Opening Up University To Anyone Interested
65DN investigates Oulu’s ‘Open University.’
In many countries, the Open University is a fully accredited institution which allows people in full time work – and with the relevant school qualifications – to get a degree. In the old days, its lectures were broadcast on television in the early hours of the morning, while now they tend to rely on the internet.
But this is not so in Finland. Each Finnish university runs its own ‘Open University’ where people who are not students at the university can sit the same introductory modules as university students, albeit for a fee. They can, later, use these modules as part of their degree if they manage to become actual students. Or they can just sit the modules out of interest.
‘I finished school last year and now I’m taking a year out,’ explains Aleksi, 20, who is funding himself through ‘various jobs.’ In many ways, it’s an enforced year out. He applied to Oulu University to read a humanities subject but, like the majority of people who apply to Finnish universities, was rejected.
‘It seems to me that the people who get in are really committed to the subject,’ he tells me. ‘They’ve really read a lot and are really interested. To be honest, I didn’t do enough reading!’
But he is adamant that he wants to study his desired subject at Oulu University, so much so that he’s forking out 250 euros of his own money to sit the subject’s introductory course. He hopes that when he re-sits the university entrance exam, he will be armed with enough knowledge to finally pass it. It also means that he will already have passed most of the first year modules when he begins, so his ‘year out’ won’t have gone to waste.
Erkki is also on the same course but his reasons are very different. ‘I had to retire early due to health problems’ he says. No longer working, he likes to fill his days and intellectually stimulate himself and he regards his chosen subject as particularly fascinating.
Sana works as a businesswomen and also just has a general interest in the subject. In many ways, she is a stereotypical Open University student. Around half of them are over the age of thirty, 85 percent have graduated from ‘lukio’ (Academic High School) and 77 percent of them are female.
Also, if you have a degree from a foreign country then, sometimes, the Finnish system won’t recognize it because you haven’t sat certain modules which are compulsory as part of the Finnish equivalent degree. The Open University allows you to privately arrange the necessary tuition with Oulu University lecturers.
According to the national Open University, almost all courses are available through Finnish Open Universities, with the exception of dentistry and medicine.
Risto Rova, the head of Humanities Planning at Oulu Open University, explains that, ‘The students at the Open University have multiple backgrounds, some study for the general knowledge, some to prepare for the entrance examination, or to improve their professional skills and some as unemployed to improve their competency and skills on labor market, also many people study on language courses to improve their language skills.’
‘Some courses are taught in English like Beginners and Survival Finnish, Introduction to International Business and Cross cultural Business Communication courses.’
‘All the grades completed at the Open University are fully equivalent to same courses in the faculties so if you pass a entrance examination and start your studies as a full day student you can get full compensation for the courses already completed at the Open University.’
Jani Koskela, a PhD researcher in the university’s Education Department, has run many courses on his subject at the Open University.
‘I find that the students are more committed than at the university,’ he explained. ‘It’s because they’re paying for it . . . but also they are there because they are really interested in the subject, not as some part of being a student.’
The Open University began life in about 1900 as the ‘Summer University’ – the idea being to spread learning beyond the confines of Finland’s single university in Helsinki. However, it wasn’t until 1969, when the Open University was founded in Great Britain, that serious discussion was given to opening up university courses to non-students.
The first Open University was then established, at Tampere University, in 1971, offering various sciences. It proved so popular that the authorities introduced a lower-age limit of 25 to cope with the number of applicants. Oulu’s Open University was established in 1980.