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Functionally bilingual nursing education solves skills shortages – a new model is developed in Metropolia and Tampere University of Applied Sciences

Published on 11.9.2023
Tampere University of Applied Sciences
Sairaanhoitajaopiskelijat harjoittelevat hoitamalla nukkea.
There is a shortage of nurses in Finland. A functional bilingual education model (TOKASA) has been developed and piloted in universities of applied sciences to help address Finland's skills shortage in the social and health sector. A new feature of the model is that international students do not need to know Finnish at the beginning of their studies. In addition to the nursing degree, the model supports students' Finnish language learning, employment, and integration into Finnish society.

The aim of this higher education is that a graduated student will master the Finnish language so that he or she can operate at the level of language proficiency required by the nursing profession.

Finnish language learning is included in the studies and internships

In the model, students learn Finnish language both as part of their studies and as part of practical training that promotes their professional skills. In addition, the curriculum includes 20–23 credits of Finnish language studies. In learning situations, language is genuinely seen as an enabler of interaction and understanding between people.

For students with an immigrant background, it makes sense to study for a profession, learn Finnish and integrate into Finnish working life as quickly as possible. This will also generate savings for society.

"Now that Finland has a labour shortage to solve and the vision is to promote education-based immigration, we need bilingual education and sufficient funding from the state to implement it. This type of education can genuinely address the skills shortage and accelerate the transition of talent into the workforce. The model is generic; it can be partially or fully implemented in any field of education", says Hanna Repo Jamal, Lecturer in Nursing and Project Manager at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.

TOKASA has attracted and selected highly motivated students from all over the world

The role of higher education institutions is also to support international students socially; to help them integrate into Finnish culture and find employment in Finland more quickly. Teachers praise the students' activity and motivation.

"The students are investing in learning nursing and the Finnish language because they want to work as nurses in Finland in the future. They are thirsty for knowledge and interested in developing their skills. In addition to a nursing degree, one of the most important reasons for applying for training has been the opportunity to learn Finnish during their studies. It gives the occasion to go directly into working life with the language skills required for the profession", says Sanna Laiho, Lecturer in Nursing and Project Manager at Tampere University of Applied Sciences.

The first bilingual nursing students started in spring 2022, and one of them, Sharon Adje from Zimbabwe, praises the way the course is being run. Graduation is targeted for spring 2024.

Adje says that the Finnish vocabulary of nursing is actively discussed in the lessons. In medical care, theory is studied in English and Finnish, followed by practical skills practice in both languages with the support of a Finnish language teacher. Internships support the development of language skills by writing instructions in Finnish.

"My employment prospects in Finland are very good and I hope to get a job in primary health care. I appreciate the opportunity to practise my language and working skills in a real, safe environment without pressure. I have also been actively encouraged to speak Finnish."

The results of the pilot show that the TOKASA training model works

The piloting, evaluation and development of the training model developed in the three-year project will continue until the end of 2024. The model is based on an evaluation study carried out in the project and on the expert opinions of subject teachers, Finnish language teachers and representatives of working life.

The aim is a permanent and dynamic qualification model for functionally bilingual degree education. According to preliminary results, it seems to work well, especially from the point of view of Finnish language learning.

"We know well the trends in education and training, so every training provider does not need to reinvent the wheel. We are already working with different universities of applied sciences. We want to make their work easier and to promote bilingual education in a functional way so that it becomes a broad part of the Finnish educational landscape," says Repo Jamal.

Presentation of the training

The course is presented in Finnish and English on the Metropolia and TAMK websites. The TOKASA project is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in Finland as part of the Talent Boost Programme. The training model will be presented at the project's webinar on 7 November, 2023.

More information

Hanna Repo Jamal 
hanna.repojamal [at] (hanna[dot]repojamal[at]metropolia[dot]fi) 
Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

Sanna Laiho 
sanna.laiho [at] (sanna[dot]laiho[at]tuni[dot]fi) 
Tampere University of Applied Sciences


Text: Metropolia and TAMK communications
Photo: Heimo Films