My final examination at the Aalto University School of Business ended on Tuesday afternoon, and the post-examination euphoria was a familiar feeling. With the perennial discussion in Singapore about Finland’s education system, albeit focused on the elementary and high schools, the familiarity of courses was surprising and comforting at the same time. At the business universities things are not so different after all, it would seem.
In fact besides some differences in examination format – with two or three available attempts each semester, and the amount of time for each paper – the four months at the school hardly differed from my business education experience in Singapore. As an exchange student who only requires passing grades it is hard to gauge how competitive the local students and classes might be, though the pedagogies and curriculum were very familiar to me.
Lessons are not too different. A module is crammed within six weeks, with four to six hours of contact time per week, but either the lecture-tutorial or sectional format is still used. Weekly exercises are the norm, and in addition to regular assignment questions there are group projects, case studies, as well as investment games and valuation presentations. References to the European business environment and enterprises in Finland were naturally more common (with the occasional expression or explanation in Finnish), but the classroom approaches were similar. Evidence of the universality of a business education, perhaps.
Active class participation is recognised, mostly as bonus marks on the transcript. Yet even when marks were not awarded many still contributed to the class discussions.
The 50-50 composition of undergraduates and graduates at the university meant there were plenty of masters-level courses on offer. And since we only required a pass, why not? Eventually we had to dig ourselves out of the quagmire that was open economy macroeconomics (Mundell-Fleming? Dornbusch? Portfolio balance?), and advanced corporate finance (Book-building IPOs? SEOs? Share repurchases?) was the cause of long nights. Unlike my peers in the business school I had always trudged – somewhat reluctantly – through the fields of finance, and was overwhelmed by these foreign terms and concepts.
Despite my shortcomings the professors – for instance Professor Matti Keloharju lecturing advanced corporate finance – were brilliant, especially when they spoke of their experiences. Guest speakers such as Mr. Herkko Soininen, Rovio’s Chief Financial Officer, were a joy.
“Entrepreneurship as a Field of Science” has been one of my favourite modules. I rave about the small group of classmates – comprising aspiring entrepreneurs, small business owners, and managers from a variety of firms in Finland – and their first-hand insights. I rave about the professors, who possess not only corporate sector and research credentials, but also abilities to engage the class in meaningful discourse. I rave about the multidisciplinary nature of strategic entrepreneurship and management, and the opportunity to soak everything up. When someone speaks from personal experience the insights are just incredible.
Management studies are often frowned upon in Singapore. Too much fluff. No focus. Minimal applicability. Woefully superficial introductory modules to management and organisation fuel these perceptions. Maybe more emphasis on academic research, encouraging students to challenge – rather than accept and memorise – theoretical models?
It has been a blast. A month of travelling ahead means my exchange semester is far from over, but Aalto University has been good to me. Once I am back in Singapore for an internship and the fifth semester I will probably find out how much I have actually picked up…