Department of Mechanical Engineering

Technology education begins in Finland

In Finland, technology education began later than elsewhere in Northern Europe. Three technical schools were inaugurated for the purpose at the end of the 1840s.
Juhlasalin katto
Juhlasalin katto.

The issue of developing technical education to support industry was raised in Finland as early as the beginning of the 19th century, when Johan Gadolin proposed a reform of the education system according to the German model. The aim was to train capable workers for the economy through practical education while also ensuring a sufficient level of theoretical research and education at the academic level.

The project was delayed after Finland was annexed by the Russian Empire in the 1809 Treaty of Fredrikshamn, which ended the Finnish War and nearly 700 years of Swedish rule in Finland. Following the treaty, Finland became an autonomous grand duchy within the empire.

The discussion about inaugurating technical education in Finland restarted in the 1830s, when both the empire and the grand duchy began to consider ways to improve Finnish economic life. For example, in the maritime and land surveying sectors, new kinds of expertise was required in order to maintain international competitiveness, and demand in the metal industry clearly exceeded supply. Finland was to serve as a conduit for transferring expertise from Western Europe to the rest of the Russian Empire.

In 1835, following the example of the Vienna Polytechnicum, the Finnish Senate passed a decree establishing the Technical Institute in Helsinki. This project was suspended when it became clear that there were no technical or industrial teachers in Finland, or even enough literate and numerate students to form an educational institution.

The Manufactory Board was established by the same decree of May 20, 1835. The purpose of the board was to guide the development of the country’s industry and to obtain the knowledge required to develop the country's industry. For example, as early as the 1840s, the board sent artisans and industrialists to the countries around the North Sea to learn about new industrial trends and customs. Over the years, the Manufactory Board would evolve into the current Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

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Aalto University is where science and art meet technology and business. We shape a sustainable future by making research breakthroughs in and across our disciplines, sparking the game changers of tomorrow and creating novel solutions to major global challenges.

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Aalto University students at Aalto Party during the opening of the Academic Year. Photo by Aalto University / Aino Huovio

Aalto University

Aalto University is where science and art meet technology and business. We shape a sustainable future by making research breakthroughs in and across our disciplines, sparking the game changers of tomorrow and creating novel solutions to major global challenges.

By merging three leading Finnish universities in 2010, Aalto was founded to work as a societally embedded research university. In a short space of time, we have since become a forerunner in our key areas. We are renowned for our sense of community and culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Aalto University students at Aalto Party during the opening of the Academic Year. Photo by Aalto University / Aino Huovio

Beginning of technological education and research

The first step toward organised technological research and teaching came in 1841, when the Senate Fine Mechanics Workshop was established in Helsinki. Its purpose was to manufacture scientific instruments and measuring equipment and to train fine mechanics. The operation of the small workshop started gradually, over the span of a decade. The institute was the practical start to state-run technological research in Finland. It was transferred to the organisation of the Finnish Science Society in the 1880s, and in 1917 it was again taken over by the state. The workshop developed into a department of VTT – founded in 1942 – and continues to operate as a private company in the 2020s.

In 1842, Sunday schools were established in urban Finland, responsible for the basic education of children in the cities before the start of primary school. The main body of later engineering students would begin their education as pupils of the highly successful Sunday schools. In rural areas, basic education for children did not begin until after the 1860s.

Children from wealthier families who were also interested in technology were educated at home, while some students began their studies in the vocational schools of the feudal corporatist system. The requirements for admission into educational institutions would not be cemented until the turn of the century, when the education system was expanded to cover all of Finland.

Preparations for the establishment of technical schools began on 8 June 1846 in Helsinki with a Manufactory Board decision that originated with Alexander Menshikov, Governor-General of Finland and the chair of the Senate's economic commission.

Three technical schools

Technical schools were established in Helsinki, Turku and Vaasa by the decree of 9 June 1847. The activities of the technical schools were intended to develop a struggling economy where the need was greatest: as the focus of the Finnish economy turned to the east and connections with Sweden weakened, trade in the Ostrobothnia region had run into great difficulties, while the bourgeoisie of Helsinki and Turku were also forced to seek new livelihoods.

The plan originally included an effort to gradually replace all Sunday schools with technical schools. The Technical School of Helsinki remained under the supervision of the Manufactory Board, while the Turku and Vaasa schools were placed under the administration of county governors. Basic curricula for the schools were designed by Victor Hartwall.

Teaching in three technical technical schools began on 15 January 1849.

Literature

Nykänen, P. Käytännön ja teorian välissä, teknillisen opetuksen alku Suomessa. Teknillisen korkeakoulun 150-vuotisjuhlajulkaisu. Teknillinen korkeakoulu, Helsinki 1997.

Nykänen, P. Teknillisen korkeakoulun historia. Osa I, Kortteli sataman laidalla. WSOY, Helsinki 2007.

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