The number of students applying to study English-language degree programmes at universities and polytechnics in Finland has increased significantly this year compared to 2021, according to a report published on Thursday by the Finnish National Agency for Education.
In total, over 33,000 people applied for a place on courses that begin in the autumn. Last year, that figure was just over 22,000.
The most popular English-language programmes during this application period, which closed on Wednesday, proved to be the Bachelor of Health Care (Nursing) courses.
The largest number of applications were received by the nursing course at JAMK University of Applied Sciences in Jyväskylä, with some 2,285 hopeful applicants vying for admission. This means that there are 57 applicants for each study place on the course.
The odds of getting a place on a similar course at the Novia University of Applied Sciences near the city of Vaasa are even longer, with 70 applicants battling it out for each available place after the institution also received over 2,000 applications.
Competition for places on arts courses will also be hard-fought, with 1,151 applicants choosing the University of the Arts Helsinki's acting course as their first option. The course offers just 12 starting places.
Studying remotely from Nigeria, Sri Lanka
Many of the applicants for English-language degree courses are hoping to come to study in Finland from abroad, with the majority applying from outside the EU and the EEA.
This was also the case last year as, for example, less than half of students who received a place on one of the University of Tampere's English degrees programmes were Finnish citizens.
Coming to study in Finland means a huge lifestyle change for many students, and the Covid pandemic has further exacerbated those challenges.
Dhanushi Srinivasan from Sri Lanka and James Afolaranmi from Nigeria are studying in the University of Tampere's popular Science and Engineering bachelor's programme. Due to the pandemic, both students had to begin their studies remotely.
Afolaranmi started the course in autumn 2020 while still in Nigeria, and studied remotely until the spring of 2021.
"I studied from Nigeria while my fellow students were here in Finland. I missed the learning environment and the student community. It wasn't very easy," he told Yle, adding that an intermittent internet connection added further to his difficulties.
He was therefore very pleased to finally arrive in Finland in March 2021.
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Sri Lankan Dhanushi Srinivasan wanted to study abroad after high school, but was forced to take a gap year because of the pandemic. Last year, Srinivasan secured a place at the University of Tampere but also faced challenges in physically getting to the country and to the campus.
"I had to travel to India to get a residence permit for Finland. There was a huge coronavirus lockdown in my country at the time," Srinivasan explained, adding that the first few weeks of classes were attended remotely from both India and Sri Lanka.
"The teachers were very encouraging and I could ask for help from them. Admittedly though the teaching was via Zoom so there was no human interaction," Srinivasan said.
Challenges of remote learning
Joanna Kumpula, Head of International Student Recruitment at the University of Tampere, told Yle that she is well acquainted with the problems students face when coming to Finland from abroad.
Arriving from EU countries is relatively easy, Kumpula said, but those arriving from outside the EU are required to have a residence permit and in order to obtain a permit, the student must register with the Finnish embassy, which is not necessarily an option in every country.
"This has been especially difficult for those who do not have a Finnish embassy or mission in their own country. They have to travel to another country, which is very demanding or completely impossible during this Covid era," she said.
Many students therefore have no other option but to begin their studies remotely from their own country. The challenges associated with remote learning have been very demanding for both students and staff, Kumpula said. For example, time differences can in particular cause problems for multinational groups.
However, Kumpula said that the feedback from the students so far has been good.
She also pointed out that many students do not have the option of learning remotely, and have therefore had to postpone their study places until a later date.
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Finally on campus
Remote learning means that the student can at least stay involved with their studies, but many other important aspects of the university experience cannot be done remotely.
Dhanushi Srinivasan missed the induction week, campus tours and group events, but is now happy making up for lost time.
"The autumn semester was really fun. Teaching was on campus, and I loved it. There were a lot of student events where people were allowed to meet," Srinivasan said.
James Afolaranmi has also enjoyed life on campus. Last summer, he took on extra classes to make up for courses missed while remote.
"I studied hard because I could not complete laboratory studies in Nigeria, so I kept coming to campus to study," he said.
Unfortunately for students, Covid restrictions mean that life on campus is limited once again, but some classes are still in person.