Master in Urban Studies and Planning


Read more about this program on the institution's website

Program Description

How to deal with com­plex urban en­vir­on­ments?

The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning (USP) 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. USP is a joint programme between the University of Helsinki and Aalto University.


Urbanisation is a global phenomenon that determines 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 conflicts and segregation as well as environmental and health problems.

The magnitude of such challenges implies that no single field of research or profession can tackle them alone: urban development requires an integrated approach. To this end, two prominent Finnish universities have joined forces in this unique and interdisciplinary Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning (USP).

Why Urban Studies and Planning?

As graduates of the Master's Programme in Urban Studies and Planning, students are able to:

  • apply relevant concepts and frameworks to analyze, and critically evaluate urban questions in their own professional fields;
  • recognize and acknowledge the multidisciplinary foundations of urban studies and planning;
  • apply rigorous methods and tools to address practical and scientific research questions and solutions;
  • use relevant methods to collect, analyze and produce knowledge concerning urban challenges;
  • recognize and develop their disciplinary roles;
  • identify and develop interdisciplinary interaction;
  • participate in public discussions on contemporary urban challenges.

Struc­ture, con­tent and courses

The scope of the Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning is 120 credits (ECTS), which can be completed in two years. The programme is designed for full-time studying. At the University of Helsinki, the curriculum consists of:

Core skills and meth­ods course­work (20 cred­its)

Core skills for thesis research and professional practice are offered as basic courses. Students will become familiar with different approaches to urban studies and planning through a set of introductory lectures. Students will also acquire skills relevant to digital representation, analysis and communication, modalities and techniques of communication and argumentation, research methods and methodologies of academic research. Students will learn, for example, how to use digital tools to analyse and study urban phenomena and how to illustrate ideas and solutions visually and graphically.

Core Urban Chal­lenge Stu­dios (20 cred­its)

Common urban challenge studios integrate multiple expert areas to study and address contemporary urban phenomena from different perspectives. Urban challenge themes are explored theoretically through perspectives from the different areas and are addressed practically through experiential learning within specific cases, sites or initiatives. Teachers represent key disciplinary areas and professions, and studios are 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
  • Livability and the challenge of a high-speed and global cities
  • Socio-Ecological habitats and the challenge of densification

Spe­cial­isa­tion course­work (20 cred­its)

The specialisation coursework offers three interdisciplinary study tracks: Peoples, Plans and Systems. These study tracks offer courses to specialise within one of the three competence areas in the broad field of urban studies and planning. Both universities offer courses for each study track; these can be adapted to support student's 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. Students choose to follow one study track during their first year of studies.

Elect­ives (30 cred­its)

Students can select elective courses according to their personal study plans. They can select electives to deepen knowledge in a specialisation or broaden exposure to additional areas (for architects and landscape architects, some electives will guide development according to the EU directive for these professions). Students can also take courses at other Finnish universities, in a student exchange abroad, or in an internship.

Mas­ter’s thesis (30 cred­its)

The master’s thesis is a piece of applied research conducted independently by the student. Its key goal is to solve a problem relevant to the field of study, based on existing scientific knowledge and in compliance with the principles of responsible conduct of research. Master’s theses are written on topics related to the advanced studies of the programme, agreed upon between the student and the supervisor(s). A master’s thesis may be, for example, 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.


You can check out the preliminary list of courses offered by the University of Helsinki at Weboodi, a student information system for studies and teaching at the University of Helsinki.

International scope

In the USP programme, students have an opportunity to study in an international environment and acquaint themselves with different cultures. Several nationalities are represented in both the teaching staff as well as among students. All teaching in the programme is given in English.

Students' elective coursework can include a student exchange, summer course, field excursion or internship abroad, and they are also encouraged to collaborate internationally on their Master’s theses. A recommended time to complete an exchange or internship abroad is during the 2nd year Autumn semester.

Cooperation with other parties

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

Building on established collaboration with Urban Academy (Kaupunkiakatemia), the Master’s Programme develops multiple forms of collaboration with the capital region cities. Urban Academy is a platform and network that brings together multidisciplinary research, teaching and societal impact in the field of urban studies. It is a partnership of five organizations: University of Helsinki, Aalto University, City of Helsinki, City of Espoo and City of Vantaa. In addition to course-level collaboration (e.g. case studies), the programme co-organizes an annual Thesis Market with Urban Academy.

The programme includes collaboration also with other actors, such as public administrations, civil society and companies. In Finland and in the two universities involved, societal impact is highly valued and effectively implemented in education and research.

Stu­dents and stu­dent life

Student life and especially the student organisation culture is exceptionally rich and diverse in Finland. Also at the University of Helsinki, the student community is very active. More than 250 student organisations operate within the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY), ranging from faculty and subject organisations to political and societal organisations, and from choirs and orchestras to sports and game clubs. Their activities include anniversary celebrations, academic dinner parties, cultural events, get-togethers and excursions.

As a student and member of the Student Union (HYY), you are entitled to many benefits and services. For example, affordable student housing, basic healthcare services, sports facilities and student-priced meals. You also get numerous discounts, for example on public transport fees across the country.


The Master’s Programme in Urban Studies and Planning prepares students to understand complex urban phenomena as well as to interpret and apply knowledge from different expert areas related to urban development. Already during their studies, students are exposed to multiple forms of collaboration with different actors, such as public administrations, civil society and companies. As graduates, students are prepared to enter a field that is meaningful, growing and in demand.

Last updated May 2020

About the School

The University of Helsinki offers a wide range of Master’s Degree Programmes, taught entirely in English. The scope of our programmes is 120 ECTS credits, completed with two years of full-time study. ... Read More

The University of Helsinki offers a wide range of Master’s Degree Programmes, taught entirely in English. The scope of our programmes is 120 ECTS credits, completed with two years of full-time study. All programmes comply with the national legislation governing university education and are, therefore, recognised globally. Read less