Joint Graduate School of the University of Lapland 1998 – 2011: History in Brief

In 1998 the University of Lapland made an important decision concerning its postgraduate education. The university established a joint Graduate School that plans, coordinates, and arranges joint researcher education to the faculties of the university and the Arctic Centre. In retrospect, the decision can be understood as graduate school ideology applied at the university level. Back in 1998, the decision was also a demonstration of great vision and innovativeness. In 1995 the Ministry of Education had launched a national graduate school system that financed graduate school cooperation and postgraduate studies carried out typically between several universities and within a certain topic. However, in those days the postgraduate education offered by universities was based on relatively random education provided by faculties and led by professors. The University of Lapland was the first Finnish university to start building a joint, multidisciplinary graduate school programme and to develop university-wide operating principles for supervision and the dissertation process. As late as 2006 – when the University of Lapland was part of the international postgraduate education evaluation system – only Hanken School of Economics had a university-wide postgraduate education programme.

In 1998 the decision was still one of principle. The Graduate School had an ideating Graduate School Work Group and a part-time amanuensis. It was part of the Department of Research Methodology that was an independent unit responsible for coordinating, planning, and implementing the teaching of research methodology at the university. The department was headed by Lecturer Jukka Mäkelä.

In 2002, Suvi Ronkainen was appointed as Professor of Research Methodology at the Department of Research Methodology.  The post was made permanent in 2006. The tasks of the professor included postgraduate education and management of the Graduate School, which marked the beginning of the systematic development of its teaching supply. Shortly thereafter the Graduate School of the University of Lapland offered 35–50 credits’ worth of activities focusing on methodology, philosophy of science, and the various phases of research, which also united postgraduate students through a variety of events. Along with the project Professional Researcher the teaching supply of the Graduate School expanded: there was an annual supply of 50–80 credits available through courses and events spread over a four-year academic calendar. This required the Graduate School to have a full-time amanuensis to arrange the teaching supply, its own budget, and a national teacher network that was updated regularly. The teachers were mainly professional researchers with a doctoral degree.

The new Universities Act and the related national university policy also affected the work of the Graduate School. The first change concerned the Department of Research Methodology, which was in charge of the Graduate School: the department was combined with the Faculty of Social Sciences in 2009.  In 2010 and 2011 the operations of the Graduate School of the University of Lapland were reassessed and its plans revisited. There were plans to change the structure of the national graduate school system and the financing of the entire university establishment.  The report of the Graduate School Working Group set by the Academy of Finland in 2010 in fact launched a similar change process at every Finnish university. Each university formed a university-wide Graduate School that is divided into doctoral programmes. In practice, postgraduate education was organized as a university-level activity although the administrative responsibilities of Graduate Schools differed from one university to another. Simultaneously, the former funding of network-based doctoral programmes through national competitive bidding was terminated and postgraduate education responsibilities were transferred back to the universities and their budgets.


These national changes were evident in the decision made in December 2011 by the Board of the University of Lapland leading to the reorganization of the university's postgraduate education. Previously, the Graduate School had been a joint university-level postgraduate education programme available to all postgraduates. According to the new decision, the Graduate School received a stronger organizational status as a designer and coordinator of postgraduate education, a steering group was established, and postgrad education was directed toward the needs of thematic doctoral programmes.

The change was both minor and significant for postgraduate education at the University of Lapland. In many ways it finished off measures already taken. Also, its educational contents correspond to the goals that were pursued at the national level. The significant part is the fact that the Graduate School of the University of Lapland took on a greater mission as an integrator of postgraduate education and to some extent as an implementer of a national reform.


Innovations and Operating Principles Related to Postgraduate Education

Educational ideas were discussed on the web pages of the Graduate School as follows (up to 2012):

The basic idea behind the Graduate School’s operational planning is to ensure the quality of research: Instead of traditional “training” there must be practices that support researchers’ proficiency, the different phases of research, and the operation of the research community.

The Graduate School “educates” best by meeting the needs of research and researchers and by functioning as a committed research community. Its programme aims to strengthen the identity and know-how of postgraduate students as researchers. Thereby it also aims to forward the completion of studies and the creation of new research projects. The ideology behind postgraduate education has shifted from dissertations to supporting researchers’ proficiency and research activities.

Therefore, the program of the Graduate School comprises - Courses (e.g. data sessions) that support the various phases of research

Construction of professional expertise (e.g. writing courses in different languages)

Targeted, intensive research courses (related to e.g. methods, methodology, and the philosophy of science)

Stimulus lectures and related research seminars

Project hatcheries and researcher conventions

The course forms are based on the idea that instead of being “taught”, the students are given and give systematic, professional feedback on their researcher skills and research progress.
Fluent integration is favoured: For example researcher skills and the development of writing and presentation or language skills are integrated into one another. The forms of education are partly built on the idea that postgraduate students themselves work as a research community – as peer tutors to one another.

Perhaps the best words to summarize the described model of operation are functionality, interactivity, and research orientation.  The emphasis on research orientation is also evident in the recruiting of teachers. Almost all teachers are researchers with a doctor’s degree or professional researchers. This emphasizes the focus on research in educational situations.

The teaching and activities of the Graduate School systematically follow the principles of multidisciplinary research. The courses are open to students from each faculty. The multidisciplinary approach in teaching is observed as part of social activities as well.  In fact, the Graduate School arranges research conventions to enable multidisciplinary research projects with rational contents. The aim of the Graduate School is to function as an active agent that builds and maintains the scientific community.

The Graduate School also has a systematical approach to internationalization: International teacher-researchers and small-scale seminars arranged under their supervision are tailored parts of postgraduate education. Researchers are encouraged to participate in foreign researcher exchange and to further their understanding and production of multicultural research information. In this context “teaching” in the Graduate School actually means supporting the researchers in creating necessary connections and in writing applications and other documents.

The scope of the Graduate School’s curriculum extends from the philosophy of science, information theory, and methodological skills to the quite practical skills of acting as a specialist. This gives postgraduate students a genuine possibility to become professional producers of information and to function as specialists. Course-form education and the recurrence of certain courses also make it possible to choose between various paths as a researcher. Indeed, the Graduate School’s operating principles include, among other things, tolerance for differences and their observation in the planning of course schedules.

The educational planning of the Graduate School at the University of Lapland followed the described principles for a long time, at least until 2010.  The principles did not appear from nowhere; they had been tested in the Scientific Professional Researcher project.  The project was planned and managed by Professor Suvi Ronkainen. It started in the autumn of 2004 and went on until the end of 2006. Twelve postgraduates spanning all the faculties of that time were chosen for the project.

In the planning phase there was a vision of a versatile expert on scientific knowledge who is comprehensively proficient in methodology, who makes use of international networks, and who can function in various organizations that produce and utilize knowledge. The plan states the following:

“Working on one’s own dissertation and mastering its topic constitute only part of the skills of a professional researcher. A professional researcher who can move between research areas within reasonable limits must possess comprehensive methodological skills that extend beyond one's own research area.  In addition, the researcher must be highly proficient in epistemology, theory of knowledge, and knowledge management. The person must understand the varied forms, levels, and competence areas of knowledge, and how they differ from the objectives and research settings that guide the planning of practical research. In addition, the person must be skilled in knowledge management: managing databases, presenting strong source criticism, and contextualizing knowledge. The expertise and scholarship of a professional researcher – who crosses interfaces and engages in basic research as well as in practice-based applied, investigatory, unifying, planning, anticipatory, or evaluating research – do not consist of science only. For this very reason the person needs a clear conception of the relation between scientific requirements and knowledge needed in practical contexts."

The notions continued:

“A researcher also functions in various types of research and expert groups and networks. It means that a professional researcher must be skilled in project planning and management in terms of networking, budgeting, time management, contract law, incorporeal rights, as well as management of expert organizations. Special weight is placed on research ethics because of their complexity in a diverse operating environment.”

And it was noted that the researcher must also know how to function in various expert roles and in increasingly media-oriented public situations.

The Scientific Professional Researcher project afforded 60 credits to be completed in three years. In this context the Graduate School tested the limits of multidisciplinary research education. It also searched for “professional researcher contents” that are either such general expert skills or such contents related to the principles of scientific research that they can be used on a general level. The four-year programme of the Graduate School was based on these experiences.

In 2009–2012 the Graduate School also worked on new, international postgraduate education based on doctoral programmes. This was done in the European Mind project's doctoral programme Doctoral Studies in Semiotics for a Knowledge and Value Based Society (SEMKNOW). The doctoral programme was headed by Eero Tarasti and the person in charge was Professor Suvi Ronkainen.



Suvi Ronkainen

Director of the Graduate School since 2002

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