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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Organisation of doctoral studies

In Finland third-cycle programmes comprise the licentiate (Finnish: lisensiaatin tutkinto, Swedish: licentiatexamen) and doctor’s (Finnish: tohtorin tutkinto, Swedish: doktorsexamen) degrees. The full-time studies for a Licentiate degree takes ca two years and a Doctor’s degree four years.

To be awarded a doctorate, the students must complete the required postgraduate studies (around 20 – 60 ECTS depending on the university and field), demonstrate independent and critical thinking in the field of research and write a doctoral dissertation and defend it in public. In the fields of fine arts, music, art and design, and theatre and dance, a student may demonstrate in public the knowledge and skills required by the university as part of their dissertation.

Doctoral studies are carried out in universities. Most of the universities have graduate schools and several doctoral programmes.

Admission requidements

Programmes leading to a Doctor’s degree are available for students with a Master’s degree or equivalent. There is no numerus clausus set by government on the amount of doctoral students. However, overall targets on degrees are negotiated between the universities and Ministry of Education and Culture.

Universities make decisions on choosing doctoral students autonomously. Usually the following selection criteria are used:

  • success in studies that provide eligibility for doctoral studies,
  • appropriate language skills required for the studies,
  • quality of the research and study plan prepared by the applicant, and
  • availability of supervision resources.

Status of doctoral students/candidates

The group of doctoral students is heterogeneous. Some are enrolled in graduate schools.  Some are employed by research institutes or universities where their postgraduate studies are part of their work. For some students, their doctoral studies are self-motivated and pursued in their free time. Employers can support them by for example giving them short paid leaves of absence.

The funding of doctoral studies may come from several different sources. Those employed by research institute or university receive salary for their postgraduate studies and research project. In addition, there are several foundations and institutes granting scholarships for doctoral studies. Many doctoral students fund their studies at least partially by these scholarships. Doctoral students who are employed in an employment or public service relationship can apply for an adult education allowance from Employment Fund.

Doctoral students can join the student union but they do not enjoy all the same student benefits as first and second cycle students, e.g. subvented lunch and student health care services.

Supervision arrangements

The universities have full autonomy in organising the supervision of doctoral students. All doctoral candidates are entitled to supervision in their research project as well as in their studies. Most commonly students have a principal supervisor, generally a professor in their field of study. In addition, students may have another supervisor or thesis advisor who is often a person holding a doctoral degree in the field. In the final stages the doctoral dissertation undergoes a reviewing process that involves several external, often international preliminary examiners.


The universities have no special measures for doctoral students to facilitate their access to the labour market. Students can utilise the same channels as first and second cycle students. Relatively high percentage of doctoral graduates are employed and the employment situation of PhD holders is generally better than the situation of those holding a master's or a bachelor's degree. Doctoral degree holders are employed in universities and research institutes, in expert tasks in public organsations and lately more and more often in private companies as well. Many doctoral students are already in employment and often carry out their research for a specific company or industry.


The coursework required for doctoral studies is assessed similarly to any university coursework, that is, continuous assessment, examinations as well as reports and papers. In addition to the required studies, doctoral students prepare a dissertation, which they defend in public. Again, universities have full autonomy in the assessment. Some universities assess the dissertations and their defence on a pass/fail scale, but some universities use for example the scale approbatur-laudatur.


The certification procedure for doctoral students is the same as in first and second cycle degrees. When a student has completed all the studies required and defended successfully his/her doctoral dissertation, the student may apply for certificate. The certificate is decided and awarded by the higher education institution.  

Students will receive on request: degree certificate, diploma supplement, credit record

The degree certificate generally contains the average grades for the studies as well as the grading for the theses. The diploma supplement is an appendix of the qualification certificate and it includes the necessary information on the institution as well as studies and credits referred to on the degree certificate and their level and status in the education system. Each student’s study credits are registered on the credit record. The student may request a transcript of it, where necessary.

Organisational variation

There is no organisational variation in third-cycle programmes in Finland.