On 22 December it’s the winter solstice when the sun is at its most southerly position. To celebrate mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve compiled a list of the ten best universities north of the 60th parallel. Check it out!
There are a total of nine countries that are completely or partially north of the 60th parallel. Iceland is the only sovereign state that is totally north of it, as is the Faroe Islands, which is an autonomous territory of Denmark. Greenland, another autonomous territory of Denmark, as well as the state of Finland are almost completely north of that line. In addition, parts of Sweden, Norway, Canada, USA (Alaska), United Kingdom (Shetland Islands), and Russia are that far north. About 13 million people live in the area, and most of the countries that comprise the area are rich first-world countries. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that some of the best universities in the world can also be found north of the 60th parallel. If you’d like to study in this fascinating part of the world, either for your whole degree or for a semester as an exchange student, check out this post for ideas about what university might be the best fit for you.
The rankings in this article are based on the prestigious QS rankings and their World University Rankings 2024. It was compiled by Student.com, the world’s largest student accommodation marketplace.
1. Aalto University
Location: Espoo, Finland
Global university rank: 109th
Aalto University was established in 2010 as a result of a merger of three earlier universities, a business school, a technology school, and an art & design school. It was named after the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto who was an alumnus of the technology school and also designed the current main campus of the university. Despite being only a little over 10 years old, Aalto University has quickly climbed the global university rankings and is getting closer and closer to breaching the top 100 in the world. It’s an international university, with almost one in five students coming from outside Finland, many lured by the university’s high-quality education, and Finland’s high standard of living and low (or sometimes even free) tuition. Aalto’s highest ranked field is Art and Design, where the university is ranked 6th in the world. Other high-ranking programs are in the fields of Architecture and Built Environment, Business and Management Studies, Materials Sciences, and Computer Science and Information Systems.
2. University of Helsinki
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Global university rank: 115th
The University of Helsinki was founded in 1640 in the city of Turku and moved to Helsinki in 1828 after the Great Fire of Turku. It’s the oldest and largest university in Finland and offers the widest range of different degrees. The university offers teaching in Finnish, English and Swedish. The most highly-rated programs are in Religious Studies, Education and Training, Agriculture and Forestry, and Communication and Media Studies. The university’s notable alumni include several former presidents of Finland, the founder of Linux Linus Torvalds, Nobel Prize winners F.E. Sillanpää (Literature, 1939), A.I. Virtanen (Chemistry, 1945), Ragnar Granit (Medicine, 1967), and Bengt Holmström (Economics, 2016), as well as the Fields Medal winner Lars Ahlfors.
3. University of Bergen
Location: Bergen, Norway
Global university rank: 281st
Thanks to Oslo being just south of the 60th parallel, the best university north of the line in Norway is the University of Bergen. The university can trace its origins back to 1825 and has been known by its current name since 1946, when it was officially established as a university, making it the second-oldest university in Norway. The highest-ranking programs at the university are in the fields of Archaeology, Earth and Marine Sciences, Geophysics, Geology, Anthropology, and Petroleum Engineering. In all these fields, the University of Bergen is ranked among the 100 best universities in the world. The university has three strategic areas it wants to especially focus on: Marine research, Climate and energy transition, and Global challenges.
4. Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Location: Trondheim, Norway
Global university rank: 292nd
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology was founded in 1996 as a merger of several earlier higher education institutions. It’s a fairly large university with about 40,000 students. As the name suggests, it’s especially focused on engineering and technology subjects, with the most highly-rated programs being in the fields of Petroleum Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Architecture and Built Environment, Civil and Structural Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Chemical Engineering, and Materials Sciences. In all these disciplines, the NTNU program is among the best 100 in the world. The university is also associated with three Nobel Prize in Medicine winners.
5. University of Oulu
Location: Oulu, Finland
Global university rank: 313th
The University of Oulu is the northernmost university on this list, a top university only about 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of the Arctic Circle. Oulu is known as a technology hub, with many tech companies based in the city. With this in mind it’s no wonder that many of the best programs at the university are in the STEM fields. The best ranking ones are in Geography, Education and Training, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science and Information Systems. The University of Oulu sees student mobility as an important thing, and it takes part into many student exchange programs, including Erasmus. Notable alumni of the university include Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, and Sakari Orava, a sports surgeon known for operating several famous athletes, including David Beckham, Pep Guardiola, Paul Pogba, Marco van Basten, and Haile Gebrselassie.
6. University of Turku
Location: Turku, Finland
Global university rank: 315th
The current University of Turku was established in 1920. It’s the second major university to be founded in the city, as the University of Helsinki was also originally established in Turku. When the university was being created, a total of 22,040 people gave money to the fund-raising campaign. As a result, the university has created a commemorative liqueur that is called “22,040”. The University of Turku is divided into eight faculties and its most high-ranking programs are in the fields of Nursing, Education and Training, History, Life Sciences and Medicine, and Psychology. There are just over 20,000 students and programs of all levels are offered in both Finnish and English.
7. Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT
Location: Lappeenranta, Finland
Global university rank: 351st
The Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology was founded in 1969. There are about 5,000 students in the larger Lappeenranta campus in southeastern Finland and about 1,000 in the Lahti campus in southern Finland. As a university of technology, LUT University is focused mainly on engineering and technology subjects. The highest-rated programs are in Electrical Engineering, Business and Management Studies, Physics and Astronomy, Mechanical Engineering, and Environmental Sciences. Some of LUT’s special focus areas are renewable technologies, clean water, clean energy, climate change and sustainable engineering solutions.
8. Tampere University
Location: Tampere, Finland
Global university rank: 436th
Tampere University can trace its origins back to 1925 and the founding of the Civic College (Kansalaiskorkeakoulu). It gained its current from in 2019 with the merger of the earlier University of Tampere and the Tampere University of Technology. The university is comprised of seven faculties, a Language Centre, a Teacher Training School and a University Hospital. The most highly-ranked programs are in the fields of Library and Information Management, Communication and Media Studies, Education and Training, Electrical Engineering, and Psychology. Notable former alumni include former Finnish prime ministers Sanna Marin and Kalevi Sorsa, former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, and Jarmo Kekäläinen, the current general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets ice hockey team in the North American National Hockey League (NHL).
9. University of Jyväskylä
Location: Jyväskylä, Finland
Global university rank: 446th
The University of Jyväskylä has its origins in 1863 and the founding of the local teacher training college. It has been known as the University of Jyväskylä since 1967. Today it’s a significant research university with particular focus on natural and human sciences. The best-ranking programs are in the fields of Sports-Related Subjects, Education and Training, Psychology, Sociology, and Natural Sciences. The university wants to offer its students a chance to study abroad and has, through several international programs and bilateral agreements, student exchanges with more than 350 universities across the world.
10. Umeå University
Location: Umeå, Sweden
Global university rank: 465th
Umeå University was founded in 1965. It’s the fifth-oldest university in Sweden and the country’s best university north of the 60th parallel. It’s a large university with over 35,000 students. One of the most famous parts of the university is the Umeå Institute of Design, a highly-rated design institute specialising in industrial design. Art and Design is the most highly-ranked program of the university, being ranked among the 100 best Art and Design programs in the world. Other high-ranking programs are in the fields of Nursing, Biological Sciences, Agriculture and Forestry, and Medicine. Umeå University’s notable alumni include football manager Lars Lagerbäck, Sweden’s former prime minister Stefan Löfven, and Adi Utarini, an Indonesian public health researcher who was one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world in 2021.
So there you have it, the ten best universities north of the 60th parallel. About 5.5 million of the 13 million inhabitants (42%) in this far-northern region live in Finland, so it’s no wonder Finland has many universities on this list. The fact that no less than 7 out of the 10 universities on the list are in Finland is also helped by the fact that Stockholm in Sweden, Oslo in Norway and Saint Petersburg in Russia are just south of this line, thus making the many great universities in these cities ineligible. In the end, seven universities on this list are in Finland, with Norway getting two and Sweden one. All the universities here are among the 500 best universities in the whole world, so if you end up studying at any of these institutions, you’ll be studying at a top-level university. And if you’re wondering about the northern universities in North America, the highest-ranking North American university north of the 60th parallel is the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which is ranked as the 781-790th best university in the world.
So if you’re interested in spending your university years in a region famous for snowy winters and white nights in the summer, choose the university that suits you best, and send your application. Good luck!