The University of Helsinki, founded in 1640, is Finland’s oldest academic institution, and, with 35,000 students, it is also its largest. The university is experiencing a period of special dynamism at present, thanks to its new strategic plan, Global Impact in Interaction – geared to attract overseas students, researchers and partners to its uniquely participatory environment.

Helsinki places an emphasis on basic research in all of its work, the results of which regularly earn the institution a place among the world’s top 100 universities. It offers master’s and doctorate courses in English, in order to widen its appeal for overseas applicants.


A challenging spirit

The university’s energetic spirit is epitomised by its Helsinki Challenge, a science-based competition that first took place in 2015. The year-long competition process focuses on finding solutions to global challenges: its subjects have ranged from practical scientific problems to abstract issues such as morality in robotics. The competition, which has an international jury, is proving a popular draw with audiences, and the excitement that it generates can clearly be seen in the event’s YouTube postings.

In 2017, when Finland celebrates its centennial, Helsinki Challenge will be a joint product between 10 Finnish universities. “Key to the Helsinki Challenge is teamwork and integration of disciplines,” says Rector Jukka Kola. “We have undergraduate and doctorate students, professors and outside organisations collaborating productively – not just in their own areas, but on the borderlines between subjects. The shows are certainly exciting and stimulating, but I should emphasise that it all springs from basic research. And, although we often partner with businesses, it is never at the expense of good ethics.”

According to Kola, the salient feature that has underpinned Finland’s success is sound teacher education. “Every teacher here has to have a bachelor-level university degree,” he says. “Our relentless pursuit of quality means we are confident that Finland has the best teacher education in the world.”

The university also has high ambitions when it comes to its graduates’ effect on the wider world. “Most institutions aim to educate young people to serve their society,” says Kola. “But we aim to educate them to change it: to make the world a better place to live.”