Students are active, grow their own expertise and plan their own studies. However, public discussion too often seems to repeat how periods of study are too long and students’ employment interferes with studying. Next, I will sink my teeth into what measures universities can take to ensure smooth studies.
A university can with its own activity directly influence how faculties and degree programmes operate. Currently, the work on three-year curricula is in progress across all fields at Tampere University. The new curricula will come into effect for the academic years of 2021–2024 so now is an important time to influence that work. Curriculum work includes promoting the smooth progression of studies, and graduation within standard times to degree. The standard time to a Bachelor’s degree is three academic years, and two academic years to a Master’s degree. There are a few exceptions like the standard time to a Licenciate of Medicine degree that is six academic years.
In Tampere University, studying according to the standard time to degree varies greatly between educational fields and study practices. Studying according to the standard time to degree is most common in Medicine, and Health and Welfare Sciences where over 70% of student graduate within the standard time to degree. The least common to graduate within the standard time to degree is in Information and Communication Technologies, such as Computer Science and Computing, where around 10% of students graduate in the standard time to degree, and in Engineering and Technology around 14% of students. On average, a little less than 40% of students have graduated in the standard time to degree in Tampere University between 2016 and 2018. Over 65% of all students of Tampere University graduate within a year of the standard time to degree.
Differences between fields are caused by various things and we should not only look at the standard time to degree. Finland does on average fairly well regarding graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in the standard time since 43% finish their degree within that time (OECD average 39%, on the OECD’s website Education at Glance, 2019). Students already have difficulties completing their studies accoring to their study plans because courses can be arranged at the same time with no alternate completion options, or the student can miss out on an obligatory course because the course was not desinged for a big enough group. In a worst case scenario, courses of only a few credits can affect a planning and goal-oriented student’s chance to complete their degree within the standard time to degree.
Universities, faculties and degree programs can all influence smooth studies in multiple ways. These ways include a functioning degree stucture, teaching arrangements, assessment, guidance, supporting the development of students’study skills, recognising students’ prior learning and preventing the formation of so- called bottleneck courses that continuously interfere with the smooth progression of studies. Universities are also encouraged to support the students’ studies when the new funding model for universities enters into force, since it will reward universities for completed degrees. (More information about the funding model for universities on the website of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture).
The most important job of a student is to focus on studying and learning. Additionally, students must plan their studies and give feedback. The progression of studies is very much also influenced by well-being and ability to cope, social relations, and sufficient income. The latest Finnish Student Health Survey discovered that 33% of students experience considerable stress and 17% of
respondents viewed that they were drowning in the work related to their studies (KOTT, 2016).
I remember that in the beginning of my studies, my goal was to finish my studies in the target time. I felt that the goal was within reach becuase my studies progressed without bigger problems for the first two years. At the same time I was interested in pursuing the student loan compensation that can currently be as much as €6,200 when the degree is completed within a target time of a maximum of one year more than the standard time to degree in universities. For me, the challenge was completing my theses for both degrees, and in the end I had to give up on the compensation when I decided to become an active in the student movement for several years.
The difficulties students face in their studies should be in the centre of the current curriculum work. Versatile teaching arrangements and alternative completion options can bring the change that students need. I wish that the result of the work is a curriculum that takes into account the different situations of students, offers high level expertise from different fields, provides timely guidance and an opportunity to build a personal degree for each student.
TREY’s Specialist in Educational Affairs