Helsinki offers a growing field of international study

January 14, 2013

Greater Helsinki attracts more international students every year. Both traditional universities and universities of applied science offer a variety of classes in English. But a couple of pioneers have also ventured the Helsinki academic world from the outside. The United Nations University established a research institute here in the 1980’s. Estonian Business School is a more recent addition; it opened a branch in Helsinki in 2011.

In the summer of 2011, an Estonian privately owned business university opened a branch in Helsinki, in the modern premises of Technopolis Ruoholahti. Estonian Business School was a Tallinn-based university that had been placed among the top 300 business schools in the world in Eduniversal university ranking. Why expand to Helsinki?

– We are always looking for new opportunities. We were getting more and more Finnish applicants and eventually started organizing admission interviews in Helsinki. There turned out to be many Finns who would like to study in English while remaining in Finland because of their work or family. The natural step was to open a branch in Helsinki, said Sigrid Lainevee, Head of the EBS Finnish Branch.

Flexibility and cultural insight

The first Finnish students started at EBS in Tallinn in 2000, and after 2005 the number of Finnish applicants has grown significantly. The Helsinki branch of EBS has currently 130 students – mostly Finns but also Estonians and other nationalities – who are working towards their bachelor’s degree. It plans to admit 60–80 students per year and start a master’s degree program in 2015, after the first class of students receives its bachelor’s degrees.

– In Finland we focus on students who wish to combine study and work. Teaching is compressed into intensive seminars that take 2–3 full days, every other week. Independent work is an essential part of the learning process, said Lainevee.

– EBS is a small school, so we can offer a personal approach and close connections between faculty and students. As an Estonian school, we can also bring a new aspect to international business studies, and that is insight on Estonia and the relations between our two countries. We believe that Finland and Estonia will continue to grow closer. 

Pioneer in international research

Long before Estonian Business School opened its Helsinki branch, however, the United Nations University established a research institute in Helsinki. The year was 1984.

The Wider Institute or UNU-WIDER, short for World Institute for Development Economics Research is an international academic think tank that promotes development in the world’s poorest countries. Its main themes are poverty and inequality, and it has a strong research focus on Africa.

– Currently UNU-WIDER coordinates an extensive ReCom research project. ReCom stands for Research and Communication on Foreign Aid. It maps the impact of foreign aid and employs more than 200 researchers all over the world, said Carl-Gustav Lindén, Senior Communications Specialist at UNU-WIDER.

The institute is located in Katajanokka and it currently employs eight resident researchers as well as visiting scholars and students participating in a PhD internship program.

– Helsinki is not yet very well known among the international research community but people who come here like it very much. It is a peaceful city where visiting researchers are able to concentrate on their work, said Lindén. 

And UNU-WIDER can certainly show an impressive record of achievements: 11 Nobel prize laureates and many other world top economists, e.g. Paul Krugman, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen have worked at or with the institute.

 Helsinki: A hub of international students and programs

The number of international students, as well as programs taught in English, is growing in the Helsinki area. According to Statistics Finland, there were 10,561 foreign degree students in the Helsinki and Uusimaa region in 2010 – that is 5.3 % of all degree students, including high schools and other secondary schools. The number does not include exchange students who come to study for a short period. Estonian, Russian and Chinese students formed the largest groups among international students.

Helsinki Urban Facts compiles statistics according to students’ mother tongue. In 2011, the number of students with a mother tongue other than Finnish or Swedish in the city’s universities of applied science was 2,091, which is 10.2 % of the total. The same number for traditional universities in Helsinki was 3,415, which accounts for 7.3 % of the total.

As far as schools go, Helsinki University and Aalto University have the largest amount of foreign degree students, the former 1,967 students and the latter 1,875 students in 2011. The numbers account for 5.4 % and 9.5 % of their whole student body, respectively.

The largest universities of applied science in the Helsinki area are Metropolia and Haaga-Helia. Both schools offer a wide array of programs in English. Metropolia has approximately 800 and Haaga-Helia over 1,000 international degree students. According to Helsinki Urban Facts, the amount of foreign language speakers has grown fastest in universities of applied science, by 84 % between 2005 and 2010. The total number of foreign language speakers in secondary and higher education in Helsinki has grown by 12 % during the same period.

Life-long learning and success in the job market

Estonian Business School offers great flexibility and welcomes students in different stages of their life. Therefore, in addition to recent high-school graduates, it has many students who already have a career but have reached a point where they wish to get a university degree or switch careers.

– We do not believe in time limits or expiration dates. It is never too late to take a new direction. We are strong believers in life-long learning, said Sigrid Lainevee, Head of the EBS Finnish Branch.

EBS graduates excel in the international job market. They work in banks and other businesses, start their own companies and work abroad, all over the world. They are known for a proactive, hands-on attitude.

– We want to raise students who can make decisions, as well as take responsibility and action. The world needs quick-thinking and active people, Lainevee summarized.

EBS is now starting to introduce itself to Finnish companies and is eager to work with local businesses.

– EBS has been well received in Helsinki. Finnish people and organizations have shown great interest in us, and that really encourages us to develop and strive to be better each day, said Sigrid Lainevee.

Text: Anu Jussila