Finland: A view on one of the best university systems in the world
“Despite being a small nation, Finnish universities keep topping the world polls. So, what is it that they get so right?”
Finland is well-known for thinking outside the box in education, and its universities are no exception. The region’s focus on innovation appears to yield results, with Finnish universities recently ranked as the highest performing in the world. So, what exactly is it that they do so well? In my opinion, this can be roughly broken down into three broad categories.
- Strong support for quality teaching
Teaching is a respected profession in Finland, one that is extremely competitive to break into. Typically, fewer than 10% of applicants are accepted into the teacher training programme, five-year Master’s degree programmes are compulsory, and subject teachers are expected to carry out advanced academic studies in their field.
Finland’s teachers and lecturers are given great flexibility and freedom in their teaching styles too.
Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) embraces state-of-the-art teaching methods, for example, but teachers have autonomy for deciding how they are incorporated. Mika Pulkkinen, an educational technology designer at LUT, says: “We offer a number of complex courses so we’re always looking for ways to help students cement their knowledge. We don’t want to insist on any single method of teaching, but we do make sure staff feel confident to use technology if they want to.”
- Bringing learning opportunities directly to students
Autonomous teaching is one thing, but it’s of little use if students aren’t given options when it comes to how and when they learn. What if they are unable to access a lecture due to other commitments or unforeseen circumstances? This is where the balanced approach that Finland is well-known for comes in. Its schools prioritise multi-disciplinary knowledge and skills that encourage critical thinking, with plenty of time for play. At the university level, the focus is work/life balance.
Flexibility is key, with careful thought given to the latest tools designed to support students’ progress, such as online learning platforms and video streaming technology. At the University of Turku, a lecture capture solution is integrated into university life, so if a student happens to be sick and misses a lecture, they can watch a recording and catch-up. And the technology supports Tampere University students’ learning, wherever they are, as many combine studying with work.
“Forward-thinking, collaborative and flexible provision is a key consideration for Finnish universities”
If students live a long way from their university, they can feel part of the classroom via live streaming. And if they want to watch and re-watch an instructional video as part of their computer programming course, for example, they can do that too.
- Encouraging diversity and engagement
For universities anywhere in the world, remaining competitive means paying close attention to attracting, retaining and creating successful outcomes for students from a wide mix of different backgrounds and age groups. It’s a cultural truism that Finns believe passionately in equal rights, and this entails a continuous investment in environments that support and encourage diversity.
Therefore, forward-thinking, collaborative and flexible provision is a key consideration for Finnish universities. It’s not enough to simply document what has happened in a lecture if you can use the same technology to provide a host of interactive tools that can increase student engagement.
And the Finnish teaching profession is not averse to shaking up the traditional learning format a little, where appropriate. Perhaps they might use that same online learning platform to positively disrupt a lecture if students’ attention seems to be wandering off a little. After all, a spontaneous poll, quick online Q & A or breakout session can completely change the energy in the room.
In my view, these approaches shine some light on how Finnish universities manage to keep students participating, engaged, and well-placed for future success.