PhD Study in Finland – A Guide for 2023 |
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PhD Study in Finland – A Guide for 2023

Written by Kirsty Smitten

Straddling northern Europe and the Scandinavian Peninsula, Finland’s striking situation and magnificent landscapes provide natural beauty and excellent research opportunities. The development of modern facilities supports an excellent higher education system that is very popular amongst international PhD students.

This page covers everything you need to know about studying for a PhD in Finland, including an overview of the higher education system, an explanation of Finnish PhDs and information on how you can successfully apply for one.

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PhD opportunities in Finland – what’s on offer for 2023?

Finland’s amazing scenery, safe cities and high quality of life make the country a friendly and welcoming place to spend time on a PhD. In fact, the capital of Finland, has been voted one of the safest cities in the world. On top of this the majority of Finns speak English and Finnish universities offer a large number of English-taught degree programmes.

Today Finland’s universities are rapidly developing, with a number of globally ranked institutions and policies that encourage international students to apply. Here are a few reasons why Finland could be the place for you to begin your PhD this year:

  • No tuition fees – you won't pay fees for doctoral study in Finland, regardless of your nationality
  • Research and development – with many PhDs including an industrial link, you may be able to apply your research skills in a working environment
  • Easy access to post-graduate work – There is no restriction on working for EU, EEA and Nordic citizens in Finland, and international students from other countries can extend their visa for a year to find work
  • An illuminating experience - the northern lights are visible every other clear night between September and March in Lapland, and in southern Finland 10-20 times a year

Also, don’t forget that Finland is a brilliant country to be in around Christmas time, being home to Lapland, and Father Christmas himself.

PhD Study in Finland - Key Details
Universities 35
Nobel prizes 5
Oldest University University of Helsinki (1640)
International Students 23,591
PhD Length 4 years
Typical Fees None
Academic Year September to June

PhD life in Finland

Want to know more about life for international PhD students in Finland? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.

Finnish universities

There are two-types of higher education institutions in Finland, but only one offers doctoral level degrees.

Finland’s higher education system includes the following:

  • Finland's 13 universities offer PhD programmes and promote independent academic research and provide higher education based upon research
  • Finland's 22 universities of applied sciences do not offer PhD programmes. They provide higher education for professional expert jobs and carry out applied research and development in activities that promote industry

As an international doctoral student you will be applying to the standard universities.

Finnish university rankings

Finland has a number of globally recognised institutions; there are eight universities ranking in the top 500 of major university league tables. These include the country’s oldest university – the University of Helsinki.

Top Finnish Universities in 2023
University THE 2023 QS 2023 ARWU 2022
University of Helsinki 110 =106 92
Aalto University 201-250 =116 301-400
Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT 301-350 =338 -
University of Oulu 301-350 =392 401-500
Tampere University 301-350 415 401-500
University of Turku 351-400 291 401-500
University of Vaasa 351-400 - -
University of Jyväskylä 401-500 =347 701-800
Åbo Akademi University 601-800 601-650 -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do ranking matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Finnish university cities

Finland has a relatively small number of institutions, but all reside within thriving cultural hubs with plenty for international students to do.

The following are the main hubs for higher education in Finland: Helsinki, Turku, Oulu, Tampere and Jyväskylä.

PhD structure

In 2005 Finnish higher education qualifications were made compatible with the Bologna Process; as part of this framework a Finnish PhD is a third-cycle qualification.

The Bologna Process

The Bologna Process brings together a range of countries to form the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Members of the EHEA share a common three-cycle framework that allows degrees from one country to be easily recognised within others.

The licentiate degree

In Finland there are actually two degrees available after a Masters, one is a doctorate (tohtorin tutkinto) and the other is a licentiate (lisensiaatin tutkinto).

The licentiate degree is a shorter research degree, roughly comparable to a UK MPhil. It takes two-years and is recognised as a pre-doctoral qualification. It includes the coursework from the doctoral degree and a dissertation that amounts to half the work of a PhD student.

As with a standard PhD programme you will have pass a public thesis defence in order to obtain the licentiate qualification.

A licentiate could be a good choice if you want to complete a shorter project or plan to pursue a professional - rather than academic - research career. Otherwise, you'll be better off studying a full PhD - and that's what the rest of this page is about.

Types of Finnish doctorate

There are two types of doctorate in Finland: the more common national doctoral programme and the standard research PhD.

The national doctoral programmes are designed to bring together researchers and facilities in each discipline nationwide. Each discipline within Finland has an associated doctoral programme adopted across all institutions. These programmes are typically fully funded.

If you don’t want to study within a doctoral programme, you can do a tailor-made research PhD. Similar to other countries you will propose your own research topic and pursue it independently - though you may need to find your own funding.

Programme length

The Finnish academic year begins on the 1st of August and finishes on the 31st of July.

Universities are autonomous in organising their semesters, however there are typically two: an autumn and spring semester. Some institutions will also have a third semester during summer-time, depending upon their courses.

You will study for your PhD in Finland for 4 years as a full-time student.

The Finnish PhD process

PhD students in Finland tend to be very independent, with the main focus of your doctorate being your research project, which you will start from year one.

In parallel to your research project you may be required to attend courses, seminars and conferences. All of these will be decided upon by the graduate school or your supervisor and must be related to your research.

You'll produce an original doctoral thesis during your research and this will be the main component of your final PhD assessment.


You will typically be assigned one supervisor who is an expert in your field of study.

In addition to this it is common in Finland for PhDs in appropriate subjects to have links with industry. Therefore, you may also be advised by an instructor from outside your university, with relevant professional or enterprise experience.

Alternatively, you may be part of a joint-degree PhD programme, where your PhD will be co-supervised by an academic at a partner institution.

PhD supervision

The supervision process is an important part of a doctoral degree - wherever you study it. To learn more, read our guides to working with your supervisor and what to expect from them.

Assessment and examination

Finnish PhDs use the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in accordance with the Bologna Process. Your doctoral degree will be worth 240 credits in total, all of which must be obtained to gain your doctoral qualification.

You will have to complete coursework and examinations on the courses and seminars set for you in your PhD programme. In addition, you will be expected to write regular reports on your research and write papers detailing your results.

The final form of assessment for your doctoral studies is the submission and evaluation of your dissertation. There are two stages to this process:

  • The preliminary exam – two experts evaluate your manuscript and produce a written statement declaring that it meets the standards set for dissertations
  • The public defence – up to two external examiners debate your dissertation with you before an audience (some of whom may also contribute questions)

Your dissertation will be published and made available at least 10 days before your defence.

Finnish PhD grades

Most Finnish doctorates are graded on a pass-fail basis (you either graduate with the degree, or you don't). However, some receive an additional grade ranging from pass (approbator) to oustanding (laudatur).

Fees and funding

Generous higher education policies make Finland a very affordable option for your PhD study abroad. There are currently no doctoral fees for any students regardless of nationality.

This is different to Finnish Bachelors and Masters qualifications where non-EU students are typically required to pay fees.

Living costs

Even though there are no tuition fees for doctoral students, the cost of living in Finland can be relatively high compared to other countries.

It is recommended you have between €700-900 available per month, depending on the city you choose to study in.

In addition to your living costs you will need to pay a student’s union fee to the university which ranges from €80-100 annually.


Although you won’t be paying tuition fees there are several scholarships out there to help fund your living costs whilst completing your PhD within Finland.

The following are available for international students:

University funding

Check with your institution for funding opportunities as some offer their own scholarships or provide accommodation for international students.

Employment contracts

You may be funded by your university as a doctoral student employed under a contract. This is typically applicable to students involved in national doctoral programmes.

As with any other member of staff you will receive a salary plus social security benefits. However, you will have to pay income tax.

In return for your salary you will typically be expected to assist at the university, whether this be teaching undergraduates, carrying out administrative work or demonstrating within the labs. It is best to check directly with the university what their terms of an employment contract are.

Applying for a PhD in Finland

The application process in Finland is different to other countries, as you won't typically be applying for advertised projects. Instead, most institutions now have a graduate school with multiple doctoral programmes. You will typically be applying directly to one of these programmes, in order to study for a PhD within it.

Finding a programme

If you can’t find a PhD programme that interests you, try contacting the relevant department at your chosen university to discuss other PhD options they might offer.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements To be admitted onto a PhD programme in Finland you will be required to have a Masters degree (or equivalent) from a recognised institution.

Other requirements will depend on the topic you are applying to research and the specific processes used by your university. If in doubt, check with your department.

Language requirements

The language requirements for your PhD will vary depending upon whether you choose a programme taught in English or Finnish.

For programmes taught in English you will be required to take an English language proficiency test (such as IELTS and TOEFL). There is no national test score limit, these will be set depending upon your institution, check these directly on their admissions webpage.

For courses taught in Finnish you are expected to have the required language skills before applying. You will be required to have an intermediate-advanced level qualification in the Finnish National Certificates of Language Proficiency (YKI).

Application process

You should apply directly to your university for admission to one of its doctoral programmes. It's usually a good idea to contact them in advance and discuss the opportunities they have available.

Once you have done this you can complete your application. The required documents will vary depending upon your discipline and institution, but most will need to see the following:

  • Academic records – you may need to provide full academic transcript from your previous institution, as well as your degree certificates. These documents may need to be officially translated into Finnish and approved by a lawyer.
  • References – you will need to provide at least two references with your application. These should be from academic members of staff who have worked with you previously.
  • Cover letter – sometimes referred to as your statement of purpose (or personal statement). This should explain why you are interested in a specific PhD programme and describe your suitability for it.

Application deadlines will vary: some universities have specific application windows, others will be happy to hear from students throughout the year.

Interviews and examinations

Applications for a Finnish PhD are often competitive, as universities don’t charge fees and will only have the resources to fund a certain number of students. Therefore, you may have to complete an interview as part of the selection process.

Interviews for international students will typically be conducted over a webchat facility such as Skype.

What happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in Finland will follow a fairly standard format (apart from the fact in may take place online). Our guides give advice on what happens at a PhD interview and an overview of some questions you might be asked.

Student visas

Visa information for UK students in Finland

UK students will no longer be EU citizens from the 2021-22 academic year onwards. This means you may be considered as an international student when studying in Finland. You may be subject to different visa requirements and fee rates, unless otherwise stated.

Depending upon your nationality you may need a visa or residence permit to live in Finland whilst studying for your PhD.

EU, EEA (and Nordic) citizens

If you are from the EU, EEA you will not need a visa to enter Finland and can remain in the country for up to 90 years without registering your presence. If you are from one of the other Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) the same applies, but you can remain up to six months before you need to register as a resident.

Once these periods expire you will need to register your residence with the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri). In addition, as your stay will exceed a year you must also register at a local police staton

Non-EU / EEA citizens

Students from other countries will need a student residence permit to study in Finland. This allows you to enter the country and remain there long enough to complete a PhD.

You should begin the application process online and then take the following materials to your nearest Finnish embassy:

  • The official letter of admission from your institution
  • Proof of funds (showing that you will have access to at least €6,720 per year during your degree)
  • A valid passport
  • Valid travel and health insurance

You can find more information on these requirements on the Migri website.

Health insurance

The Finnish Government requires all students to have valid health insurance whilst studying in Finland.

If you are from an EU or EEA country your European Health Insurance Card will suffice. Otherwise, you may need to purchase a policy that meets the following conditions:

  • The excess must no exceed €300
  • If your studies will take less than two years, your insurance must cover medical expenses up to €120,000.
  • If your studies will take two years or more, your insurance must cover pharmaceutical expenses up to €40,000.
  • Your insurance must be valid for at least one year without any breaks (and you must renew it when it runs out, assuming you will be in Finland for longer than one year).

Remember that you'll need to have arranged your health insurance before you can apply for a student residence permit.

Next steps

After studying in a thriving country, with a developed higher education system designed to make you a skilled independent researcher, you will have a very strong CV for future work.

Can I work in Finland after my PhD?

Students from the EU and EEA (including other Nordic countries) will not need a permit to seek work in Finland after they graduate.

For students from other countries there is a generous extension scheme to help you find work. You can apply to extend your residence permit by one year whilst you seek work. You must do this whilst your original student residence permit is still valid.

Your extension year will begin after your graduation. If you find work in this time you can apply for residence permit based on employment.

Find a PhD in Finland

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Finland? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

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Last Updated: 09 December 2022