Academic Culture in Finland

Amber Musgrove-Benford (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Unsurprisingly, university systems – the lectures, examination formats et cetera – differ throughout the world, and Finland is no exception. It was one thing I immediately noticed and found myself having to adapt to at the beginning of my first Semester in Helsinki. 

As such, I’ve complied what I hope is a helpful list of what to expect when choosing to study in Finland:

  1. Module Length

A Law module in Manchester (in Years 1 and 2) typically runs from September until May, while occasionally, an optional module, if available, will tend to run for a semester. In Finland, however, courses can run for a minimum of two weeks – think a lecture a day for five days one week and the same the next – to a maximum of a month with the only real exceptions being language courses, which often will run for an entire Semester.  

There’s advantages and disadvantages to this, of course. For one, you avoid the difficulty of having to search back through a year’s work of notes for revision for exams or assignments, and there’s also an opportunity to study a far larger range of topics. For example, I studied five modules in my Second Year at UoM, while in Helsinki, I’m on track to have studied twelve by the time I return home. The downsides lie in the fact that study is far less in depth than it would be if stretched over a period of months, and as such, this is mirrored in credits; one module in Helsinki is worth only 5 ECTs (around 15 UK credits). The four “teaching periods” (each equating to around half a semester) and rolling enrolment for modules also means that you can choose modules based on what you previously enjoyed at any point throughout the year, and this sometimes means you may have the chance to return to a topic in much more depth.  

2. Assessment

Assessment style in Helsinki is very dependent on the courses that you choose to take. In my first semester, I only had two courses which were graded by examination, while the other four were essay-based. I personally didn’t mind this, quite enjoyed it in fact, but it’s worth noting a big change from the often 100% or 75% exam-based grades usually seen at Manchester. 

3. Essays

Essays in Finland can range between 2000 to 6000 words – almost the length of a law dissertation! – and usually hinge on a lot of independent research so it’s worth checking before you enrol a course what form the module assessment will take if essays aren’t for you. 

It can be very useful, especially if looking to do a dissertation on return to Manchester, to have a go at one of these “big essay” modules. It’s very good practice and utilises different skills to those you use in exams. 

However, if you’re still not convinced, it’s relatively easy to choose majority exam-based modules, or vice versa, so no fear! 

4. Exam Culture

One of the strangest things I found out regarding exams in Helsinki is that past papers are not a “thing.” Questions regarding, for example, exam format, often go unanswered by lecturers, and you will be lucky to find out what the type of questions, or even word counts for individual questions, are before the exam actually begins. This again is very dependent on lecturer, as some are willing to share expectations. It seems, however, after conversations with Finnish friends, that being told what an exam might look like is a novelty idea.

This was, at first, hard to get my head around, but I found a good amount of revision and approaching exam day with an open mind really did help when facing the unknown. 

I hope this is helpful to anyone curious about the academic system here in Finland. Happy studying!

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