The Master’s Programme in Russian Studies is coordinated by the University of Helsinki’s Aleksanteri Institute, Europe’s largest and most widely known institute of Russian studies. The programme is based on the research and specialist fields of the Aleksanteri Institute.
“This master’s programme does not focus solely on, for example, Russian history or policy, but uses a multidisciplinary approach to explore Russia. This is what distinguishes us from other similar master’s programmes,” says Sari Autio-Sarasmo, the programme director.
The Master’s Programme in Russian Studies was established in 2018, with the first students graduating in spring 2020. Autio-Sarasmo says that she and the other programme developers were given the opportunity to create a master’s programme from scratch based on the University’s new strategic guidelines.
“We decided to adopt a somewhat different pedagogical approach with a focus on phenomena and processes.”
Tailored studies close to Russia
According to Autio-Sarasmo, one of the assets of the programme is the close proximity of Helsinki to Russia. St Petersburg is just a three-hour train ride away.
The essential element of the programme is that it provides a wide range of job prospects. Students may end up working in international organisations, the media or as diplomats, to name but a few examples.
“We aim to tailor students’ studies according to their individual goals. For example, if someone wishes to become a researcher, we develop their knowledge and skills in areas that are useful for a research career,” Autio-Sarasmo states.
The Master’s Programme in Russian Studies is open to applicants with an educational background in the humanities or social sciences. Proficiency in Russian is also a major advantage.
“Students who are not proficient in Russian must agree to complete at least 15 credits of studies in the Russian language,” Autio-Sarasmo points out.
Forms of teaching range from lecture-based courses to group work. Teachers also use various innovative approaches, such as case-based learning and inquiry-based learning. Case-based learning is a well-established approach in which students work in groups with cases, stories or scenarios. Inquiry-based learning is a form of active learning that poses questions, problems or scenarios. The learning path is built on students’ insights. All courses share a multidisciplinary approach.
The studies include 20 credits of career studies implemented in various forms. The Master’s Programme in Russian Studies also cooperates actively with Russian universities and is currently planning excursions.
Autio-Sarasmo also notes that students who have progressed to the final stage of their studies will be able to take a 10-credit project-based course, which will serve as their calling card when entering employment.
A long career at the Aleksanteri Institute
Sari Autio-Sarasmo herself is a historian by training and has had a long and distinguished career at the Aleksanteri Institute.
“I’ve taught at the Aleksanteri Institute for years. I was accepted to the first doctoral school here in 1998 and completed my doctorate in 2002. Since 2004, I have worked in various positions at the Institute: as a junior researcher, senior researcher, head of development. And from the beginning of 2017 I have served as a university lecturer and the director of the Master’s Programme in Russian Studies,” she explains.
The guiding principle of the Master’s Programme in Russian Studies is that all those responsible for teaching must have a good understanding of university-level teaching and learning. In practice, this means that all teachers have completed courses on the topic.
“The idea is that we are able to use the latest knowledge about university-level teaching and learning that is available at the University of Helsinki – in other words, world-class pedagogical expertise. We have a culture of excellence here in Helsinki. All the teachers in the Master’s Programme in Russian Studies are well-known researchers who publish internationally. In addition, Helsinki is a safe, clean and welcoming place to live in.”