This article describes in general terms the role of theses in higher education and their legal status. It also describes how a thesis is defined at Diak.
The purpose of theses at universities of applied sciences is to develop research and development skills and to apply them in practice. The thesis process also develops the practical use and application of theoretical and researched information to the challenges of working life. The use of researched information and development skills is also part of competence in lifelong learning, which will play an increasingly important role in work in the future.
The importance of the thesis process is also highlighted in legislation. The University of Applied Sciences Act (L 932/2014, section 4, subsection 1) states: ‘The mission of universities of applied sciences is to provide higher education for professional expert jobs based on the requirements of working life and its development and on the premises of academic research and academic and artistic education and to support the professional growth of students’.
‘They shall also carry out applied research, development and innovation activities and artistic activities that serve education in universities of applied sciences, promote industry, business and regional development and regenerate the industrial structure of the region. In carrying out their mission, universities of applied sciences shall promote lifelong learning.’ (L 932/2014, section 4, subsection 2)
The thesis is a significant part of professional growth for both the students in the bachelor’s level programmes and in the master’s level programmes of universities of applied sciences. The thesis requires the students to use all the competence capital they have acquired during their studies. The thesis shows the level of the student’s competence in their field, combining theory and practice, and in research and development, as well as their teamwork skills. The thesis is a good proof of the student’s competence at the stage they transition to working life. Many students also find a job while working on their thesis with working life partners.
At universities of applied sciences, a thesis is a development project that serves the needs of working life and with which the student demonstrates their level of knowledge and academic competence. The thesis is only a small part of a university of applied science’s degree programme, as it amounts to 15 study credits from a total of 210–240 credits. However, it is a key component in the process of the students’ professional development. The entire degree programme supports the thesis process in many ways, and the thesis is part of the students’ studies for several semesters. For their thesis, students structure and build on what they have learned in their studies and produce something new. The long-term dedication required by the thesis process often enables the students to innovate and to develop.
Students apply researched information in their theses and use selected research and development methods to answer to the development needs and solve the identified challenges of working life. They also demonstrate their ability to plan long-term work in a team or independently. During the process, students learns to give and to receive useful and critical feedback. In thesis seminars, students learn to present and justify the wide range of choices and results of their research and development work to a multidisciplinary audience and to participate in the debate in their field on professional ethics. Students will also gain the ability to communicate the results of their work and further development challenges to a variety of audiences.
Preparing a thesis also teaches research and development skills. The thesis is an essential part of master’s level studies from the beginning of the studies. The thesis of a university of applied sciences master’s level programme provides the students with competence to act as an expert in research and development tasks in working life. In master’s level programmes, the thesis forms one third (30 study credits) of the total number of study credits. At Diak, the master’s level programme thesis is a research or development project carried out in cooperation with the working life. The aim of the thesis is to develop working life in practise and create new solutions to the challenges of working life.
The starting point of Diak’s master’s level programme theses is that the people, whose work is being researched and developed, participate in the development work. This means that the theses are carried out in collaboration with working life partners and service users. The methodological framework for participatory research and development is applied in the theses (Keskitalo 2015; 2020).
The thesis can focus on research or development. If the thesis focuses on research, it can be called participatory research, and if the thesis focuses on development, it can be called participatory action research. The research and development method courses of the master’s level programmes support the completion of the thesis in its various stages.
In master’s level theses, theory is combined with practical development. The theses utilize theoretical and current Finnish and international research data. Theoretical and research information is used in structuring the chosen topic and to analyse the results and document them. Preparing a thesis teaches information retrieval skills and requires using systematic information retrieval.
Students can utilize their previous studies and working life experience to solve current working life development challenges with a thesis for a master’s level programme of a university of applied sciences, or any other degree programmes of universities of applied sciences. The aim is for the theses to discuss broader themes that benefit working life in Diak’s own projects and as a collaboration between the working life partners and Diak.
Original article: Paula Koistinen and Elsa Keskitalo 2016
Updated by Elsa Keskitalo and Olli Vesterinen 2020