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Estonians start teaching business to Finns

For Estonians, Finland was a desirable place during the Soviet times and its aftermath. Those who got to travel to Finland were delighted and those who got to work or study in Finland, outright blessed.

The contraflow traffic – Finns travelling to Tallinn – was evident as well, and not only for the purpose of shopping but for something much more serious: studying.

Indeed, the freshman year of the English-language BA programme in international business administration, opened in EBS in 1996, consisted mainly of Finns. The number of Finnish students continued to grow in the years following. The fact that EBS outreached to the Finns in their own home (admission interviews have been organised in Helsinki since 2007) probably played its part, as well. The ever-growing interest in EBS among Finns led Madis Habakuk and Rector Peeter Kross to the idea of making a full home delivery and opening a branch of EBS in Finland.

Urmas Arumäe was the first Chairman at EBS Helsinki branch.

This plan was ambitions, as Finnish education is among the best in the world and the local education market highly regulated. For example, Finnish-language private universities are prohibited by law, as Finnish-language higher education may only be provided by state universities. Daytime study is popular and admission to the university quite a challenge – every year, tens of thousands of applicants fail in their efforts.

English-language business studies via distance learning

These restrictions provided EBS with an opportunity. EBS targeted young Finns who wished to acquire their education in the homeland, but were unable, due to professional or family-related reasons, to participate in daytime study.

In 2010, EBS worked out the content, arrangement and budget of the English-language BA programme in international business administration. Legal issues needed to be addressed next, e.g. the status of the branch in Finland. But the main focus was laid on the recruitment of students. EBS alumnus and lecturer, attorney-at-law Urmas Arumäe was recruited to handle these matters by Madis Habakuk.

“I cannot stand routine, and Madis was well aware of it. When Madis came to introduce the Helsinki branch project, he reminded me that the launch of new projects is well suited to my nature. Naturally, I enthusiastically agreed,” Urmas Arumäe recalls, seven years later, how he joined the Helsinki branch project management team in March 2011.

It was a logical choice for Arumäe, as he was well familiar with the Finnish market through his many Finnish clients and friends. “For me, Finland was not a foreign market. My personal contacts made it a domestic market,” Arumäe explains. Arumäe was assisted in the establishment of the EBS branch in Helsinki by Sigrid Lainevee, who became the head of EBS Helsinki in 2012. “We were like Bonnie and Clyde,” Arumäe recalls with a smile.

The Chairwoman of EBS Helsinki, Sigrid Lainevee, has accompanied the expansion of EBS Finland since the beginning.

There was no public objection to the opening of the EBS branch in Finland, even though the local media did express its scepticism from time to time. A state representative took a step further, warning all those weighing the option of studying in the EBS Helsinki branch: even though the education may be of decent quality, the student must understand that he or she will not get a Finnish education and diploma.

Indeed, this is the case – students completing their studies in the EBS Helsinki branch will receive a diploma issued in the Republic of Estonia. However, there are no problems with its acceptability – Estonia is an EU member state, with the diplomas issued by universities operating in Estonia thus being valid in all EU member states. “Eventually, the Finnish Ministry of Education came to terms with the fact that the accreditation provided by the Estonian Ministry of Education is sufficient for the English-language curriculum of EBS,” Urmas Arumäe recalled.

No reason to copy the Finns

In his article published in Õpetajate Leht on 12 April 2013, Madis Habakuk mentioned that the higher education provided in Finland is among the best in the world and asked whether EBS should try to copy Finnish business schools, where possible (above all, the Aalto Business School).

“We are not convinced that this would be the best option for gaining ground in Finland. The EBS format is suitable for students who are working and have no university education. Contact lectures take place twice a month, on three days, and communication is web-based. No other university in Finland offers such a distance learning programme,” Habakuk said.

According to Habakuk, EBS pays special attention to the Finnish-Estonian business integration. “We believe that the Finnish-Estonian economy will be intertwined within 30 years, and Estonia will be compared to Southern Finland. It is quite natural for universities to expand to foreign countries together with the corporations – Estonian universities to Finland and vice versa.”

Considerable interest

The admission of students in the English-language bachelor’s programme in international business administration started in the EBS Helsinki branch in the summer of 2011. The interest among applicants exceeded all expectations. While the original plan was to admit one class (i.e. 25 students), two classes were actually formed, with a total of 55 students admitted in the first academic year.

In Helsinki, lectures and seminars are held near the heart of the city, in Ruoholahti – at Technopolis, a modern campus.

The actual schoolwork consisted of lectures held on three days and seminars held on two days a month. The student’s independent work was required in the meantime. The semester started with a joint visit to Tallinn in order to become acquainted with the “mother university” and its students. In Helsinki, lectures and seminars took place near the heart of the city, in Ruoholahti – at Technopolis, a modern campus.

Did you know?

300 students are studying in the EBS Helsinki campus in 2018, with more than 150 alumni.

In 2015, when the first students successfully completed their study programme, the master’s programme in international business administration was opened in Helsinki. Sigrid Lainevee, head of EBS Helsinki branch, admitted in her interview to Helsingin Sanomat in 2014 that more than a half of the students choose the EBS Helsinki branch based on the recommendation of other students.

Miko Kailiala, a top athlete, also choose EBS based on a friend’s recommendation. The indoor bandy player, keen on studying economy, discussed EBS’s English-language study programme with a friend and seized the distance learning opportunity provided in Finland. “For me it was perfect – without being attached to any particular city, I can play (indoor bandy – editor) anywhere,” Kailiala, who received his bachelor’s diploma in 2017, explained the choice of school. The best thing about EBS for Kailiala is the practical orientation of the studies – the mere cramming of facts is not too helpful.

Studying while working

Elmo Pitkänen, student of EBS Helsinki and member of the student organisation HEBS

Elmo Pitkänen.

“I opted for EBS Helsinki for the excellent study schedule. The study modules have been designed for those who study and work at the same time. This is not possible in other Finnish business schools.”

Student life similar to “mother university”

The 55 students admitted to the EBS Helsinki branch in 2011 created the “critical mass” for gradually establishing the student representation and promoting student life.

Urmas Arumäe recalls celebrating pikkujoulu (the advent season in Finland) with the students, eating ginger bread and drinking wine. On the initiative of the student organisation HEBS which was established in 2012, Christmas is now celebrated in February, on a cruise.

Nine-member board of HEBS in 2018.

Despite the young age of the student life in the EBS Helsinki campus and the student organisation HEBS, various traditions have already been rooted.

Anu Tasanto, Chairman of the Board of HEBS, comments: “The largest and the most important event of all traditional events is the Annual Ball, held in May to celebrate the end of the spring semester. Another important event is the Get Together event, held at the beginning of the autumn semester and designed for meeting new students. HEBS also organises its own version of the TV show “Amazing Race”. However, our competition takes place in Helsinki. Students compete in small teams, completing various missions with the help of clues, trying to find the final destination. The best thing about HEBS is that nothing is ever set in stone. There is always room for new ideas. Anyone can organise an event or start a new tradition, if he or she so desires.”

You can sit in our table!

Anu Tasanto, Chairman of the Board of the student organisation HEBS, 2018

“Nearly 300 students are studying in EBS Helsinki. This number of quite small, compared to other universities. Rather than compete with other universities, HEBS has turned this into a strength. We make up a small, close HEBS community, helping students get to know each other. We help each other in good times and in bad, both at school and in our private lives.

Our focus lies on making the community close, rather than expanding it. This is one of the reasons we set up the freshman committee in the spring of 2018 – to help bring new and old students together in HEBS. A community means that you can always sit in our table!”