The challenge-driven educational model of the studio crosses disciplines and specializations, prioritizing design thinking, learning-by-doing experimentation, transdisciplinarity and solving societal challenges. The students will produce research exploration. 

  • In 2018, the theme was "Helsinki-Nanjing - a tale of two cities" and included an international excursion to China. Read more about the excursion here!
  • In 2019, the theme was "Talsinki/Hellinna: Twin Cities or Pair of Cities?" and included international excursions to Tallinn, Estonia, and to Copenhagen, Denmark. The students even got to visit the world-famous Architect, Jan Gehl!
Spe­cial­is­a­tion module (20 ECTS)

The three interdisciplinary specialisation modules offer courses for students to specialise within one of three competence areas foundational to the broad field of urban studies and planning: plans, people and systems. Students choose to follow one study line during their first year Spring semester and the courses are expected to be completed during the same semester. One course in each study line can be substituted to a course from another study line.

Both universities offer courses for each study line, which will be adapted to support the advancement of students with various background knowledge and skills. Courses cover topics such as urban geography, urban sociology, urban ecology, urban economics, urban ethnology and history, environmental policy, urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture, real estate economics, service and strategic design. The study-line specific courses include:


Urban Planning and Design addresses urban development by integrating the knowledge, skills and pedagogical approaches of both planning and design and by developing synergies across multiple disciplines. The constructive power of design to imagine, structure, visualize and communicate is combined with the analytic rigour and critical understanding of planning and urban governance history, methodologies and tools. USP Plans develops and deepens such foundational skills while advancing professional capabilities through challenge-based learning within concrete cases, multi-disciplinary collaboration, and learning-by-doing experimentation. USP Plans includes:

  • USP-344 Urban and Regional Development (5 ECTS)
  • USP-345 Participatory Planning (5 ECTS)
  • USP-346 Planning theory (6 ECTS)
  • USP-347 Urban Economics (6 ECTS)
  • ECGS-903 Urban Ecosystem Ecology (5 ECTS)
  • GEOG-342 Geographies of inequalities (5 ECTS)


Urban Life, Economy and Cultures addresses urban development by integrating analysis of socio-economic, digital and physical structures with planning. Theories and methodologies from the social and political sciences are explored and applied. Socio-spatial dynamics change are in focus, including influences of policies and markets, actors and structures, decision-making processes, social mixing and demographics. USP Peoples develops and deepens foundational studies while advancing professional capabilities through challenge-based and collaborative learning including situated municipal and field studies.USP Peoples includes:

  • USP-321 Urban Social Studies (5 ECTS)
  • USP-322 Urban and Planning History (5 ECTS)
  • USP-323 Designing for Urban Governance and Services (5 ECTS)
  • USP-324 Urban Experience (5 ECTS)
  • GEOG-316 Political geographies of urbanization and planning (5 ECTS)
  • GEOG-321 Urban dynamics and neighborhood change (5 ECTS)


Urban Ecologies and Systems addresses urban development by integrating technical and natural science knowledge. This includes methodologies for studying, assessing and planning for social and ecological resilience, technological innovation and complex adaptive systems. It applies systems approaches to identify multi-dimensional planning while retaining a holistic perspective on the complex and historical dynamics affecting multiple scales. USP Systems develops and deepens such foundational studies while advancing professional capabilities through challenge-based and collaborative learning including urban, digital and ecological field studies. USP Systems includes:

  • USP-361 Complex Adaptive Systems (5 ECTS)
  • USP-362 Green Area Planning (5 ECTS)
  • USP-363 Digital Urban (5 ECTS)
  • ECGS-906 Urban Climate (5 ECTS)
  • ECGS-903 Urban Ecosystem Ecology (5 ECTS)
  • GEOG-342 Geographies of inequalities (5 ECTS)
Elect­ives (30 ECTS)

Students can select elective courses according to their personal study plan. Electives can be used to deepen the student’s knowledge in their own study area and target degree, or to broaden exposure to additional areas relevant to planning. Courses can also include those in other Finnish universities, student exchange abroad, language courses, or an internship. 

Recommended elective courses include:

  • Urban book club
  • European metropolitan cultures
  • Capstone project
  • Planned and Experienced City
  • Names and urbanity and urban planning
  • Social Justice and the City
  • Making of a city: Urban politics
  • City and Culture
  • USP Field course
  • Topical issues in urban studies
  • The land question and sustainable urban development
  • Cities in the Global South
  • Land Management
  • Environmental Law
  • Smart and Liveable City Studio
  • USP Traineeship
Master's thesis (30 ECTS) and Master's seminar (5 ECTS)

The Master’s thesis (30 credits) is a piece of applied research conducted independently by the student. The key goal is to solve a problem relevant to the field of study, based on existing scientific knowledge and in compliance with the principles of responsible conduct of research.

The thesis process usually takes one semester of full-time work, including data collection, analysis and writing. The topic is agreed upon between the student and the supervising professor. Students make a research plan and follow it with the guidance from their supervisors.

Read more in detail about the requirements and check out some theses written by the USP graduates.

Students participate in the Master's seminar (5 credits), where they give presentations about their thesis work in various stages, take part in discussions, and act as opponents during the seminar. In addition, students receive guidance on their thesis work and writing.

Preliminary list of courses

You can check out the preliminary list of courses offered by the University of Helsinki at Instructions for students -webpages.

Published courses can be checked from the Courses -pages: Check out the published courses.