International students in the University of Helsinki as well as in the other institutions of higher education in the capital region are suffering from a shortage of courses given in English. On the other hand, they are satisfied with the quality of education.
    This information can be found in an email survey conducted by Ylioppilaslehti in late November and early December. The questions were posted both in English and in Finnish. The English version received 130 answers and the Finnish version 1 300 answers.
    As much as 56 percent of the international interviewees thought their school offered either a limited or a very limited amount of education in English. Of those answering the questionnaire in Finnish, over 40 percent thought that education in English was not given in all possible fields.

It is hard to obtain specific information about courses offered in English in the University of Helsinki. According to Director of International Activities Markus Laitinen, there are no reliable statistics of the subject.
    “We gather information about education given in foreign languages from every faculty each year, but the registration practices vary enough to render the data received incomparable with each other”, Laitinen explains.
    According to Laitinen, the statistics nevertheless show an evinent increase in education given in foreign languages during the past ten years. Recently the register shows that schools are offering courses at a rate equalling more than 3 000 study points per year.

The strategy of the university includes an objective to increase the amount of international degree students to five percent of all students by the year 2009, as opposed to 2,6 percent in 2005. Professor, Vice Rector Thomas Wilhelmsson is responsible for international affairs at the university. He finds this goal impossible to meet unless education is planned better than nowadays.
    “There have been cases where international students have been enrolled to some faculties without any other means available for them to study than a pile of books and the library”, he says.
    According to Wilhelmsson, the university`s objective to become more international is deriving from the fact that a high-standard university of the 21st century needs the influence of foreign cultures. In addition, the government wants universities to lure in international students in order to gain more workers to alleviate a threatening shortage in the employment markets.

At this moment the university is very passive in marketing itself to international students. The single most important reason for this is, according to Wilhelmsson, that the university hasn`t got a proper product – that is, degree programmes – to offer.
    And those programmes are what the university aims to develop. A plan of educational development approved in March has an objective of 30 English language Master`s programmes by the year 2009. Today, the university offers eight.
    Bachelor`s programmes in English are not likely to become more numerous in the near future. As Wilhelmsson says, the university does not currently have the resources for that kind of improvement.
    As proposed, one means of financing the programmes could be student fees, exacted on the students from non-ETA countries. The Vice Rector is careful about the issue.
    “If the fees were implemented, the income would be used to develop and market our English language programmes.”

Even though the university is concentrating on Master`s programmes in English, participating in courses in English will continue to be an every-day matter for any student. Yet the university has to encourage students to taking them.
    “One should not be surprised that there are courses in English in one`s curriculum”, says International Educational Adviser Esko Koponen from the Department of University Development.
    According to Koponen, students should be informed of education given in other than their native language in advance, for example when they are working on their personal study plan. Thus students would have better possibilities to prepare for the course.
    This naturally goes for teachers as well. With an increase in courses given in foreign languages, Koponen wonders whether it would be necessary for the teaching staff to manifest their language skills in one means or another. And in a case of inadequate skills, they should be offered extra training.
    Still, teachers shouldn`t be that worried about their language skills, if we look at the survey made by Ylioppilaslehti. Of all replies received, nearly 60 percent indicated that lecturers had generally good or very good skills in English.

International sudents of science most satisfied with education

According to Ylioppilaslehti`s recent e-mail survey the foreign students most satisfied with their courses can be found in the Faculty of Science.
    Four fifths of foreign students of the faculty said the quality of courses at the University is either high or very high.
    On the other hand, all foreign students seem very critical about the supply of courses taught in English. 57 percent of the respondents said that the supply is either limited or very limited. Most discontented are the foreign students in the Faculty of Social Sciences.
    Not only foreign, but also Finnish students take part in education organised in English. Only 26 percent of the Finnish speaking respondents said they`ve never taken part in a course taught in English.
    The students of technology are those most active in participating in teaching in English. However, they are also the most critical about the quality of the courses. Four out of ten respondents said the quality is poor, one out of ten that it is very poor.

Ylioppilaslehti asks

In late November and early December Ylioppilaslehti conducted an e-mail survey on students` opinions on the quality and quantity of teaching in English in their universities. The survey was conducted both in English and Finnish. The Finnish language survey received 1296 replies, the English language survey 129. The results of both are presented below.

Have you attended courses taught in English at your university? (Oletko osallistunut englanninkieliseen opetukseen oppilaitoksessasi?)

English survey:
Yes, during this academic year 77,3%
Yes, previously 17,2%
No 5,5%

Finnish survey:
Yes, during this academic year 36,3%
Yes, previously 37,4%
No 26,3%

Supply of courses taught in English is (Englanninkielisen opetuksen tarjonta oppilaitoksessani on)

English survey:
Very limited 19,5%
Limited 37,5%
Sufficient 25%
Rich 14,1%
Very rich 3,9%

Finnish survey:
Very limited 8,5%
Limited 32,7%
Sufficient 42,9%
Rich 11,7%
Very rich 4,2%

The quality of courses taught at your university in English is (Englanninkielisen opetuksen laatu oppilaitoksessani on)

English survey:
Very low 3,2%
Low 5,6%
Average 39,7%
High 43,7%
Very high 7,9%

Finnish survey:
Very low 1,4%
Low 7,2%
Average 41,8%
High 41,2%
Very high 8,4%

How well in your opinion do your teachers speak English? (Englanninkielistä opetusta antavien opettajien kielitaito on mielestäni)

English survey:
Very poorly 0%
Poorly 3,2%
Adequately 37,6%
Well 40%
Very well 19,2%

Finnish survey:
Very poorly 1%
Poorly 10,1%
Adequately 38,1%
Well 32,5%
Very well 18,3%

How would you characterise your own skills in English? (Arvio omasta englannin kielen taidostani)

English survey:
Very poor 0%
Poor 0,8%
Adequate 18%
Good 69,5%
Native language 11,7%

Finnish survey:
Very poor 0,9%
Poor 3,6%
Adequate 27,5%
Good 65,7%
Native language 2,3%

How would you improve the English education at your university? (Some samples of what the respondents said.)

“It could be taught in the English manner, including interaction with students, instead of just a Finnish lecture translated to English with no student involvement.”

“Everyone speaks English beautifully. The choice is rather limited, but I don’t mean to complain; after all, we are in Finland! The only thing is, I am a degree student, and while there are lots of classes in English, they are €˜optional extra` type classes. The required classes are all in Finnish.”

“The quality varies from course to course mainly depending on the teacher’s English skills. This is a problem because the amount one learns during a course should not be dependent on someone’s language skills.”

“When it comes to the supply of courses, it is ample – that is, there are way too many. Officially there are none, but in practice the whole MA in graphic design -programme is in English.”

“Lecturers should speak slower.”

“Teaching in English should be banned!”

Ville Seuri
Kuva Stina Salin