ITS students experience Finnish education system

Article by Stephanie Fsadni from Times of Malta.

Izilda Massafelli Ribeiro, 23, is one of the ITS students who has spent four months at the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Finland.

The Finnish education system is ranked among the best in the world and has been a top performer since the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) triennial international survey started in 2000.

Various factors may play a role here, including the use of common-sense practices and a holistic teaching environment that strives for equity over excellence.

Schools promote cooperation rather than competition, the atmosphere is more relaxed and the focus is on learning and growing as a human being rather than grades.

When it comes to higher education, there are plenty of options and vocational education is given as much importance as academic paths. Finnish colleges are divided into two types: universities and universities of applied sciences, with the latter focusing on practical applications.

A group of students at Malta’s Institute of Tourism Studies have just spent four months at one of the latter universities thanks to the EU’s Erasmus programme.

Haaga-Helia is a highly business-oriented university of applied sciences and offers courses in information technology, sport and leisure education, hospitality, tourism, management assistant education, vocational teacher education programmes, journalism, marketing and languages.

It has five campuses, about 10,500 students, 650 staff members, 1,100 international degree students, 200 partner universities and circa 350 exchange students annually.

 Daniel Micallef at the university campus.

It was ranked the best university of applied sciences for international student mobility in 2016 and also the best for international student satisfaction in 2016.

The 25 ITS students, who are reading for a Bachelor’s Degree in International Hospitality Management, are indeed satisfied with their experience at the Haaga campus.  Situated about six kilometres from Helsinki’s city centre, this campus comprises a hotel on the college’s premises, a very well-stocked library and is involved in an international research project titled The Box, which develops sensory-stimulating technologies for hospitality and tourism operators.

Among these students is Daniel Micallef, 22, of St Julian’s, who always dreamt of working in the hospitality industry.

He said that arriving in Helsinki in January, when the temperature was about -15˚C, was quite tough but they soon adapted.

“We soldiered on and, at the end of the day, it was a massive experience,” Daniel said.

He mentioned the different teaching methods and how the lecturers pushed them out of their comfort zone, encouraged them to express their opinion and work in teams, which was quite new for them.

Daniel is also into IT and is focusing his dissertation on how automation and robotics may affect the hospitality industry. In future, he would like to run his own business and would not mind starting off with a food truck.


Sarah Mae Bezzina is focusing her studies on marketing.

Sarah Mae Bezzina, 20, of Naxxar, has just started her four-month internship in Helsinki after spending circa three months in Lapland, also thanks to the Haaga-Helia Institute.

“We were offered this opportunity and I grabbed it,” the bright-eyed girl said.

“It was a very positive experience and I loved the people and the staff there… they were very helpful.”

While coming to grips with the Finnish education system and the busier city life, she is carrying out research for her dissertation which is about the feasibility of boutique hotels in Malta. She is also focusing on how marketing affects boutique hotels and intends to interview managers of some boutique hotels in Finland during her stay.

In future, she would love to specialise in marketing, do a Master’s degree and eventually work abroad.

One of the classrooms at the Haaga campus.

Izilda Massafelli Ribeiro, 23, is one of the foreign students studying at ITS. She is from Brazil but has been living in Malta for the past two years. She was studying cookery in Ireland when she got an internship at a hotel in St Julian’s. She loved it so much that she decided to move to Malta. However, she had a change of heart as regards her career.

“It dawned on me that I did not want to spend all my life in the kitchen. As I was working in a hotel, I realised I could do many different things,” Izilda said.

She thus decided to further her studies at ITS. She described the Bachelor’s Degree in International Hospitality Management as “a great course”, through which she is learning the basics of the industry and much more, including management and leadership theories and advanced marketing principles.

Izilda also enjoyed the programme in Finland.

“It is more focused on creativity. We were motivated to think outside the box and present our ideas. We also learned how to merge technology with the different types of services found in the industry,” she noted.

“Here they also focus a lot on sustainable practices,” she continued. This suits her fine as she is doing her dissertation on sustainability within the hospitality industry.

Once she graduates, Izilda would like to work in human resources and hopefully manage to implement the innovative and sustainable ideas acquired during the course.

“If you work hard, you can achieve great things,” she said.

The Institute of Tourism Studies is today publishing its prospectus for the academic year 2019-2020. It can be found online at Applications will be open between July 22 and August 9.

One may follow ITS on its Facebook page (Institute of Tourism Studies – ITS) and Instagram (its_malta) for regular news and updates.


8th May 2019

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