Section 4. University guidelines
Studying at a Finnish University: know your rights and responsibilities
Sanna Viitanen, Aalto University
Key questions: How does the university support smooth studying and promote a safe learning environment? What are your responsibilities as a student? Where can you find information about student rights and responsibilities?
Student rights and responsibilities at Finnish universities are based on legislation, especially the Universities Act. Other legislation, such as the Constitution, the Non-discrimination Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the principles of good administration, also guide our public universities. In addition, universities have formulated university-specific regulations and instructions that complement the legislation.
Legislation and regulations aim to enable you to study for a degree and provide you with the teaching and counselling you need to do that. They also help you take responsibility for your studies. In addition, they secure a safe study and work environment for the whole university community, allowing you to continue your studies in different life situations and live a healthy student life.
Understanding the central student rights and responsibilities will help you navigate the university and reach your goals.
Studying for a degree
Upon admission to university, you receive a study right for a certain degree. The Universities Act sets the normative duration of different degrees. The university must arrange tuition and study counselling so that, as a full-time student, you can complete your degree within this timeframe.
The Decree on University Degrees and Professional Specialisation Programmes describes the general provisions of bachelor's and master's degrees: the scope of studies, the required language proficiencies, and the general objectives and structures. Universities decide on more precise degree requirements, such as the goals of degrees and the structure of studies.
When you begin your studies, you formulate an individual plan to complete your degree within the normative time. To do this, you find the descriptions of study modules and their timing in the curriculum. Course descriptions include information on course-level learning goals, completion, and ways of substituting the course, among other things. You can, to a certain extent, apply for credit transfer.
As a student, you also have responsibilities regarding your studies and the university community. For example, you are responsible for enrolling at the university and registering as attending or non-attending every academic year, according to the instructions provided by the university. Furthermore, you must follow the university’s rules and instructions.
When the university makes certain administrative decisions that concern your rights, you have the right to appeal. These decisions include admission to the university, evaluation of study attainment, and disciplinary decisions. The instructions for appeal are provided with the decision.
You have responsibility for your learning. Feedback is essential for learning, and you have the right to receive it and obtain information on how assessment criteria are applied to your study attainments. Be active and ask your teachers for feedback!
Promoting a safe learning environment
The Universities Act states that students have the right to enjoy a safe learning environment, and creating such an environment is everyone’s responsibility. According to the Universities Act, students may not disrupt teaching, behave threateningly or violently, or endanger the life or health of others. The rights and responsibilities of staff are set forth in employment legislation and agreements. The universities’ own guidelines promote internal order, smooth study, and a safe community.
The Aalto University Code of Conduct is an example of a university-specific regulation. All members of the Aalto community must commit to it. Community members are expected to behave responsibly and respect the rights of other members to a safe and pleasant university environment allowing unhindered progress in study and work. Another example at Aalto is the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion workplan. It aims to promote a diverse and inclusive community where all students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders feel a sense of belonging and can fully fulfil their professional, educational, and social aspirations.
These regulations aim to make the university a pleasant place for students. However, should you experience any inappropriate behaviour or worrying issues within the university community, you can contact academic affairs, the student union, or a study psychologist for advice and support.
The Finnish Constitution establishes the grounds for equality in society. The Non-Discrimination Act obliges education providers to evaluate the realization of equality in their activities and take necessary measures to promote it. You will learn more about equality in education in section 2 of this chapter.
Studying in different life situations
The university aims to provide an environment where you can focus on studying. Life is unexpected, however, and you may find yourself in a situation where this is not possible. As a student, you have the right to study flexibly and, for example, be on sick leave or absent for other reasons. Please note, that registering as non-attending, or not accumulating enough credits may affect your residence permit.
If you study for both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, or only a master’s degree, you have the right to exceed the normative duration of the degree by a maximum of two years. However, if you study solely for a bachelor’s degree, you may exceed the normative time by a maximum of one year. You also have the right to register as non-attending (absent). Absences due to statutory requirements are excluded from the normative duration of studies: service under the Conscription Act, the Non-Military Service Act, or the Women’s Voluntary Military Service Act, or maternity, paternity, or parental leave. Other absences up to a maximum of two academic terms are excluded from the normative duration of studies when you register as non-attending
In Finland, the academic year begins on August 1st and ends on July 31st , and it is divided into two academic terms, autumn and spring. The right to be absent during the first study year is limited to statutory reasons or a medical condition preventing you from beginning your studies.
Students must register as attending or non-attending every academic year following the University’s instructions. If you fail to do this, you will lose your right to study. During the autumn semester, you can reclaim your study right by paying a re-registration fee. After that, you must reapply to the university for admission.
An illness or other difficult life situation also entitles you to apply for an extension to finalize your studies. In such cases, your study coordinator and teachers will help you adjust your individual study plan. There are well-being and health services and support available. You will learn more about student well-being and the student union services in chapters 4 and 5.
Student rights and responsibilities are established in the legislation, where they are described at a general level. Universities possess their own regulations, guidelines, and instructions. These may differ slightly from one university to another, but they usually include degree or examination regulations, ethical guidelines or codes of conduct, a plan for the promotion of equality, guidelines on credit transfer, a policy on the extension to the duration of studies, and instructions on asking for a rectification or appeal. Universities, student unions, and many other associations undertake activities to promote smooth studying and student well-being.
Sources of information
Legal advice for students:
The Legal aid website of the Ministry of Justice
Last modified: Wednesday, 29 March 2023, 11:33 AM