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.
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:
Also, don’t forget that Finland is a brilliant country to be in around Christmas time, being home to Lapland, and Father Christmas himself.
|Oldest University||University of Helsinki (1640)|
|PhD Length||4 years|
|Academic Year||September to June|
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:
As an international doctoral student you will be applying to the standard universities.
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.
|University||THE 2020||QS 2020||ARWU 2019|
|University of Helsinki||=96||107||63|
|University of Oulu||251-300||374||301-400|
|University of Turku||351-400||=287||301-400|
|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.|
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Your dissertation will be published and made available at least 10 days before your defence.
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).
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.
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:
Check with your institution for funding opportunities as some offer their own scholarships or provide accommodation for international students.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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:
Application deadlines will vary: some universities have specific application windows, others will be happy to hear from students throughout the year.
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.
Depending upon your nationality you may need a visa or residence permit to live in Finland whilst studying for your PhD.
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
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 can find more information on these requirements on the Migri website.
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:
Remember that you'll need to have arranged your health insurance before you can apply for a student residence permit.
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.
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.
Last updated - 20/01/2020