Finns add fresh air to the club house
It adopted the European university tradition, primarily following the German pattern. In 1828, the University was moved to Helsinki, growing fast as a new centre of administration. When Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia (1809-1917), the buildings erected for the University were impressive, considering the circumstances and national resources. The main building is still located in the city centre, opposite the Finnish house of government.
When Finland finally became independent in 1917, the University was renamed as the University of Helsinki. The University Act of 1923 guaranteed the University's autonomous position, and defined its duty to promote research and academic education of young people in Finland. Until 1919, the University was the only one in Finland and, even today, several disciplines such as Veterinary Medicine, Agiculture and a number of languages, are only offered by Helsinki.
Today there are four main campus areas in Helsinki: the City Centre (Theology, Law, Arts, Behavioural Science and Social Sciences), Meilahti (medicine), Kumpula (science), and Viikki (veterinary medicine, pharmacy and biosciences). The University also maintains research stations and training centres in other parts of the country, some as far north as Lapland.
Higher education in Finland began to expand rapidly after World War II. Today there are 20 universities and 174,000 university students in the country.In the 1960s, the number of students at the University grew rapidly, and the growth has continued ever since. Today, Helsinki has 38,000 students, of which 63 percent are women - a figure far above the European average - and some 2,000 international students.
The total staff is 7,300, including 3,500 teachers and researchers of which 700 are international teachers and researchers. There are more than 270 subjects taught and 350 doctoral theses, amounting to some 35 percent of the total in Finland. The current Rector is Professor Ilkka Niiniluoto, a distinguished philosopher, will serve as rector until 2008, and joined the Europaeum Council in 2004. "We are proud that the University of Helsinki today still has a special national standing because of its traditions, its bilingualism, its versatility and size, and its ability to attract students from all over the country and internationally," he explained.
Among the university's alumni are Finland's current President, Tarja Halonen, who studied Law, and numerous other current and past government ministers and notable figures, such as Paavo Lipponen (Speaker of the Parliament and former Prime Minister), Matti Vanhanen (current Prime Minister), Jukka Paarma (Archbishop of Finland), Helena Ranta (Professor of Forensic Dentistry, and UN expert in several genocide investigations including Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq), and Tuula Haatainen (current Minister of Education).
As a public higher education institution, the bulk of the University's funds come from the national budget, though increasingly income for research, teaching and administration comes from other sources, currently accounting for one third of the total budget of ?455M. At present, there are no tuition fees for students. Admission to higher education in Finland is based on the results of the annual entrance examinations and the matriculation examinations taken at the end of the upper secondary school. One in four of all applicants are admitted, including many of the brightest in the country.
As Professor Thomas Wilhelmsson, Vice-Rector for Swedish and international affairs, and member of the Europaeum Conuncil, explained: "Helsinki, perhaps the most versatile of Finland's higher education institutions, is committed to developing innovative ways of thinking, high quality research, and teaching and co-operation.
"We also act as a medium for transmitting new ideas to the Finnish society for the well-being of society as a whole. Research and researcher training remain prominent activities as outlined in the University's current Strategic Plan (2004-2006)."
Academic research and the higher learning that rests upon it are the two basic functions of the University of Helsinki. Research conducted in faculties and separate institutions covers all fields represented at the University.
Teaching and research are carried out in 11 faculties, divided into various departments and institutes: Theology, Law, Medicine, Arts, Science, Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences, Agriculture and Forestry, Veterinary Medicine, Biosciences and Pharmacy. Some notable Institutes in the Humanities and Social Sciences are the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (see web link at end).
Some 50 percent of the University's research is financed by the University's operating expenditure; the rest is financed by external funds, most from public sources, including the Academy of Finland, the National Technology Agency of Finland, the Ministries, and the EU. In the past few years, commercialisation of research results has increased, and new forms of co-operation with business and industry have been developed. For example, the University of Helsinki is part of Helsinki Business and Science Park - HBSP (http:// www.hbsp.net/en_GB/).
The HBSP provides a dynamic business environment with a diversified research and expert network, including a Centre of Expertise within biotechnology, drug development and diagnostics, and food and environmental technology. Among other collaborative contributions, Helsinki manages the ongoing international research project on possible health effects of mobile phones. The project is an extremely example of the University's Strategic Partnership Management activities, incorporating Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia and other partners in research.
11 out of the 16 national Centres of Excellence nominated by the Academy of Finland for 2002-2007 are either based at the University or are joint projects at the University.
In recent years, the University has set up a number of graduate schools, where young researchers can concentrate on four-year doctorates. Many schools also have national coordination in the field and have intensified their focus on postgraduate education and worked to national coordination in the field. The Career Services of the University of Helsinki acts as a link between studies and working life. With their help employers can advertise job opportunties to university students, offer traineeships or sponsor Master's theses (see web link at end).
Finnish university teaching is based upon research, thus research is included in studies even at the undergraduate level. The independent nature of university studies in Finland allows for considerable freedom of choice in most fields, and therefore requires student initiative and individual work. Students in most fields are usually free to decide the pace of their studies, and graduation times vary considerably. Many students also combine their studies with work, either for financial reasons or to gain work experience related to their field of study.
Two years ago, the University completed an international evaluation by external experts of its teaching and degree programmes. The following strengths were found:
Teaching and students of good European standard;
Theses and dissertations above European Standards;
High research standards providing good resources for teaching and research;
Increased international activities' have yielded good results;
Teachers and students 'are motivated';
Many fields 'strongly oriented' towards teaching; and
Libraries are of 'a high quality'.
The University is officially bilingual, Finnish and Swedish being the languages of instruction. However, more and more teaching is offered in English. All faculties offer study opportunities for international students, and the number of courses increase every year.
International relations at the University are based both on personal contacts between members of the academic staff and on agreements between governments, universities, faculties and departments. The university has concluded bilateral agreements with approximately 80 universities world-wide and it has 350 Socrates/Erasmus partner universities across Europe. It is also involved with ALFA, ISEP, Jean Monnet, Leonardo da Vinci, Nordplus and Tempus.
Internationalisation is among the key priorities of the University. In 2003, the University Senate approved and adopted the International Action Plan 2004-2006. The plan covers all aspects of the university, and proposes measures for increased international activities. Among these are increasing the number of student participating in student exchanges to 25 percent; increasing the number of international degree-seeking students; hiring more international staff; and promoting internationalisation throughout the University.
Like much of Europe, Helsinki is also actively participating in preparing for the Bologna process. From August 2005, the new legislation requires all Finnish universities to implement the new degree structures.
The Univeristy of Helsinki is currently preparing several new master's programmes in, including, bioinformatics, history, computer science, and forestry. Some of these programmes will be done jointly with international partners; as the University has an orientation towards research and researcher training, it is also likely that in the near future we will see initiatives for joint doctoral programmes as well.
For more information see: English Courses - www.helsinki.fi/english/ courses/; Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies www.helsinki.fi/ collegium/eng/home.htm; the Renvall Institute www.helsinki.fi/hum/ renvall/english/index.html; and the Center for European Studies www.valt.helsinki.fi/vol/eu/index.htm.'