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New pathway to admission: Finnish universities expand free online course selection

Up to 40 students will be accepted to study social sciences in Tampere next spring if they ace a free online course.

Tampereen yliopiston kyltti
Image: Matias Väänänen / Yle

Finland is increasing the number of university courses it is offering online for free. The added Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are also being trialled as a new route for university admission.

The University of Tampere in southern Finland has decided to accept successful completion of an online course and a supplementary interview as sufficient grounds for admission to its social science faculty, starting in the spring of 2020.

Helsinki University is planning a similar admissions path, whereby prospective students who successfully complete the required online course and a pass a "skills demonstration" would gain admission to the school's Bachelor of Social Sciences programme. It is expected to make a final decision about changing the admissions policy in October.

The programme expands on free online courses coordinated by the University of Helsinki's Department of Computer Science, featuring the content of first-year courses on artificial intelligence and programming basics. Unveiled in 2018, the MOOC content drew over 140,000 participants, and provided those who completed the online courses with the possibility to continue their studies. Helsinki's Aalto University and the Universities of Jyväskylä, Oulu and Turku have also taken part in the pilot, which extended to courses in mathematics and statistics as well.

The University of Eastern Finland, with campuses in the eastern cities of Joensuu and Kuopio, has also made its first Finnish-language law courses available online.

Limited admission in first year

The planned MOOC content will work the same way in both Tampere and Helsinki. An online course would be made available for free at the same time that the spring application period begins. Interested students can study the material at their own pace for two to three weeks, and then complete the course in April, after the upper secondary school matriculation exams come to a close.

The course would be worth five study credits and only those students gaining a grade of 4 or more on a scale of 0-5 would be considered for admission.

Degree programme manager Marko Salonen of the Tampere University's Social Science faculty says that a maximum of 40 new students will be admitted to study via the MOOC, while 50 more will be accepted on the basis of their matriculation exam results.

"Those applicants who are asked to come in for the interview can pretty much rest assured that they will be accepted. […] If a student can't pass the interview, we can deduce they have probably cheated on the online course," he says.

Mikko Vanhanen of Helsinki University says that if Helsinki goes ahead with the programme, it will chose 29 new social sciences students via MOOC and 30 more first-year students on the basis of their matriculation exam results.

Tampere University's Salonen says that he expects about a thousand people to show interest in the MOOC admissions option. The pilot is part of an education ministry Alternative path to university initiative in Finland to make higher education more accessible.

A recent OECD report determined that the ratio of highly-educated people in Finland aged 25 to 34 remains below the average among similar groups in EU and OECD countries.

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