When browsing through various websites of Finnish higher education institutions (HEIs), you notice that the institutions emphasize the difference between studying in Finnish higher education and studying in some other country. But what does that actually mean? What are the differences between the Finnish system and a system in a completely different culture?
The Finnish higher education system – simple or not?
To understand the way of studying in Finnish HEIs, you need to start by exploring the Finnish culture, which is a complex mix of different traits. Two characteristics come up especially. The first is the emphasis of individuality. In the Finnish culture people are expected to take considerable responsibility of their own lives. In more collective cultures, people might rely on communities of different types in their life planning, such as their family or relatives. The second is the focus on independence. In the Finnish culture, it is highly appreciated to control your own life, to make independent choices and to take responsibility of them.
When studying in countries with the collective culture as a strong influencer, the focus is on teacher centered teaching methods. The Finnish way of studying, strongly affected by our individual culture, focuses more on student centered teaching methods and emphasizes the responsibility of the students as active agents in their own learning. In the Finnish world of HEIs there is a sense of equality between teachers and students. In more collective cultures the teacher is considered as a know-it-all.
Do not get intimidated by all this. You can learn to find your way and succeed in the Finnish world of higher education. Start by digging into your past. You have probably already acquired a vast collection of different study skills during your life. It is also equally important to understand, that while the previously learned study skills are useful, you might have to modify them suitable for studying in a Finnish higher education institution. And also, you might have to learn some totally new skills as well.
The skills you need in order to survive in Finnish higher education
In the Finnish universities and universities of applied sciences, study and learning skills are highly emphasized. Here are some examples (based on e.g. Kangasniemi & Murtonen 2017):
Start by aiming to form an image of the skills and knowledge base, that you already have, and of the skills and knowledge you still need to learn to reach your goals. Not only in studying but also in working life, the key skill is to be able to map your competences.
Self-direction has a major role in the Finnish world of higher education. For many students coming outside of Finland, this might be the key element which makes the Finnish way of studying so difficult to take in. Self-direction means, that you take responsibility of your own learning. You independently aim for understanding, and also for developing your thinking and expertise.
The Finnish higher education gives you considerable freedom. But with that freedom comes responsibility. The courses take up a lot of your time and include also significant amount of independent work in addition to contact lessons, which need to fit into your everyday life. If you start studying in a somewhat new language, remember that it might take you longer to take on materials.
Be prepared to plan the schedule of completing your degree including a yearly plan for courses to be finished. In addition to scheduling your studies, consider how you want your degree to look like. When planning, keep your focus in your future: what would be a good and useful mix of studies for the working life? Self-direction plays a strong part here as you ponder and find out things yourself.
Readiness for team work:
One of the most central ways to work around a course theme is to team work. This requires for you to be ready to communicate as you are not the only one in the team. Think of yourself in a group. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Step by step you create self-knowledge of you as a team member.
Need tools for your survival kit?
If you want to prepare yourself before pursuing degree studies in higher education, consider brushing up your study skills as well as Finnish language skills in the Metropolia Preparatory Education for Studies at the University of Applied Sciences for Immigrants, open for applications in August. Online version of the preparatory education, including a course in developing your study skills, is offered during the year 2019 by the development project Valmentavasta Valmiiksi, so stay tuned.
Kangasniemi, Mari & Murtonen, Mari. 2017. Yliopiston toimijoiden näkemyksiä vastuullisen yliopisto- opiskelijan taidoista. Yliopistopedagogiikka. 24:1. https://yliopistopedagogiikka.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/kangasniemi-murtonen_press.pdf
AMK-opintoihin valmentavat koulutukset maahanmuuttajille –website. 11.5.2018. http://www.metropolia.fi/koulutukset/maahanmuuttajille/
Valmentavasta Valmiiksi – project website. 11.5.2018. http://www.metropolia.fi/tutkimus-kehittaminen-ja-innovaatiot/hankkeet/valmentavasta-valmiiksi/