Laiho Irma

Mestareiden opissa. Tutkijakoulutus Suomessa sotien jälkeen

Trained by Masters. Finnish Postgraduate Education and Research Training after the Wars

English summary


The purpose of the study was to analyse the historical development, social significance and general features of Finnish postgraduate education and research training. Scientific postgraduate education generally and research training especially refers to the training which leads to a research career and doctor's degree. So far, there have been no comprehensive historical empirical studies of these issues. Also the general theoretical frame of reference is missing.

The research problems are:

  1. How has postgraduate education and research training been organised and developed as a part of the Finnish higher education system after the Second World War?
  2. In what way have the State's tasks and objectives, and academic values connected with postgraduate education and research training changed during the decades?
  3. How has professionalisation influenced the development of postgraduate education and research training?

The main research material of the study are committee reports, commission memorandums, acts, decrees, regulations, general guidelines and higher education statistics. I have also used journals dealing with higher education and research. The study has been complemented with a questionnaire sent to postgraduate students and professors.

The development of Finnish postgraduate education and research training in three historical periods

I have analysed three historical periods that are significant from the point of view of the development of postgraduate education and research training:

1. The time of the masters (until the late 1950's)

2. The time of the State (from the 1960's to the end of the 1970's)

3. The time of the apprentices (from the 1980's onwards)

The time of the masters

During "the time of the masters", there existed no well organised state steered science policy or higher education policy. The whole volume of the Finnish higher education system was modest, and the University of Helsinki stood clearly out from the others. Five of the universities were state-owned and the remaining seven were private. The Academy of Finland, established in 1947, was an institution created for the selected and few top names of research and science, and it promoted the education of the scientific offspring only scarcely. The Ministry of Education was small, and it had no specific department for higher education and research.

The field of postgraduate education has traditionally not been strongly state-steered, although the leftist-agrarian governments have attempted at increasing the steering of higher education. Not a single committee was appointed to deal with postgraduate education in the 1950's, and very few higher education and research committees were appointed. The committees were dominated by professors, and they were Helsinki-centred. They did not include women or postgraduate students.

The professors were responsible for decision-making on postgraduate education, and they possessed the professional monopoly of expertise in the field of postgraduate education. In fact, postgraduate education did not exist: postgraduate studies equalled preparing the doctoral dissertation. The graduates working at universities were referred to as "scientific offspring", "preparers of dissertations", and "postgraduate continuers". The professors' "obligation" to educate researchers was in practise fulfilled with one doctoral disputation: that of his follower as professor. In practise, every PhD with an interest in a university career could count on getting a position.

Postgraduate education was by nature Humboldtian "higher cultivation of the mind", were old traditions were transferred from the masters to the apprentices. Individual development was primary and serving the State or community was secondary. The "apprentices", the assistants and other junior teaching and research staff, were few. The tasks of an assistant included teaching and administration. Independent research was not included in the official duties of an assistant, since that meant studying and studying in turn could not be rewarded with a salary. Grants for postgraduate education were given by universities and research committees. In addition, there were some grants awarded by various foundations. Research was also pursued at external research units, which often had contacts with universities both via postgraduate students as well as senior research fellows and especially docents.

Female postgraduate students were extremely few. Students, as well as the professors, had an upper class background. Entrance to postgraduate studies was not limited, and the few assistantships were easily obtainable. Social background filtered the newcomers effectively, and social closure was therefore not very strict. The heterogeneity of the field was emphasised by the double status of postgraduate students. As experts in their field, the students were professionals, but as researchers, they were semi-professionals. The smallness of the group and the subordinate status in reference to professors slowed down the professionalist aspirations of postgraduate students.

Between the years 1947-1951 postgraduate education became two-staged in all fields except medicine. Licentiate studies were considered as complementing the basic degree rather than as leading towards the occupation of a researcher. There were no postgraduate education programmes and the studies concentrated on the drafting of the thesis. The University of Helsinki had a hegemony in postgraduate studies, as four out of five postgraduate degrees were completed there until the end of the 1950's. Most degrees were completed in natural sciences and mathematics, humanities, and medicine. These fields were responsible for two thirds of all postgraduate degrees. All fields had a shortage of research offspring, which was measured as shortage of professors.

The time of the State

During the time of the State, from the 1960's to the late 1970's, science, research and higher education became more centrally steered and planned, and "proper" state science and higher education policy begun to take shape. The welfare state was built by means of total societal planning, where also research and higher education was connected. The growth of the welfare state and the economy was steady until the mid 1970's, but as a consequence of the oil crisis, the goals of growth had to be abandoned. Unemployment touched for the first time also the academic population.

Finland joined the OECD in 1969, but its influence was great already since its foundation in the early 1960's. Research was steered sectorally, prompted by the needs of different administrative branches. The regional policy conducted by the Agrarian Party and the Finnish People's Democratic League was extended into higher education policy, and various new universities were founded all around Finland. By the end of the 1970's there were about twenty state-owned universities and other institutions of higher education in Finland. The administration of higher education and research was organised by founding a department of higher education and research at the Ministry of Education, and by founding the Council for Higher Education. The higher education development act for the years 1967-81 increased the student and teacher numbers at the universities considerably. The large post-war age cohorts massified the universities, and the student body became more middle class. The reorganisation of the Academy of Finland in 1969 strengthened the economic position of the junior research staff considerably. The Academy defined certain areas of interest, which in turn influenced the development of postgraduate education. Universities were obliged to draw research policy programmes. State committees started to consist of a larger group of members than male full professors: they included representatives of the State, the Ministry of Education, the Academy of Finland, Union of University Assistants, and women. In decision making concerning postgraduate education, the interests of the State and the professors collided. Most culturally conservative professors were tied to the Humboldtian tradition and they opposed to State intervention and the attempts at making higher education and research more responsive to the needs of the society.

Junior teacher and research staff grew faster than the number of professors, and the differentiation of the whole university staff deepened. Both assistants and professors begun to look after their professional interests more eagerly, and they founded their own professional organisations. After the foundation of the Union of University Assistants (Assistenttiliitto; 1967) research was included in the assistant's official duties. The Union of Finnish University Professors (Professoriliitto; 1969) was founded during the debate on university administrative reform. The background of these organisations is different. The union of assistants was founded to voice out professional demands, whereas the union of professors was founded to ward off attacks on professional monopoly. Both assistants and professors were still recruited from the upper social strata. Female professors were rare, and there were not very many women among assistants either. A few percent of professors and approximately one fourth of assistants were female in the 1970's.

Along with the foundation of their own professional organisation, assistants had acquired most of the characteristics of a profession. They possessed a high level education, research and teaching fulfilled a vital service need at the society; the position of an assistant was reasonably autonomous, although clearly subordinate to the profession of professors; the education gave a specific qualification to the occupation of a researcher; the profession was intellectual; and it had a highly developed scientific base and a conceptual system.

The State wanted to abandon the old fashioned idea of cultivation of the mind. Demands to organise research training, to draw postgraduate study programmes and to create a modern profession of a researcher strengthened. In some so-called hard fields some reforms of these types were made. During the degree reformation in the beginning of the 1970's, there were aspirations to include postgraduate education in the education continuum. The goals, purposes and contents of postgraduate education were redefined more precisely than before. The idea was to remake the doctoral degree as the only postgraduate degree and change the licentiate into a professional further degree. The idea was also to include professional elements in the doctorate so that the education would prepare for higher level planning, development and education tasks. The highest degrees were, however, still obtained in an individualistic and Humboldtian spirit especially in the humanities, although the setting up of researcher groups was supported.

In spite of the student expansion, there was a shortage of "scientific offspring", and especially the new universities found it hard to fulfil their postgraduate education obligations. The University of Helsinki maintained her strong position. In the 1960's almost two out of three postgraduate degrees were taken in Helsinki, compared with one half in the 1970's. One doctoral dissertation out of three was defended in medicine, and every fourth in natural sciences. The quantitative need and occupational placement of postgraduate degree holders became an object of general interest. In spite of the increasing number of doctoral dissertations along with the new universities and growing student numbers, all main fields were estimated to have a shortage of postgraduate degrees. The shortage was especially great in law, business and technology. During the 1960's, the need for postgraduate education was measured by demand and in the 1970's by labour policy needs.

The time of the apprentices

During the 1980's and the 1990's, in the time of the apprentices, the both the ideology and the policy of the Finnish welfare state changed. The knowledge and technology society set new efficiency demands regarding science and highly educated work force. The production structure of the society presupposed an increase in research potential especially in technical and commercial fields. Citizens were educated into dynamic and capable members of a knowledge intensive civil society. Models of higher education from OECD and EU countries emphasised market economy principles, university self steering, efficiency, accountability and assessment. Science policy acquired new meaning as a part of technology and innovation policy. In addition to highest education and degree production, the field of postgraduate education included also research and development central for production and society. The Humboldtian model of postgraduate education was deemed ineffective.

Postgraduate degrees gained more weight with one-line budgeting and result based funding. Professors became responsible managers of their own units, who had to take care of the efficiency and productivity of their own postgraduate education. More efficiency was also demanded of the study guidance system. The whole personnel was mobilised to reach the goals. The task of the graduate student was to prepare the thesis - preferably doctoral - as quickly and efficiently as possible.

National postgraduate study programmes were drawn since the end of the 1980's in co-operation between universities, and programmes included more courses and other teaching. During the 1990's there were strong aspirations to leave behind the old-fashioned, exclusive, Humboldtian postgraduate study especially in the graduate schools system stressing efficiency and results and funded by the Academy of Finland. Full time, salaried postgraduate students were a new group at the universities. Admittance to postgraduate study was no longer unlimited, but based on an open, even international selection. Social closure became stricter. The launching of graduate schools as well as post-doctoral education deepened the polarisation of postgraduate students into "real researchers" and "dilettantes".

The differentiation of the apprentices, the junior teaching and research staff at the universities, was also deepened by the growth of external funding. Apprentices became more like academic journeymen whose tasks and commissions changed. Mobility was also increased by networking and internationalisation. The number of postgraduate students grew and social background as well as gender distribution grew more balanced. In the mid 1990's, approximately 40 per cent of postgraduate students were women and they produced about 40 per cent of the degrees. Women also increased their share in the university teaching and research staff. Female full professors, however, were still rare. Most doctoral dissertations took place in medicine, and most postgraduate degrees were taken in natural sciences.


The study strengthened many general ideas. Externally, research training has been characterised by Humboldtian academic freedom, invisibility and marginalism. Internally, it has been selective and elitist.

The historical examination showed that the expansion and intensifying of postgraduate education and research training have followed the general societal development related to growth of economy, the expansion of education, labour market changes, and demographic development. Increasing state steering, and education and workforce production obligations of the welfare state influenced higher education and thus also postgraduate education. In the field of postgraduate education the changes took place later than in other higher education, because the Humboldtian, individual master-apprentice tradition stressing academic freedom and self-steering was particularly strong there. The old traditions died hard and the American graduate school system, stressing efficiency, results, and strong organisation, adapted slowly in the Finnish higher education system. There were differences between fields, however, since the hard fields were more inclined to adopt these reforms than the soft fields. A general trend was, however, that the whole field of postgraduate education was static.

Is seems likely that postgraduate education will in the future be examined more from the point of view of labour policy. The "underproduction" and uneven production of postgraduate degree holders is no longer a concern like in the 1980's, but in some specialised fields such as high tech and medicine a shortage of researchers is expected in the future. Postgraduate degrees are still do not seem to be much appreciated outside the universities, although the interest of the economic life seems to be increasing. The increasing management and expert positions especially in production, traffic, financing, administration and culture are the future professional sectors where recently graduated doctors are placed. Also vocational higher education institutions and upper secondary schools are expected to employ some of the new doctors.