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Ken Fieldhouse:

Profiles of Finland

Why me? Why Finland? Why the 'pain' of yet more study?

To all those questions there is no sensible, logical answer, but like many satisfying activities, they are rewarding because they are not sensible and not logical.

As a mature student in mid-career, I have admired Finland for over twenty years. My first visit in the early seventies was a cultural shock: my eyes were opened to a new way of looking at our world. I wanted to know more but saw little opportunity. Most of my fellow students arriving on the first study morning at the Finnish Institute in London seemed to have a similar story to tell: travel, friendship or business was the trigger; most seemed to have had contact with the country, but this quite clearly is not a pre-requirement for the course.

The distance learning package can be a really tricky way to education. So much depends upon enthusiasm and motivation. Profiles of Finland is refreshingly well presented and accessible. Forget the odd "typo" in the study guide: the combination of text book and linked exercise book is easy to follow and throughout the three of four modules which I have completed, nothing is too obscure and the student is kept moving along. A slightly more random element are the taped discussions accompanying each module pack. Good to hear some real opinion from experts, but the selection is quite variable and has left me sometimes with more questions than answers.

A real bonus of the course are the study days - one for each module. They are a real injection of focus and enthusiasm at the beginning, and on the whole, the speakers have been good. Under the guidance of a chairman, the combination of speakers and discussion are rewarding although once you have had the study day, you are on your own. A brief mid-module refresher, or session at the beginning of the next study day might be helpful to those of us needing encouragement to complete each stage. The essay which concludes each module is the only original work. The study guide prepares you for it but it but it does demand concentration. Assessed at the University of Helsinki, the feedback is Spartan and this need developing.

Each module is scheduled to take eighty hours, and this is realistic if you are familiar with the subject. But don’t be surprised if it takes longer. One of the delights and practicalities for me is that you set your own schedule, depending on your enthusiasm and available time. I suppose you can complete the course in the 12 months, but time is definitely not the critical factor. You must be able to demonstrate some rigour in study, but being an academic genius or good at examinations is not essential - at least that is what I am hoping! Value for money? Certainly.

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