From Tanzania and Turkey to teach in Finland – holders of a higher education degree in education received help with bureaucracy from SIMHE services

Experiences Higher education Internationalisation Working life cooperation
Highly educated people moving to Finland often do not know how to have their degree recognised so that they could look for work in their own field. The SIMHE services have helped ECEC and mathematics teachers to find employment in the field of education.

When Dorica Kiiskinen moved to Iisalmi in 2020, she had only little work experience in her field, mainly from traineeships. She had graduated as a teacher for early childhood education and care (ECEC) from the University of Dodoma in Tanzania.

She was wondering whether she would be able to work in her field in Finland or whether she should study for a new occupation.

“However, working with children was close to my heart,” she says.

Selim Temiz, a teacher of physics and mathematics, came to Finland with similar thoughts. He had been a full-time teacher in Turkey for ten years, first in upper secondary school and then in a university of applied sciences.

Henkilökuva Selim Temizistä.
Selim Temiz


Language studies first.

Both of them decided to first learn the language. Temiz had come to Finland as a refugee and the family first learned Finnish independently at the reception centre. Temiz then applied to complete the Finnish comprehensive school at an evangelical folk high school.

“It sometimes made me laugh that I had taught difficult differential calculation at a higher education institution, and now I was learning how to add 2 and 5,” Temiz says. “But what I really learned there was how to teach mathematics in Finnish, how teachers explain things in a simple way. It helped me a lot.”

Kiiskinen in turn studied Finnish at a vocational college. Her studies progressed fast and she managed to do the examinations of the advanced course in advance. Kaja Rahkema, the SIMHE coordinator of Savonia University of Applied Sciences, also visited the courses to talk about the SIMHE services.

The SIMHE activities are implemented in the higher education institutions with responsibility for immigration and they are aimed at supporting the identification of prior learning of highly educated immigrants, and their education and employment in the Finnish labour market. The activities are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish National Agency for Education supports them in the role of an expert.

“She said that if someone has a higher education degree, she can help them to find an opportunity to do the same work in Finland,” Kiiskinen recalls.

This was a stroke of luck as Kiiskinen did not know how to proceed with a Tanzanian degree in Finland.

Temiz in turn found the SIMHE services through a tip he came across in a Facebook group of Turkish people. He was helped by SIMHE instructor Heli Kamppari from the University of Turku.

Henkilökuva Dorica Kiiskisestä.
Dorica Kiiskinen

Responsible for all of Finland

Kamppari says that, although higher education institutions responsible for the SIMHE activities are located across Finland and regional activities are needed, in practice the instructors operate in all of Finland as the training and meetings are largely organised remotely. In addition to personal guidance, language courses and job search training is also provided.

“A lot of support is usually required in the process of recognition of prior learning, especially in regulated professions such as healthcare and teaching,” Kamppari says.

Many of those who have come to Finland also consider a career change if they find it hard to find employment in their own field in Finland.

“This is career and study guidance,” Kamppari says. “I can use my own life experience and the experience I have accumulated during my career a great deal. We also need lot of knowledge and, above all, information search skills so that we can find the right authorities, educational institutions and potential employers.”

“It is often not enough to find one path that will take the guidance client straight to their goal. Instead, “alternative routes” are also needed, in other words, what the client should do to strengthen their competence if they are not selected to their first choice straight away.”

SIMHE instructors have a network in which they can ask each other for tips if they come across difficult situations. There is a Facebook group in which clients and instructors share information on topics such as upcoming online courses and courses for qualifying, which higher education institutions sometimes provide. Recently, a LinkedIn page was set up with the aim of disseminating more in-depth information about the SIMHE activities and the research conducted in the field and increasing the visibility of the activities among the general public.

The Facebook groups of the professional groups, such as the Lääkäriksi Suomeen and Hammaslääkäriksi Suomeen groups, can also be used in the guidance.

“These groups are very active because legalisation is such a huge and demanding process. It requires a lot of peer support,” Kamppari says.

Need for additional studies

The SIMHE instructor helped Dorica Kiiskinen to write to the Finnish National Agency for Education to have her degree recognised. Selim Temiz had already sent his degree certificates to the Agency. Both of them received a decision a few months later: their degrees corresponded to the Finnish degrees fairly well, but both of them also had to complete additional studies before being considered qualified teachers.

For example, Temiz had to complete mathematics to the scope of 30 ECTS and pedagogical studies to the scope of 15 ECTS. But what courses and where? This is where Kamppari was a great help according to Temiz. They found out what courses he should complete. Temiz even considered a career change if he could no longer work as a teacher, and Kamppari also helped him with this.

“Talking makes everything better,” he says. “If there was something she didn't know, she would find out and then we continued.”

Kiiskinen in turn had to complete 15 additional credits, a traineeship and a few professional courses.

“I was really relieved about the decision,” she recalls. “It gave me hope that I will be able to work as a teacher one day.”

The SIMHE instructors helped Kiiskinen and Temiz whenever it was needed. They asked the instructors about the timetables of the process, and whenever there was a decision, it was good to have a Finnish specialist explaining what it meant and what was required next.

“At the beginning, it was really difficult when I didn't know where to ask what,” Kiiskinen says.

She asked the instructor to also ask about the reason if she did not get the job she had applied for. She then knew what to focus on in the following job applications.

To work through studies

In the end, everything worked out well for both Temiz and Kiiskinen. Kiiskinen was admitted to complete the Eligibility and Qualification Studies in Early Childhood Education at Tampere University, where she was able to do some of the studies in Finnish and some in English. Temiz in turn completed the missing mathematics courses at the University of Turku, and received his eligibility for a teacher in the training organised by the Pätevänä töihin project of the University of Helsinki.

They both started to work while still studying, Temiz as a classroom assistant and Kiiskinen first as a group assistant and then as a child carer.

Kiiskinen graduated in March this year and sent the certificates to the Finnish National Agency for Education again. This time, she received the documents in a couple of weeks, and could apply for work in the spring. She was lucky and found a position as a teacher (ECEC) in her home town, Iisalmi. 

Temiz, on the other hand, was already employed as a non-qualified mathematics teacher in Vuosaari, and after his graduation, the same school employed him as a qualified teacher.

Temiz says that, in the beginning, he was worried about whether the colleagues and the pupils would accept him. He knew that there were a lot of multicultural pupils, but the teachers have largely represented the majority population. However, everything has gone well.

“The first year was difficult, but the work community here is wonderful and the colleagues helped and encouraged me a lot,” Temiz says. “It is sometimes difficult to teach in secondary school because teenagers may say almost anything. But I manage.”

Hopes for the future

Temiz still wants to improve further and keeps his Finnish book with him in his rucksack.

“I started my whole life from the beginning: first, I learned to speak and then to teach. I learn something new every day, and sometimes the pupils also teach me.”

Kiiskinen wants to continue as a teacher in early childhood education and care, but she is also interested in studying in the future.

“I would like to complete the master’s studies. Finland has a very high quality of education, and I think that I could give more in my work if I can educate myself further,” she says.

She hopes that language training would be available to immigrants better so that they would be able to start working.

“I find that my proficiency in Finnish has improved a great deal in interaction with people at the workplace.”

She also hopes that it would be easier to be admitted to the studies even with a slightly lower language proficiency and that people could learn the language gradually in the studies and during work placements.

“Without studying, it is very difficult to make progress.”


Text: Esa Salminen