Monday 18 August 2014

Higher education in Finland


Professor Jari Litmanen of the University of Jään Luola has written in from the frozen wastes of Finland, where I can recall spending a good holiday many years ago, to give an account of higher education in Finland.


1 What do you think of the quality of education in your university and in your country?

In Finland, there is a high average (because there is a high average IQ) but it is very conformist. It does not encourage original thinking, but simply learning what other people have said. For example, it makes no difference in your career prospects at all if you pass or are outstanding. So, the system does not encourage brilliance. 

2 Which circumstances encourage or prevent your university from educating students to a high level?

There is little incentive to do more than pass, unless you want to do a PhD. In these circumstances, there is no incentive to get more than a 'good' mark in your Masters. Students can retake exams as many times as they like and many academics publish in Finnish or in English journals in Scandinavia. These tend to have low standards and impact. In terms of encouragement, social status is based around education and you're nobody without a Masters, so there's a strong incentive to get one. 

3 How many of your students are able to follow “College Format”, which means that although they attend lectures they can also learn based on gathering and inferring their own information, and establishing and applying general principles rather than following checklists?

My experience is that they do this to a lesser extent than, for example, students at Oxford or Durham. Perhaps in every class of 30 there might be one or two students. I've taught in a number of departments and I found there were more of these, maybe 4/30, in English Dept. than Anthropology, probably because the English Dept. is more selective. My research indicates that the IQ range in Finland is the narrowest in Europe, by the way.  

4 Does your university recognise that students have different levels of ability, and factor that into exam results and student opinions about the teaching they receive?


5 Are you allowed to set demanding examinations, even if many students fail your test and some are asked to leave the university?


6 Are you allowed to give extra attention to your brightest students, including additional seminars and research work?

On your own dime, yes. 

7 Does your university recognise that university staff have different levels of ability?


8 Do you feel able to teach about group differences in ability without negative consequences to your career?

Yes, to Finns. Finns dislike foreigners, in the main. I'm not sure how these would go down to a group of US international students. 

9 Are there other aspects of university standards which are relevant to the overall quality of the education provided to students?

One good thing in Finland is that it is quite difficult to get into university. Only about 1 in 3 that apply get in anywhere. So, I think the intellectual range is narrower than in the UK, even if I compare this university to Ancient University in England. There were some students at Ancient University, studying things like Education or Sociology, who were very stupid. I've never come across anything like it at Jään Luola among the university students. 

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