In autumn 2017, the University of Helsinki admitted its first students who must pay tuition fees for their education. How did the University welcome them?

Lilia Orozco Ramírez, Master’s student of geology and geophysics, did not worry about distance when she was selecting a Master’s programme last winter. Orozco had wanted to study ecology and the water cycle ever since she was an upper-secondary school pupil, so she was more interested in the university’s research focus areas and good reputation.

 “I hadn’t thought about how far away Finland was until I was on the plane after the second stopover,” Orozco laughs. She came to Helsinki from Mexico.

Orozco is one of the 65 students from outside the EU and the EEA who arrived this autumn as the University of Helsinki’s first tuition-paying students. The University received Master’s students from a total of 46 different countries.

Miho Otaki, student of chemistry, came to Helsinki from Japan.

 “I applied to the University of Helsinki because I wanted to study radiochemistry, which is not available in Tokyo. Here there is an entire series of courses on the topic,” Otaki says.

Both Otaki and Orozco considered other Nordic universities, such as Lund and Uppsala.

 “I chose the University of Helsinki because Finland has a strong environmental culture, and the research done at the University seemed good,” Orozco says.

Before applying, she investigated where the researchers of the Master’s programme were publishing and what their publications were like, and browsed through listings of what different universities had to offer.

Difficult language and challenging climate?

Orozco and Otaki have both begun their studies in the new English-language Master’s programmes. Even though most of the existing students are continuing to pursue their studies under the old degree structures, the newcomers have been welcomed into the fold.

 “The peer tutor can give us advice about everything, and the University is providing good support for international students in general. It’s impossible to get lost here because there’s always someone you can ask for help,” Orozco explains.

To her, Helsinki seems like a safe and functional city where it is easy to move around. The most difficult thing to get used to has been the climate.

 “But there’s always something to get used to when you start a new stage of your life,” Orozco states.

Before moving to Finland, Otaki was most nervous about learning Finnish. But she found that the intensive Finnish class helped her grasp the basics, and strangers are helping her get through daily life.

 “Strangers are eager to offer help at the grocery store, for example.”

Approachable professors

In addition to Finnish design and the forests of Helsinki’s Central Park, Orozco and Otaki praise the teaching.

 “The professors are very encouraging. They’re open and helpful, and really seem to want to teach.  It’s easy to go talk to them, it’s very different than in Japan,” Otaki says.

Orozco is similarly impressed by the professional skills of the professors, but also the study facilities.

 “The laboratories are very nice, Student Services has helped me with everything, and I’ve gotten to use new computer programs,” she lists.

Both of them also appreciate the expertise and know-how of the academic staff.

The director of the Master’s Programme in Chemistry and Molecular Sciences, Professor Lauri Halonen, considers his programme a success in terms of content.

 “I think the course selection is excellent. We have a broad range of topics, and we’ve taken the scientific interests of our docents into account.”

As the teaching is developed further, Halonen hopes to add more practical courses.

 “People forget what they read or hear, but remember what they do in the laboratory.”

A community of the best

The University of Helsinki has focused on the international dimension during the past few years. This is apparent in the Master’s programme reform, but also in the Helsinki Programme, which includes welcoming incoming international students at the airport.

Otaki participated in the Helsinki Summer School in August, before beginning her studies proper. The Summer School is primarily intended for international students.

Professor Lauri Halonen emphasises that the University of Helsinki must recruit the best possible students. This means that international students must be treated well.

 “The Finns are a small people, and we don’t have enough good students to go around. We need international support.”