Programme Structure

The credit requirement for the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning is 120 ECTS credits, which can be completed in two years. At the University of Helsinki, USP students can graduate from four different target degrees:

  • Master of Science (Faculty of Bio and Environmental Sciences)
  • Master of Science (Faculty of Science)
  • Master of Social Sciences (Faculty of Social Sciences)
  • Master of Arts (Faculty of  Arts [Humanities])

The target degree is to be selected in the application process and cannot be later changed. 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 curriculum explained in detail.

Please note that the programme requires full-time studying.

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 module includes:

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 anually 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. See 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!


The three study lines offer courses for student to specialize within one of three competence areas foundational to the broad field of urban studies and planning. 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. Study-line specific courses include:


  • Planning Theory and Urban Studies (5 ECTS)
  • Urban Economics for Real Estate (5 ECTS)
  • Urban Transitions and Futures (5 ECTS)
  • Urban Ecosystems Ecology (5 ECTS)


  • Urban Social Studies (5 ECTS)
  • Designing for Urban Governance and Services (5 ECTS)
  • Urban and Planning History (5 ECTS)
  • Transnational Spaces of Planning and Politics (5 ECTS)


  • Complex Adaptive Systems (5 ECTS)
  • Green Urban Systems (5 ECTS) (Autumn 2019)
  • Digital Urban (5 ECTS)
  • Urban Ecosystem Ecology (5 ECTS)

The study line courses are expected to be completed during the first year Spring semester. Read more about the study lines here.

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. For architects and landscape architects, some electives will guarantee students’ development according to the EU directive for the professions. Courses can also include those in other Finnish universities, student exchange abroad or an internship. 

Recommended elective courses include:

  • Urban book club
  • Urban challenge studio 3 (read more about the course in autumn 2018 here!)
  • Master's seminar
  • European metropolitan cultures
  • Urban immaterial-soft systems
  • Planned and Experienced City
  • Recent Advances in Urban Geography
  • Digital Urban
  • Social Justice and the City
  • Urban Climates
  • Schools, education and advanced urban population dynamics

The master’s thesis (30 credits) is a piece of applied research conducted independently by the student. Its 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. Master’s theses are written on topics related to the advanced studies of the programme, agreed upon between the student and the supervising professor.

For more info about the thesis click here.