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Universities consolidate lower degree programmes, Helsinki to lose two-thirds of study options

Many universities in Finland are renewing their study offerings in the interests of providing degrees with a broader, more multidisciplinary scope. Among other things, this means bachelor’s degree availability will also be reduced significantly in the coming years. University leadership collectively denies that the programmes are being consolidated as a result of the government-imposed spending cuts, but similar reform in 2012 at the University of Tampere has already proven more cost-effective.

Sampo Latvakangas tekee laboratorioharjoitusta.
Sampo Latvakangas tekee laboratorioharjoitusta. Image: Yle / Sasha Silvala

New strategic plans reveal that the University of Helsinki will reduce its selection of bachelor’s degree programmes by two-thirds by 2017, while the University of Jyväskylä will cull one-fifth of its lower degree programmes. Tampere has already cut their bachelor’s degree options by half.

The cuts indicate Finland’s continuing efforts to mould its higher education to comply with the Bologna Process, an agreement to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications in Europe.

The basic framework of Bologna is three cycles of higher education qualifications, where the first cycle corresponds to up to 240 study credits, and usually a bachelor’s degree; the second cycle is an additional 90 to 120 credits towards a master’s degree; and the third cycle is reserved for doctoral studies. In this process, one academic year corresponds to 60 ECTS study credits, equivalent to 1,500–1,800 hours of study.

The Finnish universities say that closer compliance with the Bologna Process will usher in more master’s degree options at a larger variety of universities.

Consolidation is the word

Broader bachelor’s degree programmes will be standard fare in the future in Finland, but at the same time the selection will diminish. For example, there are currently 102 lower degree programmes on offer at the University of Helsinki, but by the autumn 2017, there will be only 32. Decisions about which lines of study will be combined or retired will be made yet this spring.

“The biggest change will be that we will combine smaller majors and minors into larger entities. The disciplines will remain the same, but the studies will be organised into broader groups,” says Keijo Hämäläinen, Vice-Rector at Helsinki University.

Tampere University already implemented a similar reform in 2012, reducing its bachelor’s degree options by half.

Mikko Markkola, director of student services at Tampere, says even more programmes may be cut as the university develops its collaboration with the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, but no specific plans have been made.

Facilitating movement

Helsinki’s Hämäläinen says the re-structuring will facilitate the movement of students between universities at home and abroad.

“Students will be able to transfer smoothly from bachelor’s programmes to master’s studies at another university, dependent on their discipline and interests. In this way, the reform also boosts the profiling of universities,” he says.

Finnish legislation guarantees that holders of lower university degrees in Finland have the right to complete a higher level degree. More freedom of choice will however mean that not everyone interested in the most popular master’s degree programmes will fit. At this stage, the pupil’s previous academic success will come into play in deciding whether they will be accepted.

“Savings not the impetus”

University leadership deny that the programmes are being consolidated in response to looming government austerity demands. They also maintain that the reform will have no effect on the number of pupils accepting into university in future.

“If there are half as many course options, there will be less advisory and administrative work. The course provision is also clearer,” says Tampere’s Markkola.

Sanna Karvonen, an instructor at Helsinki University’s Viikki campus says the increased efficiency is apparent in the increased teacher workload, as the number of students in her courses has doubled.

“Pupils have to take more responsibility for their studies. With one teacher for 200 students, there is no way I can provide personalised instruction to all of them,” she says.

700 students per lecture

Teaching enhancement is also made manifest in the development of mass lectures, where hundreds of students listen in on site and from home via a video link. Food Sciences student Sampo Latvakangas has noticed the university’s savings efforts.

“If introductory statistics and chemistry courses have 700 students, can the level of education really stay as high as it has been in the past?”

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