Aalto University’s Business School is planning to teach their Masters’ courses in English only.Aalto Business School’s decision to conduct Masters’ courses in English means a change in the Finnish Educational Act is necessary.

A LAW guaranteeing that university-level courses must be taught in either Finnish or Swedish will most likely be amended if an initiative by Aalto University’s Business School, to teach their Masters’ courses in English only, is to be permitted.

The Finnish education system is highly lauded throughout the world, and this has led to an increase of non-Finnish and -Swedish speaking students in universities around the country. Most of these students find it easier to learn through the English language, although many are not native speakers themselves. Aalto University has acknowledged this, as well as the fact that English is the predominant language of international business and science, and has therefore decided to conduct all Masters’ level courses in English starting this autumn.

This initiative clashes with one of the basic principles of the Finnish Education Act, which states that all state-funded education must be available in at least one of Finland’s national languages, i.e. Finnish and Swedish. This may necessitate a change in legislation if Aalto’s proposal is to be implemented.

Opinions divided on Aalto proposal

• Adeyanju Alade, a former researcher at Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Espoo says: “Aalto is a hundred per cent right, indeed the language of international research and education is English and without giving English language the attention it deserves, the quality of education at the graduate level will remain shrouded in mediocrity and it will forever struggle to be at a par with world-class education standards. The students who graduate having only studied in Finnish language will always remain a local and not a global product when the chips are down.”

• Kiti Ahola has a B.A. with a German major and minors in Communications and General Literature. She started her studies in Germany and graduated in Helsinki. She worked over 25 years in foreign trade using Finnish, Swedish, English and German, and says: “If Finns cannot study in their mother tongue anymore, it is a very bad thing. The level of knowledge of the Finnish language has gone down and these days people are not competent in their own language. They don’t know grammar or vocabulary.

• Of course it is good that there are studies in English, it has been so for years. On the other hand it is also the reason why the foreign students never learn Finnish. One cannot understand a culture without its own language. But if a nation loses its mother tongue, it loses its identity! It is a well-known fact that unless you know your own mother tongue well, you’ll never learn other languages properly.”

Aalto University’s Vice Rector, Martti Raevaara, sees no difficulties in the situation, because the bachelor’s degree level can still be completed in Finnish and Swedish: “On the Bachelor level most of the courses at Aalto are in Finnish and on the Master level a student has an option to take a significant number of his/her courses in Finnish too. So this is not a dramatic shift, but a natural turn towards more international higher education in Finland.”

According to Raevaara, the initiative of the business school is just a product of the times. “The internationalisation goal is based on the guidelines by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish government. So this is a national definition of university policy, not only Aalto’s decision. English is the language of international science and research,” he said.

By inaugurating Masters’ level education in English, Aalto University strives to expand in a global dimension, attracting leading researchers and developing exchange programmes for Finnish students elsewhere. “About two third of applicants are international and about one third of designated professors are coming outside of Finland. So Aalto will become soon one of the most international universities in Europe”, Raevaara explained.

Raevaara claims that the university’s Finnish students considered the initiative positively, viewing good English skills as an advantage in the international labour market. Raevaara emphasises that “if a student wants, he/she can make his/her Master thesis in Finnish and also take several optional and alternative courses in Finnish. But in practise this is very uncommon. Most of the students identify Masters programmes with global competences they want to achieve.”

The possible amendment to the Finnish Educational Act is currently being discussed by officials. Director of the Department for Education and Science Policy Anita Lehikoinen stated to Helsinki Times: “We at the ministry are deliberating the situation and the eventual actions which may be needed. We will also continue our discussions with Aalto.” She also stressed that Finnish and Swedish must be preserved as languages of science.