The first opening ceremony was held and 40 students began their studies on 4 October 1943. The school offered two study programmes, one in administration and the other focused on the care sector.
Before the association for social research and civic education established the school, extensive discussions had been held on its name, orientation and status. Some argued that the school should be of an academic nature and be named a higher education institution, whereas others called for a more practically oriented institution that would not compete with the Faculty of Social Sciences at Åbo Akademi University. As a result of these discussions, the institution was named Svenska medborgarhögskolan (lit. ‘Swedish higher education institution for citizens’).
Svenska medborgarhögskolan had no building of its own, but rented facilities from the Laguska school (1943–1953), the Hanken School of Economics (1953–1958) and the Swedish-language adult education centre in Helsinki (1958–1964).
While renting facilities from others (1943–1963), the school developed into an increasingly academic institution and, on 1 January 1964, its name was changed to the Swedish School of Social Science. That same year, at the beginning of September, the school moved to the first building of its own, located at Topeliuksenkatu 16 in the Töölö district of Helsinki. The new property had been designed by Professor Erik Kråkström specifically for the school and its needs.
In the 1960s and especially the 1970s, the Swedish School of Social Science was the subject of a wide range of higher education policy discussions. The school was tasked by the Ministry of Education with exploring conditions for a move to Ekenäs as a result of regional policy discussions. In connection with the development of the Finnish university and higher education system, the character and level of degrees was also explored at the Swedish School of Social Science. In 1978 the government decided that programmes leading to an undergraduate degree in social sciences would be planned and implemented at the Swedish School of Social Science. This required cooperation with Åbo Akademi University and the University of Helsinki.
In the budget negotiations of 1982, the Ministry of Education chose a new approach. In the budget for 1983, it was outlined that the government would survey the conditions under which the Swedish School of Social Science could be merged, as an independent Swedish-language institute, with the University of Helsinki. This survey led to the incorporation of the School into the University of Helsinki on 1 August 1984.
As a part of the University, development gathered pace, particularly in the area of research. The School was able to attract an increasing number of researchers, and soon not all staff could be accommodated at the Topeliuksenkatu premises. The School was again forced to rent premises. Research activities expanded, and in the late 1990s, forty or so researchers occupied rooms at the FISS research institute on Pohjoinen Hesperiankatu.
Dreams of a bigger building that would accommodate both teaching and research arose in the early 2000s. The School’s leadership explored various options and buildings that the University could possibly make available to the School. But when the University offered the School the opportunity to have a new building erected in the Kruununhaka district of Helsinki, next door to the Faculty of Social Sciences, the decision was easy. After an architectural competition, won by Juha Leiviskä with his entry ‘Trio’, construction began in 2008 and, in August 2009, the Swedish School of Social Science moved to the new building at Snellmaninkatu 12.
In 2016 the organisation of both research and education underwent changes at the Swedish School of Social Science. To strengthen its research profile, the School reformed its research organisation. What was previously a fragmented organisation comprising a research institute and several units and programmes was replaced by five thematic research networks. The goal of the clearer structure was to increase multidisciplinary cooperation and research funding. The Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, CEREN, is still in operation and now maintains one of the networks. CEREN was established in 1998 and is today the leading research community in its field in the Nordic countries.
In 2016 the University of Helsinki launched its comprehensive education reform, the Big Wheel. The reform also entailed the reorganisation of education at the Swedish School of Social Science into a bachelor’s programme in social science that offers two tracks, one in social work and the other in social science. At the same time, an entirely Swedish-language master’s programme in social science was established together with the Faculty of Social Sciences.
Today, the Swedish School of Social Science is a prominent Swedish-language centre of education and research in the social sciences in Finland. As a collective entity for Swedish-language activities at the University, the School also strengthens the University’s bilingual (Finnish- and Swedish-language) profile.