Exactly 10 years ago around these times I was preparing for my first year at University. I had a new bag, new shoes, and a new set of pencils and clothes. I had no idea what I was getting into (since I was the first University-goer in our family) but, as always when facing a new challenge, I was super excited.
In hindsight I have to say that as awesome and fun experience as University was, professionally it hasn’t really brought me any perks. When applying for jobs it’s my work experience that matters, not the degree. Which is great because I didn’t get much studying done in those 4 years…
I went to Uni. in my home town Turku in Finland but my only reason for being there was to use it as a stepping board to get to the UK (through an exchange or and internship). So, on my third year I took my school bag to Aberdeen, Scotland and continued studying Business Management there.
Having studied in two countries the similarities and differences in how studying is perceived, how the education is arranged, and whether working and studying at the same time is possible are quite clear to me.
I thought I’d compare these two countries studying-wise in case there are people who are considering University studies abroad but are not sure where to study. Especially in the EU it’s so easy to go and study in another country (yeah, I haven’t forgotten that the UK is not an EU country for much longer but a part of me hopes that they can come up with some sort of an arrangement for Universities’ specifically).
And I also just think it’s interesting to see the differences in two countries that, at the end of the day, are so close culturally and geographically. So here goes:
UK vs. Finland – University Edition
In Finland primary school continues all the way to our teenage years. After that we tend to continue either to High School or to vocational school from where you will graduate into a specific profession. High School is the perfect option for those who do not yet know at the age of around 15 what they want to do with their life. They get an extra 3 years to consider different options. High School also prepares you for University.
So, basically Finns don’t enter Universities before the age of 19-20. Whereas in the UK I was shocked to find myself studying with teenagers. I considered (and still consider) them to be way too young to handle the responsibilities of University, let alone know already at that age what they want to become. Most of them haven’t become independent yet and it’s a fact that a human brain is not developed enough at that age.
I definitely think that the Finnish system of teaching kids the basic life skills up till they are actual adults, and can be trusted to fend for themselves, is better than forcing a teenager to make such big life-decisions. I’m almost 30 and I am only now beginning to glimpse what I might actually want to be and do professionally. Some people are so fortunate that they know what they want early on but most of us don’t.
OK, this difference between the 2 countries might come down to tuition fees. In Finland studying is free for all EU citizens. So studying in Scotland was also free of charge for me. Back then University studies were also free for Scots but in England the tuition fees went up a ridiculous amount while I was there 10 years ago. So, the earlier you start Uni. the less it might cost you, I guess. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The range of degrees and teaching styles
I studied an international program and I did get the impression that our degree was much more laid-back than those programs where lectures were in Finnish by Finnish lecturers. Our teachers were from all over the world and our schedule was very laid-back. Which was great… except I didn’t learn much.
In Finland Universities want you to be extremely self-sufficient and basically they want you to teach yourself. But that sort of studying suits only a small percentage of students. Most of us like, and need, proper guidance in the form of lectures and tutoring. This was one of the most positive aspects I remember from my studies in Scotland.
The lectures were a serious business; you were only allowed 2 absences per course and after lectures we were divided into smaller groups where we dwelled deeper into the day’s subject, discussed different views and clarified points that had been left unclear. At least for me, this has been the best way to learn. First give me the big picture and then go deeper into the details.
I also noticed that in the UK the array of degrees to choose from was much more varied and specific than in Finland. For example, if you are interested in Marketing, in Finland your option is to choose the whole Business Management degree, which includes Marketing. Unfortunately it also includes everything else business-related from logistics to accounting, which I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about.
But in the UK the array of degrees is much more specific; in Aberdeen it was possible to study oil engineering or fashion management. This meant that in Scotland I was able to really go deep into different aspects of Marketing, whereas in Finland Marketing was one course in our Business degree about the basics of Marketing…
So, how did that play out in the long run? Basically, everything they taught me 10 years ago about Marketing is completely out of date today. Digital marketing didn’t even exist back then, let alone social media. The more specific courses, that I was able to take in Aberdeen, were much more beneficial because I was able to understand more specific aspects of the enormous subject. Aspects like ethics, cultural nuances, etc. which are things that will not change in 10 years’ time, and which can be applied in practice no matter what sort of Marketing you end up doing.
Working while studying
Because the study schedules and depths of the courses are so different between these two countries, it also shows in the students’ ability to gain valuable work experience while studying.
In Finland it is not traditional that parents would pay for their kids’ living costs after they move away from home, no matter if they move out because of studying or just because. Living costs are quite high and the benefits that students get from the state do not cover the monthly living costs. So, working alongside University studies is pretty much compulsory.
But because studying in Finland is so self-reliant and quite laid-back it’s possible for students to work quite flexibly. OK, perhaps a 9-5 office job wouldn’t be possible but evenings and weekends are no problem at all. But in the UK study schedules are much more vigorous and after a solid 8-hour day at the Uni. you really don’t have much energy or any time for a job. Because after you go home you’ve got reports to write, studies to make and essays to conduct.
I’ve realized that the professional experience weighs a lot more than a degree when applying for jobs after Uni. It’s always good to know the theory, but theory won’t take you far when technologies are changing and evolving faster than you can say ‘cat’. Practical knowledge and skills are always the most beneficial, which is why being able to work along your University studies is extremely important, in my opinion.
Another thing I noticed was that in Finland we are encouraged to go abroad for at least one semester, either to study or to do an internship. Internship is compulsory in Universities in Finland, but in the UK it’s often only “encouraged”.
I acted as a Student Ambassador in Aberdeen for local students who were considering going abroad for an exchange. And I was surprised at the small number of students even considering the subject. Even fewer ended up going. And I think we can see the results in Brexit; the ignorance towards the rest of the world. I seriously do not believe that Brexit would’ve happened if British people were more interested in different cultures and people, or in living somewhere else, if only for a couple of months.
I feel very passionate about gaining life experience abroad as a young adult because I know how awesome those experiences are and how far they will carry you in life! So, just a couple more words about the perks of doing an exchange abroad while studying:
The world is becoming smaller and smaller, and openness and understanding other people is becoming more and more vital. And nothing in this world can prepare you for whatever life will bring your way like a period abroad does!
A lot of people are so prejudiced, misinformed and just really uncivilized because they haven’t lived abroad. I would probably be too. The younger generations today are already much smarter than the middle aged people today because they are so global-minded (did I just make up a word?), and from personal experience I can guarantee that being global-minded is the only way you can survive in the professional world of the 21st century.
It might be a tad more complicated for Brits to go and study abroad from now on, but I promise each and every single one of you: it’s all worth it! Worth all the paper work, worth the tear-eyed goodbyes at the airport, worth the culture shock, worth every single little thing!
If nothing else, at least you will see your home country and your home town with new eyes. Whether that means that you realize the place you come from is not for you, or that you’re the happiest there, surely that’s a realization worth having, right? :)
I made couple ‘pros and cons’ infographs about both, Finland and the UK. You can check them out for a quick round-up of this post in my Pinterest.