Coronavirus year 2020: A record number of degrees and significant cost savings

In 2020 the coronavirus pandemic affected teaching, research and finances. Thanks to cost reductions generated by the exceptional circumstances, the University’s operating result improved. Continued financial stability requires careful cost management.

A total of 31,564 students were enrolled at the University of Helsinki in 2020. A record number of degrees, 8,934, were completed, which is 2,792 more degrees than in 2019. This increase was caused by the end of the transition period associated with the degree programme reform. At the same time, the mean duration of degree studies grew, since many of the graduates had been studying for a long time. The total number of credits completed in 2020 was 1.3 million, roughly 180,000 more than in 2018.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on University operations were varied, with teaching organised mainly online from March to the end of the year. In order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, the Ministry of Education and Culture asked the higher education institutions involved in the student admission procedure of the spring to increase their student intake. The University of Helsinki added 428 student places to its intake, and admissions were carried out with exceptional arrangements.

Nearly three-quarters of publications undergo the scholarly peer review process

The number of completed publications was 10,664, of which 73% were peer-reviewed scholarly publications and 27% publications associated with public engagement. The percentage shares remained unchanged from the previous year. While the annual increase in the number of scholarly peer-reviewed publications that began in 2017 plateaued in 2020, their number was still above the mean for the three previous years.

Measures to promote open-access publishing have borne fruit: as many as 69% of all peer-reviewed scientific articles were published in open-access channels or were self-archived in the University of Helsinki’s digital repository.

The University’s researchers again fared well in the calls for applications for ERC (European Research Council) funding: a Starting Grant was awarded to four researchers, an Advanced Grant to one and a Consolidator Grant to one researcher at the University of Helsinki. So far, the University has been awarded a total of 94 ERC grants, which means it ranks 18th among European universities in this regard.

Read more: Review of the strategy period 2017–2020 and the year 2020 (in Finnish). The annual review will be published in English in early June).

Operating result improves

The University’s operating result, or the result without taking investment activities into account, was €3.4 million in deficit. This is a considerably better result than in 2019, and also better than the one forecasted in the budget for 2020.

The University’s core funding grew by €13 million from 2019, contributing to the improved result. This addition was made possible by the government reinstating the university index and a part of previously cut funding to the university funding framework. In spite of this, the University of Helsinki’s core funding remains below the level of the period 2010–2016.

In addition, the result improved due to cost reductions generated by the exceptional circumstances brought about by the pandemic, as, among other things, travel was almost entirely suspended and service procurement was markedly reduced. At the same time, salary and facility costs remained unchanged from previous years.

Another effect of the exceptional circumstances was a reduction in external funding. The level of research funding was successfully preserved, but other external funding decreased by €9 million.

The result generated by investments and fundraising was €23.8 million, making the University’s overall result €20.4 million in the black.

“While the operating result for 2020 was good, University finances are not permanently balanced. The forecast for 2021 is still very much in deficit,” Rector Sari Lindblom points out.

The cost reductions are the result of a temporary drop in operations, in addition to which the realisation of some of the costs has only been delayed.

“Balancing the finances continues to require extremely careful planning and cost management. Moreover, it is important to ensure that the University’s result improves according to the indicators used in the Ministry of Education and Culture funding model,” Lindblom adds.

University of Helsinki result in 2010–2020 and forecast for 2021–2022, operations and funds

At the end of 2020, the number of University employees was 8,120, of whom more than 4,872 were teachers and researchers. Staff costs constituted almost two-thirds of the overall expenses. Another considerable expense are the facilities required for studying, research and other activities.

University of Helsinki rev­en­ues and ex­penses 2020

Investment activities boost self-sufficiency

At the end of 2020, the investment assets of the University of Helsinki totalled €534 million. According to the principles for responsible investment activities approved by the Board, the University invests responsibly, for example, by divesting investments in businesses that produce fossil fuels. Additionally, the goal for investment activities is to ensure that they yield good returns and positive performance in the long run, boost the University’s financial self-sufficiency, and guarantee continuous returns for donations. The University has published its investment plan, the annual report for investments in 2020, the monthly investment report and the annual report on responsible investments.

In 2020 Nanoform, a University spinout, went public. The University made an initial investment of roughly €300,000 in the company, while its market valuation in conjunction with the listing exceeded €20 million.

In 2020 the University of Helsinki established the HELSEED entrepreneurship programme, which aims to support and encourage students to transform their ideas into startups. In early 2021, the HELSEED endowment fund was established to support the programme, under which the first two investments were made in March 2021.

Fundraising is a way to improve the financial self-sufficiency of the University and gain funds in support of research and studying. In 2020 a new matched-funding term funded by the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and the Ministry of Education and Culture began. Matched funding means that additional funding will be awarded from dedicated funds by applying a coefficient to donations raised by the University.

Outlook for 2021

The year 2021 sees the beginning of the University’s new 10-year strategy period from 2021 to 2030. In 2021 the University’s government funding remains at the level of 2020. However, the funding is associated with a significant number of additional responsibilities, such as expanded student intake and an internationalisation programme. The forecast for the operating result for 2021 is €28 million in deficit. The number of degrees completed in 2020 is expected to increase the funds allocated to the University of Helsinki in 2022 under the Ministry of Education and Culture funding model, but after a record year, degree numbers will correspondingly drop. The University aims to expedite the completion of degrees.

The exceptional circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic continue in 2021, with the prolonged situation increasing the risk of delays in graduation and research projects.

Read more:

University finance


Human resources

  • 8,120 employees, of whom 4,717 were teaching and research staff
  • 1,532 international employees, of whom 1,321 were teaching and research staff as well as teaching staff of the teacher training schools
  • 27% of teaching and research staff as well as the teaching staff of the teacher training schools were international


  • 31,564 degree students
  • 1,941 international degree students
  • 8,934 degrees, including licentiate degrees and professional postgraduate degrees
  • 1.3 million completed credits
  • 31,192 applicants in the main admissions procedure
  • 4,140 new students
  • 65% of bachelor’s and master’s students were women
  • 60% of doctoral students were women


  • 10,664 publications, of which 73% peer-reviewed
  • 3,104 research projects
  • The University of Helsinki is currently involved in four of the Academy of Finland’s 10 Flagships.
  • Of the Centres of Excellence active in the Centre of Excellence Programmes of the Academy of Finland for 2014–2019 and 2018–2025, a total of nine were active at the University of Helsinki. Of these, seven were managed at the University of Helsinki.
  • 10 Academy of Finland professors
  • 9 researchers from the University of Helsinki on the Highly Cited Researchers list
  • €38 million in international research funding


  • 121 invention disclosures and 47 patent applications
  • 39,842 registered alumni
  • 301 events at Think Corner, with a total audience of approximately 60,000
  • €68 million in donations and pledges to the University from the For the World fundraising campaign
  • 42 million page visits on the website
  • 18,000 international media hits


  • 74th in the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities
  • In the top 0.5% of the 18,000 universities in the world