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Comment: What is a university?

In this featured comment, Rector Ralf Hemmingsen argues that the university is not just a means to an end, like getting a job. It also has value in itself. He offers three tips to get the most out of your time at university

Dear new students,

What is a university? Perhaps you are pondering over that question. A cynical commentator in The Times Literary Supplement claims that the answer depends on who you ask: »Students may see them as places to escape their parents, lose their virginity, and make friends for life; parents may see them as places to fit their offspring for financial independence; researchers may see them as places to be paid to do what they want; politicians may see them as places to keep the unemployment figures down.«

It all sounds right. But something is missing. In this interpretation, the university is reduced to an instrument. A means by which you can achieve a range of other valuable ends. But the university also has value in itself. And if we fail to take care of this core value, the university may lose its value for society at large.

The Swiss-German psychiatrist and philosopher, Karl Jaspers, offers a quite good definition of this core value: »The task of the university is finding the truth – in the community between researchers and students.« Thus at university, the truth does not exist, at least not in singular and exhaustive form. But the capacity to seek the truth does indeed.

How can you as a new student find your way in this world without definite knowledge. I will offer three pieces of advice which you of course should not perceive to be the only truths.

First, learn how to study. You have to be able to drill your way to the core and master new knowledge. But you also have to challenge the information you receive. UCPH will equip you to ask the right questions and thus you don’t have to accept ready-made answers, half-truths and dubious sources.

Second, go abroad. Exploit UCPH’s opportunities to discover the world. Learn languages and become accustomed with other cultures. Make use of one of the cooperation agreements that UCPH has with universities in about 50 countries. Choose courses with international content or pick lectures at other faculties and departments. Find internships or summer schools abroad. The options are there and we are trying to make it easier to go abroad and acquire international skills.

And third, help each other. As a new student you may feel overwhelmed by all the new information. But don’t isolate yourself in your flat, surrounded by text books. Sign up for a student club or the alumni association Kubulus. Form a student group where you can discuss the new and heavy course work and you will experience that the burden of studying will be less heavy.

UCPH is a good university, among Europe’s top 10 if you trust university rankings. But we are aiming to get even better. We focus our attention on improving the quality of our study programmes. Some of you will encounter new ways of teaching, more internship opportunities or the chance of undertaking specific assignments for companies or organisations. And some of you will be offered more lectures than previous students. The goal is that every undergraduate student will have a minimum of 12 timetabled hours a week. This way you will not merely obtain an education which is valuable when you apply for a job. You will also take the true values of the university with you.

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