Schools of social work in Finland

The University of Helsinki

Social work teaching in Finnish

In Finland, academic social work education first started in Helsinki in the 1950s. For decades, social work was taught together with social policy. Today social work is an independent discipline and field of research. Social work teaching focuses on the issues of urban social work. The aim of the Department of Social Policy is to give research-based instruction, i.e. teaching is based on the latest research in the field.

In social work instruction, students learn to analyze societal changes and their effects at the level of the individual and community, to do documentation necessary for professional social work, to do research, and to collect and produce information related to social work practices. The degree programme provides students with basic skills in client-centered and community work and prepares them for conducting independent research and acting as experts in social work. A substantial part of social work instruction is given at the Heikki Waris Institute, which is a joint project between the Helsinki local government and the University of Helsinki, providing a training and research clinic for urban social work. The institute provides a learning environment where teaching and research articulate with the development of social work practices and the latest discourse in the field. The relation of social work education to practice is living in time and dynamic by nature, which is an absolute prerequisite for the development of scientific professional practices.  

Social work research pursues both theoretical and applied objectives. Its ways of thinking are based on theories, ideas and interpretations concerning social phenomena, social problems, people’s well-being and sustainable development. In social work, research is undertaken into the conditions of human activity and everyday coping strategies, continuities and discontinuities in everyday life, social work professions and institutions and the diverse voluntary work in the field. Various issues are brought under analysis, such as communities, families, the whole range of human life cycle and related everyday issues, social problems especially as they appear in child protection and social work with marginalized groups, the changing identities of individuals, the history and education of social work and the assessment of social services and social work.

Social work teaching in Swedish

The University of Helsinki is solely responsible for the training of Swedish-speaking social workers in the whole of Finland. The Swedish School of Social Science (Svenska social- och kommunalhögskolan) and the Department of Social Policy are jointly responsible for the teaching. At the Swedish School of Social Science, students can take the Bachelor’s degree in one of the following three majors: social work and social policy, social psychology and psychology or sociology. At present the Bachelor’s degree gives graduates the qualifications for the position of social worker. The master’s degree programme, i.e. the advanced studies in social work, can be taken at the Department of Social Policy with social work as the major subject. Part of the instruction is given at the Mathilda Wrede Clinic at the Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare for the Swedish-speaking population in Finland. The clinic is located at the Southern Social Centre in Helsinki.


The University of Jyväskylä

At the University of Jyväskylä, social work education started in 1975 first as an alternative in the discipline of social policy, later as a study module of its own. Since the year 2000, social work has been an independent degree programme, in which students can take the following degrees: Bachelor of Social Sciences, Master of Social Sciences, Licentiate in Social Sciences and Doctor of Social Sciences.

The study guide characterizes social work in the following way: Social work is a field of research, profession and discipline aiming at promoting the functional capabilities of individuals and groups suffering from social problems. Social work is a practice-oriented discipline and field of research also producing professional competence. Social work also applies approaches, theories and research results of other disciplines and fields of research concerning the individual, family, communities and aid systems.

The Master of Social Sciences degree programme in social work aims at providing students with both practical and research-oriented skills, conceptual tools to analyze social work practices, targeted social problems and the relation of social work to surrounding society. Social work education enables graduates to work as professional social workers and as experts in different positions in social welfare administration, planning, research and education.

Social work research at the University of Jyväskylä focuses on child and childhood studies, the eco-social approach in social work, evaluation research and women’s and men’s studies. The expertise of the staff in these fields is conveyed in the form of thesis topics, the curriculum itself and individual courses. Social work instruction makes use of the multidisciplinary environment of the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, which includes philosophy, sociology, political science and social policy in addition to social work. Social work, social policy and sociology have some joint courses (The Basics of Social Policy, Finnish Society, Research Methods). Social work students can also include studies in the third sector and social gerontology in their individual learning plans. The basic studies (approbatur) in psychology are a compulsory part of social work studies. The University of Jyväskylä has worked long in close collaboration with the city of Jyväskylä and other local authorities in the area to develop practical training. The Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare in Central Finland is an important partner for the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy.


The University of Eastern Finland

The social work education at the University of Kuopio connects with the research conducted at the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy. Social work education prepares students for perceiving phenomena, multidimensional interactive relationships between individuals, groups and communities and the working environment. The instruction has a strong psycho-social orientation. Basic social work and demanding expert positions require basis skills in management, coordination and planning. Students acquaint themselves with social work management and administration. Social legislation is taught in special study modules and as part of courses in social work. To strengthen students’ knowledge of social welfare policy, social policy has been made a compulsory minor subject in the degree programme. Becoming accustomed to scientific thinking, argumentation and problem-solving skills and to scientific writing through practice is an essential part of the education. Social work education equips students with an inquisitive approach to work and work practice. Studies in methodology strengthen the role of social work in the scientific problem-solving process concerning issues at the level of the individual, community and society.

Teaching profits from the composition of the scientific community and international relations. Teaching and research do interdisciplinary cooperation in many areas, such as social work in health care, information management in social and health care administration, cooperation between social and health care and the well-being of families and children. The instruction encourages students to embark on the research projects conducted at the department, the core areas of which are research into security and welfare, development of social and health care communities, social pedagogy and research into the history of science, local democracy and its implementation, and the administration and management of social and health care and social work. The department has a working international student and teacher exchange programme and it participates in international projects concerning the development of education.

The education prepares students for client-centered work, community work and positions in welfare policy research, planning and projects. In practical instruction and field placements the theoretical foundation of social work is connected to professional practice and practical skills. The education gives students a strong professional identity and knowledge base, and it also enables graduates to work as equal partners with other academically educated professional groups in multiprofessional cooperation.


The University of Lapland

The Department of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland is known as an innovative research and training unit. Its task as the northernmost university training unit for social work in the EU is to provide research-based teaching at the highest level in the field of social work and to enhance progress of the field. The department places strong emphasis on the promotion of the expertise in the northern dimension and on strengthening local and regional expertise.

The degree programme in social work began in the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1982. The quality of the work carried out in the unit has been awarded many times. In 1992 National Board of Health and Social Welfare in Finland awarded their Research and Development Prize to the Welfare Services Development project arranged jointly by the Department of Social Sciences, the Continuing Education Centre and the City of Kemijärvi. In 1993 Finnish Federation for Social Welfare and Health awarded its public information prize to the department. In 1996 the department was named a centre of excellence in scientific education by the Finnish University Council, and in 1998 the Finnish Higher Education Evaluation Council selected it as a unit of high-quality education for 1999-2000.

Today, social work education is supported by the study modules in psychology, social gerontology and rehabilitation at the cum laude level (subject-related major studies). The Department of Social Sciences also has a professorship and a lecturership for psychology as well as a professorship for social gerontology and social work established in 2000. Finland’s first professorship and lecturership for rehabilitation were established in cooperation with the Department of Sociology at the University of Lapland and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oulu.

When the degree programme for social work was first launched, the education was based on social policy. Later on, sociology and administrative sciences were also included as main subjects. Since 1994 the only main subject in the degree programme has been social work. In the past few years there have been about 200 applicants in the entrance examinations, and the rate of acceptance is about 20 per cent.

In addition to practical social work, social work is also understood as an independent field of research and a discipline in its own right. Based on empowerment and advocacy, social work at the University of Lapland concentrates on research into people’s everyday life and their coping with it, and on research into life politics and on teaching based on this research. As practical activity, social work is based on scientific knowledge, it is both ethical and rational activity which supports individuals, families, groups and communities to cope with life. Social work also has an influence on eliminating social evils.

The degree programme for social work is based on the best knowledge available. Its study modules consist of main subject studies (87 credits), minor subject studies (49 credits), methodological studies (14 credits) and language studies (10 credits). The aim of the degree programme is:

1) to give students a scientifically based picture of society, and especially to give an insight into the scientific basis of social work, its practices, its field of research as well as its research methods,
2) to prepare students for the recognition and scientific analysis of the structures and function of society and social phenomena at the level of the individual, group and community,
3) to give students the necessary skills to apply scientific knowledge in an ethically sustainable way in evaluating, solving, preventing and managing problems at the level of the individual, group and community when working in positions of customer-oriented social work and social work affecting society,
4) to prepare students for the inquisitive professional practice of social workers, development of   professional special skills, scientific postgraduate studies and lifelong learning.

Social work teaching combines scientific knowledge and reflectivity. The education is carried out on the basis of students’ individual learning plans (HOPS). On all levels of teaching, social work theory, practice and research are integrated. The emphasis of teaching methods is placed on individual tutoring, interaction, working in small groups and courses with multiple teachers.

In the 1990s the department was actively engaged in developing social work education in what started in the 1980s as a programme of establishing social centres for training. The social centre for training was built on an agreement-based and decentralized model. It has units in Rovaniemi, Kemi, Kemijärvi and Oulu. The social centre for training combines social work education, research and development. As to teaching, it aims at developing and carrying out basic social work teaching especially in the field of vocational training, and promoting and intensifying continuing vocational training and post-experience vocational education in social work. The idea behind arranging instruction in social centres for training is to integrate theory, practice, research, teaching, studying and especially learning.  

In 2002 the Department of Social Work took part in developing a Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare in Northern Finland in the regions of Oulu and Rovaniemi. The centre was launched at the beginning of 2002. A further challenge concerns the expansion and development of the occupational practices in the social centre for training and the Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare.

Since 1999 the Department has coordinated the National University Network for Social Work (SOSNET). The network promotes cooperation within the field of undergraduate studies and organizes professional licentiate and doctoral education, develops virtual teaching and is active on the national and international forums for social work development. In the past few years, the education units in social work have participated actively in developing the field at national level, achieving significant results, such as the national programme for developing social welfare, the national advisory board on social welfare, the law on social welfare personnel, the project for developing the task structure and the professional structure in social care, and the networking special services project (VEP).

The department research activities have been coordinated under the umbrella theme: "Change in society, confinements in everyday life and their solutions as the target problem of social work". The umbrella theme covers the following topics: unemployment and long-term unemployment, welfare services and welfare mix, citizens’ well-being and life management, regional peripheralization, social work evaluation and assessment, childhood problems and service systems, social welfare education, professions and social work expertise, social gerontology, substance and drug cultures, rehabilitation and the integration dynamics of the disabled, the forms of citizens’ peer support and involvement and the forming of welfare strategies. Social work education is supported by psychological research carried out in the department. The central themes are phenomenological psychology, experientalism, conception of humankind in human relations professions, multiprofessionalism and burn-out.

The international activities in the Department of Social Work are wide-spread and well-established. The department’s cooperation in the neighbouring areas involves educational development projects in Russia and East-European countries together with local universities. The contribution of the department to developing social work education in the Baltic countries, especially in Estonia, has been significant. International student and teacher exhange and instruction in English belong to everyday life in the department. In 2002 the department had valid exchange agreements with 11 overseas universities. Students and teachers from various cooperation networks gather together every year in the international summer school held in the department.


The University of Tampere

At the University of Tampere social work education is given in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, which is the oldest and largest unit at university level in the field of social welfare in Finland. In fact, the history of social work education started at this university as the old bachelor degree programme in social work began in 1942. Up until 1985 there were two parallel social work education systems at the University of Tampere: the bachelor’s degree programme and the master’s degree programme. Today, the Department of Social Policy and Social Work is a versatile study and research community. The department has two disciplines: social work and social policy. Additionally, the department is responsible for arranging the study module for social pedagogics and the study module for youth work and youth research. When it comes to contents of teaching, social work cooperates not only with social policy but also with the two study modules.

At the University of Tampere social work as a discipline is defined in the following way: First, the discipline looks at the diverse problems people encounter in their lives and the way these problems emerge, also questions of social inequity are addressed at the level of the individual, community and society. Second, social work practices and methods as well as different functions of service and aid systems are analyzed. Third, professional policies aiming at reducing and removing problems and inequity are analyzed and developed. The analysis in the three above-mentioned approaches uses and modifies methods of social scientific research, and it utilizes conceptual tools from other disciplines (such as sociology, social psychology, educational sciences and cultural studies) in a multidisciplinary fashion. In the undergraduate studies the emphasis lies in social work skills, social security and other sectors of the welfare state and on theoretical and practical questions related to social policy. The master’s degree programme deepens the understanding of social work both as a profession and as a field of science, and the students carry out an independent research project. Social work studies give basic skills for those pursuing research careers on the one hand and for those employed as professionals making use of research in various positions in social work practice, planning, development or administration on the other.

Social work education is strongly interrelated with practice, which means a constant dialogue between different regional actors, practicing professionals and various clients groups. In other words, social work has for a long time carried out   the so-called third mission of the university. An important forum for this dialogue is the network of Centres of Expertise on Social Welfare, with which social work education works in close collaboration. The collaboration with the Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare in the provinces of Ostrobothnia, SONet BOTNIA, focuses on community work, whereas the collaboration with Centre of Expertise on Social Welfare in Kanta-Häme, Pirkanmaa and Satakunta, Pikassos Ltd., concentrates on developing child protection work. A further collaboration partner is Satakunta Welfare Centre with a professorship for social welfare services (the professorship was established with funds donated by the City of Pori).

The basis of social work education is in the research carried out in the department including research for theoretical purposes as well as diverse development and evaluation projects. The research focuses on the following topics: research into social work practices and interaction, marginalization research, research into social services and family care-giving, child protection, childhood and family research, research into social problems and rehabilitative social work, research into substance-use-related problems, community social work research and the development of qualitative research methods.

The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Tampere is a leading provider for education in the field. Together with Administrative Sciences it educates more than a third of all social scientists in Finland. Furthermore, it has a significant national and international position in the field of social scientific research. The faculty is thus an important environment of social work education. Among other things, the Department of Social Policy and Social Work is represented in multidisciplinary and international childhood and family research units and in qualitative society research units which carry out research and teaching enriching social work education.

Also the fact that students at the University of Tampere have a free choice of minor subjects across faculty boundaries has a positive effect on social work education. In the past five years, those graduated from the department with social work as their main subject have chosen nearly 50 different minor subjects (at least 15 credits). The most popular minors are educational sciences, social psychology, sociology and psychology. The system of choosing minor subjects also works the other way round. Every year about six to ten students begin with social work as a comprehensive minor subject. Particularly students of psychology, sociology, social psychology, social policy and educational sciences study social work. From this point of view, the approach to social work education at the University of Tampere can be considered quite multidisciplinary.

The department has well-established international connections based on cooperation in research and teacher and student exchange. Social work education collaborates closely with the International School of Social Sciences (ISSS) within the Faculty of Social Sciences. Each year the teaching programme includes courses taught in English arranged by social work and ISSS together.


The University of Turku

At the University of Turku, social work established itself as an independent major subject, separate from social policy, in the autumn of 2000. However, social work continues its close relationship with social policy, as these two disciplines form the Department of Social Policy together.

Social work education aims at providing students with the necessary skills for recognizing, preventing and encountering social problems in social work. After graduating, students are competent to apply client-centered work methods, to do social work research and to engage themselves in scientific problem-solving, they are also well qualified for academic postgraduate training and continuous professional development. Social work studies aim at theoretical, practice-oriented and research-oriented expertise in social work.

At the University of Turku, social policy and social work share part of the basic degree programme studies (basic studies, research methodologies, legislation studies, among other things). In research methodologies, an equal emphasis is placed on both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The interaction between social policy and social work is close, and this can be seen in the amount of shared instruction and in the great number of joint research projects.

Social work practical training takes place in a multiprofessional clinic environment. The instructors include teachers of social work, psychology, special education and child psychiatry, staff members of the Centre for Learning Research and the Centre for cognitive neuroscience at the University of Turku and other visiting Finnish and foreign experts. The aim of the multiprofessional clinic training at the University of Turku is to create a learning and teaching environment based on real client-centered work focusing on child, youth and adult research, counselling and rehabilitation. All teachers supervising client-centered work have a wide experience in practical work.

Social work studies focus on social work as an agent of societal change and on poverty and exclusion (especially comparative poverty research), social reporting, child protection and family issues, comparative research into social services and related instruction, ageing and multicultural social work. There is also an orientation to the study and evaluation of social and health care projects, policies and strategies. Social work research also has a diverse international cooperation component.

Social work education at the University of Turku prepares graduates for working in various expert roles at national and international level. It is to be noted that in recent years those graduated from the social work degree programme have been employed in a wide range of teaching positions in social and health care education. Thanks to the wide international cooperation the Department of Social Policy is involved in, students get a real insight into the international questions of social work, which enables them to take part in social work and projects at international level.
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