Course: Master’s Degree Programme in Environmental Policy and Law
Level: Postgraduate. Master of International and Comparative Law or Master in Social Sciences, depending on the chosen major.
University: University of Eastern Finland.
Course length: 2 years, 120 credits (full-time)
Location: Joensuu, Finland.
This course consists of advanced studies of law and policy in relation to the environment, climate change, and natural resources. One of the main values of the Finnish educational system is academic freedom, which is particularly notable in this programme. Students can choose between two possible majors, each of them leading to a different targeted degree.
The major in ‘Environmental and Climate Change Law’ leads to a target degree of Master of International and Comparative Law (MILC), whilst the major in ‘Natural Resources Governance’ results in a degree of Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc).
There are a few common mandatory modules for both majors, usually done in the first term, and a great variety of possible courses to select from in each of the majors. For instance, a student majoring in ‘Environmental and Climate Change Law’ would have compulsory modules such as Climate Change Law and Policy, but would also have the freedom to pick major-related courses of their own interest among a range of offered options such as:
– International Law and Forests;
– Animal Law and Policy;
– International Energy Law and Policy;
– International Water Law;
– Global Environmental Politics;
– International Environmental Negotiations;
– Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.
Students have total freedom to choose what they want to study for their elective studies (20 credit points) in any faculty of the university. As a result, a considerable extent of the curriculum is decided by students’ own choices.
In addition to the freedom of what courses to study, very often students can also choose when to study. Courses that are held at specific times of the year can be taken in the first or second year, according to students’ preference, while certain open-book exams take place several times throughout the year.
In the second year, students usually have just a few courses left and focus primarily on writing their master’s theses. Master’s thesis seminars are held on many occasions throughout the second year to support students in conducting their independent research and to provide feedback on their work.
1. What did you like most about the course?
My favorite part was definitely the freedom to choose the modules I wanted to study among a range of interesting topics. Another great thing was how incredibly international the university was. Having the opportunity to make friends and study with people from all parts of the world really can broaden your perspectives in life.
2. What did you do before this course? Are there any specific requirements for being able to apply to and take this course?
Before this course, I studied Law and worked as a lawyer and as a judge’s assistant for a couple of years in Brazil, my country of origin. Because this is a highly interdisciplinary programme, there are people from different backgrounds, including ecology, politics, international relations, and even environmental engineering. Proof of English language proficiency and an adequate Bachelor’s degree is required when applying.
3. What sort of work are you doing?
Most of the work is individual, although some modules have a mix of individual and group work. The good thing is that we are often able to read the teaching methods and assessment criteria for each course beforehand. This proved helpful for me when choosing between non-mandatory courses. Most courses require essays and/or open-book exams (computer-based exams in which you have access to books and your notes) as final assignments.
4. Is there anything you would change about the course?
I noticed many of us had a hard time drafting workable research questions and picking the adequate methodology to answer them for the thesis. So I think it would have been helpful to have a mandatory course on research methods during the first term. I believe it is better to gain this kind of skill upfront, even before you decide what your thesis topic is going to be. That way, when you come across a topic that piques your interest, you will know how to approach it and how to draft a good research question out of it.
5. Why did you choose this course over other courses you may have been considering?
Because of its interdisciplinary approach. I studied law before and wanted to gain an in-depth knowledge of environmental issues that was not strictly legal. This programme was the perfect fit for me since it focused on law as much as on policy and social science.
6. What is life at this university like?
There are many student societies and associations you can join at the university on topics ranging from board games to African culture, which is pretty cool. Student life in Joensuu is quite active, with a nice number of clubs, pubs, and beautiful natural landscapes to explore – and of course, saunas!
Student life is very affordable in Finland too, contrary to common belief. Students, including international ones, have access to health services, subsidized housing, and great meals for less than 2 euros at the university. Even out of university facilities you can find some great discounts as a student. For instance, I got 50% off for my new pair of glasses at an optics in the city center! Before COVID my days were mostly spent at the university and hiking with friends in the fascinating Finnish forests.
7. What are you planning on doing after you’ve graduated/what are you currently doing if you have graduated? What are typical jobs graduates do after completing the course?
I have currently been shortlisted for two internships at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), so if one of these works out for me, that is what I will be doing until graduation alongside working on my thesis (fingers crossed!). I will graduate next year, after which I am applying for a PhD and pursue a career in academia. If this does not go as expected, I would be happy working at an NGO or IGO related to animal biodiversity or animal welfare as well.
Marina is a second-year student in the Environmental Policy and Law programme at the University of Eastern Finland, majoring in International and Climate Change Law. She is from Brazil, where she previously got her Bachelor of Laws degree and some practical experience in the legal field. She is particularly passionate about helping animals live better lives and a strong believer in individual contribution.