FINLAND: Technology students say they work too hard

Some students at a super-university in Finland have claimed they have to work harder to gain the same credits as others. Aalto University is the product of a three-way merger aimed at creating a world-class university. But students from a former technical university feel that social science students have an easier ride.

Aalto University was established with great fanfare last year following a merger between three existing universities: Helsinki University of Technology (HUT), Helsinki School of Economics (HSE) and the University of Art and Design Helsinki.

Students from the former technology university have asserted that they have to work harder to earn the same number of credit points as former HSE students.

The claims of unequal treatment were reported in Huvudstadsbladet, Helsinki's Swedish language daily. According to the report, HUT students believed it was more difficult for them to complete their studies than for other students. One marketing course yielded six credit points for former HSE students but only three for ex-HUT students when they completed the same course.

Aalto management admitted there were some discrepancies, but said they were looking into where adjustments needed to be made. The teething problems arose from the mergers that created Aalto, and because of the changes required to dovetail Finnish university education into the Bologna format.

Under pre-Bologna arrangements, HUT students took at least 180 study weeks to complete their studies. This translated into 300 credit points, the minimum requirement to be awarded the 3+2 bachelors and masters degrees under Bologna. However, HSE students could earn their 300 credit points with 160 study weeks. The pre-Bologna HUT courses took six and a half years of study to complete, but now the same has to be done in five years.

A 2009 survey of HUT students found that two-thirds thought their studies were too difficult.

Finnish university students are eligible for student welfare, rent assistance and subsidised loans, but are required to make reasonable progress with their studies for continued eligibility. HUT students were among those more likely to under-perform, and lose welfare benefits.

They claimed this was because their studies were more stressful than for others. They also claimed that this was why they were reputed to be heavy drinkers.

HUT also has one of the lowest proportions of female students. In 2009, only 22% of HUT students were female, compared with 70% at the University of Helsinki.

Click here to read the Huvudstadsbladet report (in Swedish).

* Dr Ian Dobson is Helsinki correspondent for University World News. An Australian scholar often based in Finland, he is editor of the Australian Universities' Review and the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management.