How to deal with com­plex urban en­vir­on­ments?

The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning prepares students to excel as professionals capable of understanding and addressing complex urban development challenges. Students learn to address such challenges through a curriculum and pedagogical approach that includes interdisciplinary breadth as well as depth in core areas of knowledge, skill and practice. The programme will start in autumn 2017 as a joint programme of the University of Helsinki and Aalto University. During the first year, it will be administered by the University of Helsinki. Aalto University will join the programme officially in 2018.

Goal of the pro­gramme

Gen­eral Know­ledge and Skills

Upon completing the master’s programme in Urban Studies & Planning, you will be able to:

  • Understand theories and identify concepts and empirical research methods relevant to urban studies and planning from the related fields of social sciences, humanities, ecology, engineering, architecture, design and art
  • Demonstrate a working understanding of the role of urban government, policy-making and planning in urban development
  • Critically and creatively pose and answer significant research questions relevant within and across multiple fields of theory and practice
  • Gather, process and develop relevant conclusions based on information from multiple sources
  • Produce, collect and analyse cases and data relevant to urban phenomena
  • Use digital and other tools to collect, analyse and share data
  • Develop responses to urban problems using relevant tools and techniques for representing, modelling, prototyping, testing and evaluating solutions
  • Understand and develop integrated approaches within and across urban research and applied planning
  • Communicate your understanding of and responses to urban phenomena visually, graphically, orally and in writing
  • Write academic, professional and popular texts on urban themes based on relevant literature
  • Apply and develop skills for co-production of knowledge and co-design
  • Work productively and cooperatively in multidisciplinary, multi-professional and international environments

Know­ledge and Skills Re­lated to Spe­cial­isa­tions and Pro­fes­sions

Upon completing the Master’s programme in Urban Studies & Planning, you will be able to:

  • Apply the general knowledge and skills introduced, developed and demonstrated within the courses and thesis work
  • Place urban analyses and proposals in relation to your specialisation and contextualise them in relation to others
  • Identify, differentiate and articulate relations among various theories and methods relevant to your specialisation
  • Develop and reflect on your competence in urban studies and planning in relation to your professional role
  • Carry out independent research on urban issues in your field using relevant research methods and responsible scientific practice
  • Analyse phenomena and develop solutions through the use of digital and other tools, such as GIS and CAD
  • Fulfil specific professional degrees in accordance with the relevant professional codes and directives (such as those of architects, landscape architects, and urban planners
  • Demonstrate your competence to work as a professional and/or researcher in urban studies and planning
  • Communicate professionally and constructively with different experts, practitioners and stakeholders in the field of urban studies and planning
  • Articulate your professional identity in terms of established and emerging roles relevant to urban studies and planning

The Master's programme in Urban Studies and Planning is offered by the University of Helsinki (Faculty of Science, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences and Faculty of Arts) and Aalto University (School of Arts Design and Architecture and School of Engineering).

In­form­a­tion on the lan­guages of in­struc­tion

All teaching is in English. You can also take exams in Finnish or Swedish, and write your Master’s thesis in Finnish or Swedish.

Pro­gramme con­tents

Urbanisation is a global phenomenon that is shaping the future of our societies. Most of the key challenges of contemporary societies are encountered and addressed in cities. Cities provide enormous economic, technical and cultural opportunities, but they are also places of social conflict and segregation as well as environmental and health problems. The magnitude of these challenges implies that no single profession or field of research can tackle them. Urban development requires an integrated approach. To this end, two prominent Finnish universities have joined forces in this unique and interdisciplinary Master’s programme.

The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning prepares you to excel as a professional capable of understanding and addressing complex urban development challenges. You will learn to address such challenges through a curriculum and pedagogical approach that includes interdisciplinary breadth as well as depth in core areas of knowledge, skills and practice. The programme balances theoretical, historical and conceptual knowledge with the acquisition of methods, skills and experience. You will thus gain a broad understanding of urban phenomena as well as practical experience in collaborative and practical situations. This is the foundation of the programme and of the elements in the curriculum.

Taking full advantage of the joint university structure, the programme unites leading expertise from the University of Helsinki and Aalto University into three major study tracks. The signature elements in the programme are interdisciplinary studies that address urban challenge themes. These themes relate to urgent contemporary issues found not only in Finland but on the European and global scale, including controversies intrinsic to urbanisation. The urban challenge themes may be attached to focus areas, research projects or collaborations within our universities, municipalities and regions in order to provide a constructive and critical framework for study and practice. These themes cross the boundaries of disciplines and professions and are united in addressing a common challenge and emphasising a forward-looking perspective.

Se­lec­tion of the study track

There are three study tracks in the Master’s programme in Urban Studies & Planning:

Urban Plan­ning and Design

Urban Planning and Design (USP Plans) addresses urban development by integrating the knowledge, skills and pedagogical approaches of planning and design and by developing synergies across multiple disciplines. The constructive power of design to imagine, structure, visualise and communicate is combined with the analytical rigour and critical understanding of planning and urban governance history, methodologies and tools. USP Plans develops and deepens such skills while advancing your professional capabilities through challenge-based learning within concrete cases, multi-disciplinary collaboration, and learning-by-doing experimentation. USP Plans is oriented towards planners, architects, landscape architects, and spatial, service and strategic designers.

Urban Life, Eco­nomy and Cul­tures

Urban Life, Economy and Cultures (USP Peoples) addresses urban development by integrating analysis of socio-economic, digital and physical structures with planning. Here you will explore and apply theories and methodologies from the social and political sciences. The focus is on socio-spatial dynamics changes, including influences of policies and markets, actors and structures, decision-making processes, social mixing and demographics. USP Peoples deepens your knowledge of foundational studies while advancing your professional capabilities through challenge-based and collaborative learning, including situated municipal and field studies. USP Peoples is oriented towards planners, urban economists and managers and those interested in urban humanities.

Urban Eco­lo­gies and Sys­tems

Urban Ecologies and Systems (USP Systems) addresses urban development by integrating technical and natural science knowledge. This includes methodologies for studying, assessing and planning for social and ecological resilience, technological innovation and complex adaptive systems. It applies systems approaches to identify multi-dimensional planning while retaining a holistic perspective on the complex and historical dynamics affecting multiple scales. USP Systems develops your understanding of foundational studies while advancing your professional capabilities through challenge-based and collaborative learning, including urban, digital and ecological field studies. USP Systems is oriented towards planners, engineers, architects, landscape architects, and environmental managers.

Pro­gramme struc­ture

The requirement for completing the Master’s programme in Urban Studies and Planning is 120 credits (ECTS), which can be done in two years. The curriculum consists of:

Core Urban Challenge Studios (20 credits)

Common urban challenge studios integrate multiple expert areas to study and address contemporary urban phenomena from different perspectives. Here you will explore urban challenge themes theoretically from different perspectives and you will address them practically within specific cases, sites or initiatives. Your teachers represent key disciplines and professions, and your studies will be conducted in cooperation with partners in research and municipalities. Examples of urban challenge themes include:

  • Urban economies and the challenge of governance and welfare
  • Social integration and the challenge of urban typologies and heritage
  • Liveability and the global challenge of fast-paced cities
  • Socio-Ecological habitats and the challenge of densification

Specialisation coursework (20 credits)

The three study tracks offer courses for you to specialise within one of the three competencies areas in the broad field of urban studies and planning. Both universities offer courses for each study track; these can be adapted to support your advancement, background knowledge and skills. The courses cover topics such as urban geography, urban sociology, urban ecology, urban economics, urban ethnology and history, environmental policy, urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture, real estate economics, service and strategic design, etc.

Core skills and methods coursework (20 credits)

Core skills for thesis research and professional practice are offered as basic courses. These include skills relevant to digital representation, analysis and communication, modalities and techniques of communication and argumentation, research methods and methodologies of academic research. You will learn, for example, how to use digital tools to analyse and study urban phenomena and how to illustrate your ideas and solutions visually and graphically. You will also become familiar with the theories and tools of communication and argumentation, and you will study and apply research methods.

Electives (30 credits)

You can select elective courses according to your personal study plan. You can select electives to deepen your knowledge in a specialisation or broaden your exposure to additional areas relevant to planning. For architects and landscape architects, some electives will guide your development according to the EU directive for these professions. You can also take courses at other Finnish universities, in a student exchange abroad, or in an internship in city planning and development.

Master’s Thesis (30 credits)


Your Master’s thesis in the Urban Studies and Planning programme can take one of several forms: an independent scholarly research project; a directed thesis within a larger research project in one of the universities; or a professionally-oriented thesis developed in the context of a cooperating partner. In particular, you are encouraged to build upon your work in the urban challenge studios, which will provide a context for collaboration and guidance. Particularly in the studios, you can research and write a thesis together with another student or students. In all cases, your thesis must be original, creative work conceived and developed by you. We recommend that supervision for your thesis includes at least three experts from two or more of the study tracks and that the subject of your thesis should be relevant across two or more study tracks.

Ca­reer pro­spects

The programme prepares you to be a professional in a field that is meaningful, growing and in demand. You will acquire the knowledge, skills and experience needed to fill both traditional and emerging planning roles (such as urban planning and design, real estate development, strategic planning, environmental planning, landscape architecture, policy and service design). To these established or emerging roles, you will bring an integrated understanding of, and training in applying, more interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to urban development. As a graduate, you will be prepared to compete for local and international positions within public, private and non-profit organisations, planning, architectural and policy advisory firms, research institutes and NGOs.


The program offers different degrees – from University of Helsinki MSc (nat. sci., environ. sci.), MA (humanities) and M.Soc.Sc., from Aalto University MSc (eng.) and MSc (arch.) – that ensure sufficient expertise to work in established and emerging expert roles in urban development in the public and private sectors, in Finland and internationally. Degree qualification in architecture and landscape architecture is provided for students who have a BSc in technology or architecture and have taken complementary courses in the Aalto Department of Architecture.


The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning provides international scope in many ways, taking advantage of the unique Helsinki context and diverse urban contexts around the world. Each year, new students in the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning include both Finnish and international applicants. We look for students whose varied backgrounds, experiences, and education reflect the richness of contemporary society. The teachers of the programme have an international background and experience, and the programme builds on their strong international connections in their respective fields. Researchers and invited lecturers from abroad take part in the teaching of the programme. The Master’s Programme builds on the joint University of Helsinki and Aalto University Bachelor’s Program ‘Urban Academy’, including its teaching faculty, international network and advisory board of leading international experts. Your elective coursework can include a student exchange or internship abroad, and you are also encouraged to collaborate internationally on your Master’s thesis. You will thus have an opportunity to study in an international environment and acquaint yourself with different cultures. For international and Finnish students, Helsinki and Finland are well-known internationally for progressive approaches to planning. Helsinki is a UNESCO creative city; planning and design have strong roles within municipalities, government and the public sector. Finland is a European and international forerunner in technological research and innovation, such as open data in municipalities. Local and national policies support experimental and participatory culture and development. In the context of urban challenges, Helsinki provides a unique case for engaging with progressive approaches to welfare state paradigms, including public-private dynamics, changing demographics and cultures, and diverse approaches to market growth and sustainability.


The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning is profoundly interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral.

The programme combines the most important fields of urban studies from the University of Helsinki and Aalto University into a progressive and interdisciplinary curriculum. Courses include extensive co-teaching to ensure multiple perspectives on core topics. There are continual exchanges among disciplines and between theory and practice, for example through dynamic ‘learning-by-doing’ pedagogical approaches within urban challenge studios.

Building on the established joint Bachelor programme, the Master’s Programme further develops multiple forms of collaboration with the City of Helsinki. The programme includes collaboration with other city administrations, local media, civil society organisations, heritage and cultural institutions, think-tanks and companies. In Finland and in these universities, societal impact is highly valued and effectively implemented in education and research.

Re­search fo­cus

Coursework and Master’s theses within the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning benefit from the research expertise within both universities and many associated professors. The professors and faculty are active and highly successful in applying for and carrying out projects funded by Finnish, Nordic and European foundations. Some examples of the range of ongoing and current topics include:

  • Vibrant Urban Economies, Welfare and Finance
  • Liveable Cities, Accessibility and Connectivity
  • Urban Sustainability and Socio-Ecological Resilience
  • Urban Ecosystem Ecology and Ecosystem Services
  • Urban Environmental and Social Governance and Justice
  • Urban Policies, Cultures and Socio-Economic Differentiation
  • Socio-Spatial mixing, Social Control and Social Cohesion
  • Nordic Welfare states and Ethnic Residential Segregation
  • Creative Knowledge and the Competitiveness of Metropolitan Regions
  • Metropolitan Regions within the European Union
  • Urban Poverty and Competitive Cities
  • Urban Vulnerability, Adaptability and Resilience
  • Education and Effects on Lifestyles and Neighbourhoods
  • Governance of Urban and Complex Adaptive Systems
  • Urban Energy, Communications and Transport Systems
  • Citizen-Centred Service Design and Urban Product-Service-Systems
  • Transition towards Sustainable and Liveable Urban Futures
  • Systemic Urban Governance for Social Cohesion
  • Historical Portrayal and Meanings of the City
  • Production of Citizenship and Citizen Participation
  • Political, Social, Cultural and Linguistic Urban Identities
  • Urban Architectural Morphologies and Landscapes
  • Markets and Urban Industries, Work and Leisure
  • Development of Planning Professional Roles
  • Transdisciplinary Pedagogies for ‘Wicked’ Planning Problems
  • Urban Natures, Blue-Green Systems and Landscape Planning
  • Productive Food Landscapes and Urban Sustainability

Post­gradu­ate stud­ies

After completing a degree in the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning, you can apply for doctoral programmes in the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, and other top international universities.

At the University of Helsinki, the relevant doctoral programmes include:

  • Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences DENVI
  • Social Sciences
  • Sustainable use of renewable resources AGFOREE
  • Political, Economic and Regional Change
  • History and Cultural Heritage
  • Philosophy, Arts and Society
  • Political, Societal and Regional Change (PSRC)

At Aalto University, degrees include Doctor of Science (Economics and Business Administration), Doctor of Arts, and Doctor of Science (Technology). The relevant doctoral programmes include:

  • Business, Economics and Finance
  • Engineering
  • Science
  • Arts, Design and Architecture

Tuition fees

Citizens of non-EU/EEA countries, who do not have a permanent residence status in the area and pursue their studies in English, are liable to pay tuition fees. You can check from FAQ at the Studyinfo website whether or not you are required to pay tuition fees.

Program taught in:
  • English
University of Helsinki

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This course is Campus based
Start Date
2 years
- Tuition fee per year (non-EU/EEA students) 15000 €
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The next application period for the Master's Programmes opens on December 3rd, 2018, and ends on January 11th, 2019.
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Request Info
The next application period for the Master's Programmes opens on December 3rd, 2018, and ends on January 11th, 2019.
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The next application period for the Master's Programmes opens on December 3rd, 2018, and ends on January 11th, 2019.
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Master’s programme in Urban studies and planning