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Special Feature 2/2018 Editorial: Essential elements of an ideal degree in music

by Anu Ahola

The second Special Feature in FMQ in 2018 focuses on Finland’s only university-level music institution, the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki, through which we also take a look at university-level music teaching today in general.

This year, the Sibelius Academy was ranked sixth in a comparison of performing arts universities by QS ranking. The Sibelius Academy has been steadily increasing its reputation in recent years and is now more international than ever. The number of foreign applicants has doubled over the past five years.

The Sibelius Academy appears to have struck an excellent balance between in-depth specialisation and diversity. Students are encouraged to customise their study pathways in the inter-art environment of the University of the Arts Helsinki and to carve out a niche for themselves in a music culture where genre boundaries are a thing of the past.


My ideal vision of a music university is a community of arts and sciences free of unnecessary boundaries, with students and teachers from around the world encountering each other and passing freely not only from one department to another but also from one branch of the arts to another and from one institution to another. In this way, high-quality artistry and research and development support and complement one another. High quality is mainstreamed in everything, and dialogue with working life works both ways.

The Sibelius Academy lives up to this vision quite well, although some old habits die hard. In practice, it may be difficult for a student to harmonise units in different programmes (or at different institutions) that progress at different rates. Also, young artists may find it surprisingly difficult to think outside their own safe box, as birds of a feather tend to flock together. It is not enough just to have freedom of choice; students still need particular encouragement to expand their horizons.

Equality also still requires further efforts, and plurality should be the guiding principle in all things, including tuition and recruiting.


Learning the skills, knowledge and attitudes needed in the music industry in the future is a process that begins well before postgraduate studies and is not just about sitting in class. More than one person that we interviewed for this special feature noted that in order to succeed, a university needs above all to have the right students. This, in turn, requires a smoothly running music education system that is capable of identifying and preparing suitable student material. 

Successful university-level music education depends on symbiosis and dialogue with the world at large. That is the only way we can ensure the continued existence, plurality and flourishing of musical culture in the future.

Special Feature 2/2018: A look at the Sibelius Academy in 2018

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi