English taught degrees see two-fold increase in demand

Compared with 2022, double the number of potential students applied in the first joint higher education application this spring for courses taught in English at Finnish universities and university colleges – 69% of whom comprised students from outside the European Union and European Economic Area.

The joint application process enables applicants to apply for six different Finnish universities at the same time. Since 2020, the joint application to higher education has been divided into two separate applications.

In the first joint application, one can apply to degree programmes offered in English and programmes offered by the University of the Arts. In the second joint application in spring, one can apply to degree programmes offered in Finnish and Swedish. The studies begin in autumn.

Only 9,600 of the more than 61,800 applicants were offered a study place – roughly 16% compared to 21% in 2022. Just over half, 54% of the students, were accepted to bachelor degree programmes, while 46% were accepted to masters degree programmes.

The acceptance rate to universities of applied sciences (UAS) was 13% and to universities 16%.

Only 14% of the total number of applicants and 23% of accepted applicants were Finnish citizens. A majority of the applicants, more than 50,000 or 69%, came from outside the EU and EEA area.

According to Janni Jokela, senior adviser at the Finnish National Agency for Education, the number of Finnish applicants was almost the same as the year before.

The most popular fields, in terms of the number of applicants, were business, administration and law, and information and communication technologies.

The toughest competition for study places was in the fields of services (approximately 31 applicants per study place: 4% accepted), health and welfare (approximately 19 applicants/study place: 6% accepted), as well as arts and culture (approximately 16 applicants/study place in both fields).

The fields with the lowest number of applicants per available study place were humanities and education (approximately eight applicants/study place in both fields).

With an acceptance rate of 16%, the easiest field to gain admission to was engineering, manufacturing, and construction.

Out of some 142,000 applications, around 23,000 received study places at universities while just over 29,000 gained spots at universities of applied sciences, for an overall average of 37%.

Applicants who did not receive an offer to study in English, Finnish or Swedish, still have a chance to be admitted from waiting lists until 1 August.

Increase in international student numbers

The number of international students moving to Finland increased considerably this year. By the end of October 2022, first-time residence permits for studies had been granted to 7,060 applicants from outside the EU, representing a 54% increase on the 4,595 permits granted during January to October 2021.

“The number of new international students has increased significantly, even when compared to the pre-COVID years. The number of residence permits granted this year already surpassed the record-breaking year of 2016 when 6,348 first-time residence permits were granted to students, Deputy Director-General of the Finnish Immigration Service Elina Immonen said.

Most students come to Finland to study in one of the higher education institutions and apply for a residence permit during the summer months after getting accepted for their line of study.About 95% of students applying for a residence permit receive a positive decision.

With the entry into force of new legislation in April, moving to Finland is now easier for international students. Students from abroad may be granted a residence permit for the entire duration of their studies. Previously, students could only be granted a residence permit for a maximum of two years at a time. The new law also makes it easier to look for work after graduating.

“International students are an answer to Finland’s shortage of workers,” Immonen said.

Another significant change is that the families of students are also now more likely to apply for a Finnish residence permit, compared to previous years.


This year, it took an average of 20 days for students to receive their first residence permit decision. Last year, the processing time was 18 days. In other words, the increased number of applications has not had a considerable impact on the processing time.

“We are constantly improving the quality and efficiency of our services in a customer-oriented manner. Digital solutions and automation are important tools in both improving the customer experience and making the operations of the Finnish Immigration Service more efficient,” said Immonen.

In 2022, the Finnish Immigration Service made a record number of decisions on residence permit applications for studies. The number of decisions, 7,741, is about 55% higher than the same time last year.

Another factor that accounts for the higher number of foreign applicants is the introduction of the joint digital entrance exam – for universities of applied sciences, known as the international UAS exam – in 2022.

Applicants only need to participate in one entrance exam, and its results are taken into account for all study programmes that utilise the international UAS exam. The digital entrance examination makes it easier for international students to apply for programmes through the joint application process.

University of Eastern Finland

The bachelor and masters degree programmes taught in English at the University of Eastern Finland attracted 10,730 applications for admission, growing exponentially from last year. More than 20 masters degree programmes and three bachelor degree programmes invited applications via the Finnish joint application system.

“The popularity of our bachelor and masters degree programs taught in English is seeing significant growth, as the number of applications grew by 193% from last year. We are now reaping the fruits of our long-term and persistent efforts in marketing and programme development. The fact that all our programmes attracted more applications than before speaks volumes about our success,” Tapio Määttä, academic rector, said in a press release.

According to Määttä, the University of Eastern Finland seeks to triple its number of international students by 2030.

The number of individual applicants to the university’s programmes was 8,221, also showing an impressive 192% increase from last year (2022), when the number of individual applicants was 2,819. Around 500 students will eventually be admitted to the programmes starting in autumn 2023.

The university’s new business studies programme, the Masters in Digital Marketing and Analytics, attracted the greatest number of individual applicants (1,176). The Bachelor in Information Technology, also available for application for the first time, was among the most popular programmes (914 applicants). Both of these programmes respond to the global need for experts in IT and digital marketing.

Other popular programmes were the Masters in International Business and Sales Management (1,066 applicants), and the Masters in Public Health (852).

Most of the applications, more than 90%, were received from applicants outside Finland, with Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh being the top countries.

Currently, the Universiy of Eastern Finland is home to around 2,000 international students from approximately 100 different countries.

Marketing of the university’s degree programmes taught in English has been targeted especially at prospective students from outside the EU and EEA, and Finnish higher education institutions have also been collaborating on this front.

University of Helsinki

At the University of Helsinki, the number of applicants to the English-taught two-year-masters programmes increased by 25%, reaching a record of 7,100. Given that the university also raised the number of accepted applicants, altogether 18% received a place to study. Most popular master programmes were computer science, data science, environmental change and global sustainability, economics, changing education as well as global and political communication.

At the same time, the international Bachelor of Science programme gained 40% more applicants. The university is also participating in the development of European degrees within the UNA Europa alliance, an EU-funded European University Network.

Unlike most of the universities and universities of applied science, the University of Helsinki takes a full tuition fee from non-EU-students in order to compete with other research-intensive universities who operate actively in global educational markets.

The share of international students is therefore moderate compared to other Finnish higher education institutions. Yet, the curve has been going upward from the first year when tuition fees were introduced.

After elections in 2023, the new right-wing Finnish government declared its intention to raise the minimum fee for non-EU-students from EUR1,500 (US$1,680) towards full cost.

Higher education institutions are against the increase and argue that the country needs foreign, educated labour and this is also stated in the government’s four-year political programme. They argue that such an abrupt policy change would jeopardise the goal of multiplying the international workforce.

The proposed full-cost fee would mean that most higher education institutions would have to increase their fees and modify their waiver policies, thus likely decreasing the number of foreign applicants to Finnish institutions. However, in the capital region of Helsinki, both Aalto University and the University of Helsinki would probably not be severely affected, as their tuition fees may already on average cover the costs.

“The University of Helsinki is a truly international community. As a research-intensive institution with over 30% of our academic staff being international, we offer excellent education and guidance to all our students. With the power of knowledge, we work for the best in the world, rector Sari Lindblom, told University World News.

“The city of Helsinki as well as Finland are year-after-year ranked among the most attractive and innovative areas in the world. At the same time, as a bilingual university, we are strongly anchored to the local community and cherish the official languages, Finnish and Swedish, in our education.

“We have worked hard since 2016 to make our international programmes attractive, and hence are pleased to have witnessed a strong increase of international applicants and students,” she said.

“We look forward to further increases in the number of international students. We are increasing our educational offering in English with new programmes. For example, there are new bachelor programmes in English under development – partially together with our European partners in the UNA Europe alliance.

“At the same time, we have been enhancing our inclusive culture and developing student services accordingly,” Lindblom added.

However, the pattern of application to Finnish universities and university colleges is not consistent.

The four most sought-after higher education institutions offering English taught programmes are Centria University of applied Sciences (11,656 applications for 211 study places), Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences (13,047 applications for 296 places), JAMK University of Applied Sciences (16,963 applications for 741 places) and LAB University of Applied Sciences (10,898 applications for 630 places). Between them these four university colleges received 25% of the more than 200,000 applications from 61,800 individual applicants.

JAMK University of Applied Sciences

University World News asked Minna-Maaria Hiekkataipale, vice-rector for education of the JAMK University of Applied Sciences, what measures the institution has used to attract international students to its English taught programmes.

“The most popular programs at bachelor-level were business information technology, nursing, and automation and robotics, whereas at masters-level, international business management, artificial intelligence and data analytics showed most popularity,” she said.

“JAMK has worked persistently and determinedly to develop internationally recognised quality. We have several EUR-ACE accredited programmes [EUR-ACE® is a framework and accreditation system that provides a set of standards that identifies high-quality engineering degree programmes in Europe and abroad] and a EFMD-accredited [The European Foundation for Management Development is an international not-for-profit association based in Brussels] business programme. I believe that this work for its part has contributed to growing numbers,” she said.

“Overall, we have a diverse selection of English taught programs – in technology, nursing, business and in tourism and hospitality. We have put effort into expanding the programme portfolio as well.”

Hiekkataipale said international cooperation, networks and partnerships have been essential throughout the history of the institution.

“I think these elements have been the long-time building blocks as well,” she said.