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University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Board dispute over DKK 2.2m student office

After the scandal of brain scientist Milena Penkowa, university board members agree that students need to be protected by an independent complaints office (an 'ombudsman'). They do not, however, agree on the complaints office' DKK 2.2m cost

Following the Penkowa-scandal it was decided that students of the University of Copenhagen were to have their own complaints office, with a so-called ‘ombudsman’, able to raise independent inquiries at the request of students.

A key part of the Penkowa scandal that rocked the University of Copenhagen last year was the brain scientist’s attempt to frame a student assistant for her fraud.

University board members all agree that a complaints officer is a good idea. They do not, however, all welcome a proposed annual budget for the office: DKK 2.2 million.

Dead weight bureaucracy

»2.2 million seems like a huge budget to me, because I don’t imagine that conditions are that bad at the University of Copenhagen,« says the external board member Peter Gæmelke.

»The idea was that the student complaints office would start out by picking up cases that still need weeding out – not take over and create new tasks,« he adds.

Several board members fear that with the new office, the University is creating an unnecessary bureaucracy, which will search for, and create, cases to justify its own existence.

Fully-staffed office of lawyer, secretary, student assistants

According to case notes, the question is whether the complaints officer will be bombarded with requests, or essentially have nothing to work with.

This makes it hard make an informed estimate of the cost of the project.

The proposed budget of DKK 2.2 million is to cover the cost of a lawyer, a secretary, possible financial support for students and additional costs of running the office.

No need for a permanent position

The case notes stress that if it turns out that there is little correlation between available resources and actual tasks, the board can re-evaluate the budget after the first year.

Boel Flodgren, a board member, points out that there already are student organisations dedicated to student rights.

»A compromise could be to hire a lawyer to handle the task as a part of their regular job,« she suggests.

Complaints office to be independent

The two student-elected board members warn against opting for a diluted version of the complaints office:

»Hiring a competent legal advisor with an assistant, and possibly an intern, is a small price to pay. There are many things we can do better at the university, but if we don’t have adequate resources at our disposal, we’ll never know the full extent of the problems,« says Laura Toftegaard Pedersen.

All do, however, agree that it is essential that the office is independent of the university management.

Management plans to submit a structure proposal to the board following their first meeting in 2012 – 27 January.

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