Benchlearning from neighbour: Efficient thesis writing process for timely graduation

Benchlearning is a new element in the audit of HEIs in Finland. VAMK chose the thesis process for the Benchlearning target and Novia University of Applied Sciences (Novia UAS) as a Benchlearning partner. The thesis processes were compared in workshops and measures to be taken are well underway.

TEXT | Tarja Kettunen
Students at VAMK.

New element in the audit

Finnish Education Evaluation Centre Karvi (FINEEC) has included benchlearning as a new element into the Audit Manual for Higher Education Institutes in 2019-2024.  With this FINEEC wants to add a communal work method to the audit, in which learning from another HEI, sharing of good practices and active interaction are important. An integral part of learning is a visit. The HEI can freely choose one target and one partner with which the benchlearning will be implemented and appoint the participants within its own organization.    

In the evaluation of the benchlearning, the HEI will receive feedback from the Audit Team on the success of the planning and implementation process and on the application of ideas found in the benchlearning process.

Thesis is often a reason for delayed graduation.

Target and partner

The reason for delayed graduation for many students at VAMK is that the thesis has not been finished within the time reserved for it. We asked Novia UAS, operating in the same campus area, to be our benchlearning partner and chose the corresponding degree programmes in Business Economics and Technology to be examined. This gave a good starting point for comparison.  


Our objective in benchlearning was to find new ways to guide and supervise the thesis process to help the students through the phases of a thesis and to graduate on time.  

Phases and schedule  

The initial meeting was held on 4 October 2019. In this occasion we made a preliminary plan and appointed the participants. After the initial meeting, necessary background material on the guidance process was collected, and questionnaires were sent to the staff and students.  Workshops were held on 28 January and 10 February. 

New ideas already in use  

Measures taken  

When comparing the practices used at VAMK and Novia, it was discovered that the most central differences were in the scheduling of the thesis process, in the guidance methods, in the utilisation of digital tools, and in how the clients of the theses were included in the process. Based on these obervations, a list of measures was drawn with an objective to get the students to graduate on time. Here is a compilation of the measures for VAMKS objectives  

  • Starting the thesis process earlier  
  • Scheduling the phases according to the programme /the group; the teacher does the schedule 
  • Increasing group guidance  
  • Better utilisation of digital tools 
  • Better inclusion of the clients of the theses in various phases of the process  

These objectives are valid for all VAMK degree programmes although the targets of the benchlearning were Degree Programmes in Electrical Engineering and in Information Technology and Degree Programmes in International Business and in Business Economics.  

Observations made in technology workshops

According to Juha Nieminen, Head of Degree Programme, the problem in the Unit for Technology was not in the actual making of a thesis but rather the timing of the entire thesis process.  The problems are as follows:  

1. The student is inactive in finding a topic for the thesis  

2. Starting the thesis is delayed, especially if the thesis is made alongside a job  

3. The active phase of the thesis is prolonged significantly; it is more than 2.5 months  

To solve these problems, changes will be made in the structure of the curriculum and in timing; the scheduling of the process and the commitment of the process participants to the schedule agreed and to what has been agreed on the thesis together. A better utilisation of digital tools is also in the making.  

Example from business economics programme

In the Degree Programme for Business Economics, supervisors have developed the best and functioning working methods for themselves to guide the thesis process. Leena Pommelin-Andrejeff, Senior Lecturer presented her best practices in Quality Zoom, the compilation of which are presented here. The most important one for the fluent progress of the process is careful scheduling. The schedule must be made known to the students right from the beginning. If the student keeps the schedule and does the required tasks, s/he has a promise from the teacher that s/he will graduate by Christmas. This encourages students to goal-oriented working. The intermediate goals of the process, instructions and submission folders can be found on Moodle. Moodle has been used as a tool for several years.  

Open online guidance sessions held every other week give, according to students, a good chance to make questions, consider issues and get sparring for the thesis; it is also an excellent benchlearning opportunity. The guided process online built on Moodle with digital tools has worked very well, and has made the guidance easier in cases when long distances may have impeded the fluent progress,  

Leena puts it:  

’The thesis process is continuously developing; it needs to be polished all the time.We need to keep in mind that the primary goal is to get the student graduate on time.How to do it easily and flexibly, that is the challenge. All students are different but they all need support so that they get their diplomas. On the other hand, we need to support those who are quick, so graduation ahead of schedule must be possible, as well. 

Related articles