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The government's controversial Study Progress Reform has got some serious issues: Danish-language university news site Uniavisen.dk has made a list
It is all about speeding up the time students take to graduate from university. Danish university students are notoriously tardy in finishing their degrees, and the Danish government’s Study Progress Reform [Fremdriftsreform, ed.] was designed to get students to pull themselves together.
Danish university students after all take longer to finish their studies than their European counterparts, and Danish students may be the latest finishers in terms of average age on graduation.
The University of Copenhagen is a special case in this connection with a whopping average graudation time of 6.6 years, the highest in Denmark – according to statistics from the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education.
Can’t remember exactly what the reform is about? Refresh your memory here first: The Definitive Guide to Study Progress Reform. How will the speed-up affect you?
The reform has so far only applied to first year students, but the date for its full implementation approaches. In the meantime students, staff and university management have picked the details of the Study Progress Reform apart. Danish-language site Uniavisen.dk has made a list of the biggest issues with the reform:
The reforms’ obligatory credit system is forcing students to have previous subjects credited no matter how relevant they may be to their current study programme.
UCPH student Ditte Staffeldt, who took up biology after a year of theatre science, has received a transdisciplinary smorgasbord of a degree: Biologist with a specialty in theatre science.
The deadline for choosing a master’s programme is 1 April, but for some UCPH subjects the curriculum has not been ready before the deadline. Students have had to choose what degree to take without knowing what it is.
Physics student Silas Boye Nielsen was considering a master in bio- and medicinal physics and ultimately had to choose before the course details were revealed. When the updated curriculum was published, it turned out that all the optional elements that had him interested in the first place had been removed.
The updated, post-reform curriculums of biology and physics have fewer optional elements, but they are just one example of how the reform has limited students’ ability to choose for themselves.
Previously, students of law could tailor their masters with 102 optional modules. They had a swapping system in place, where students could swap courses with others if their priority modules were fully booked.
Now, students have to submit a list of five priorities for just three modules. They have no option to change their mind or swap, and if their priorities are fully booked they are automatically assigned a different, related subject.
At the Faculty of Humanities the amount of retakes has ballooned by 270 percent during the winter of 2014/2015 compared to the previous year.
This is because everyone has to take an obligatory 60 ECTS points per year, and students who flunk or miss an exam are automatically signed up for a retake. If the retake is for any reason missed, students have one final try in the form of a second retake during the next term’s exams.
The Department of Computer Science has been unable to find a student instructor for their graphics course. The instructor is supposed to help the lecturer with the more than 60 students on the course.
“It appears the reform is a source of worry for the students and that this means they won’t apply for the position,” says Professor Christian Igen, who fears the problem will worsen next year when the reform is implemented across all the years.
“With its bureaucratic constraints, the study progress reform is making it a practical impossibility for students to start businesses alongside their studies,” says Stig Nyman, who took his master’s in economics.
Stig Nyman is a part of a group of entrepreneurs that arranged a hackathon in May: students spent 12 hours coming up with solutions to the problems entrepreneurs face under the reform. Their results so far can be seen here: tagdel.dk (in Danish)
“Paradoxically, the politicians acknowledge the importance of entrepreneurship, but are still introducing a reform that stilts it,” says Heidi Klokker, spokesperson for Danish Students’ Council (Danske Studerendes Fællesråd).
Internships at large lawyer firms, councils and ministries are hard to come by, but when a Danish bureau recently had to find student interns, they were surprised to find that two of them declined at the last-minute: They would lose their SU, so they couldn’t afford to take the internship.
Post-reform, students cannot receive SU and intern pay at the same time. As internships are often full-time (or more), students can’t take part-time work at the same time. And if they are unable to find a paid internship, they can’t make a living.
This means they can’t take an internship that would otherwise increase their chances of a decent job after university.
Trouble with internships, student instructors and entrepreneurs all indicate that it’s becoming harder for students to get work-related experience.
In a survey by the work insurance company Ase, 2,000 employers responded that they looked for work-experience much more than they did decent grades when hiring graduates. Several surveys echo this.
With the study progress reform students are expected to complete their degrees faster, so there is less and less time for 15-25 hour student jobs.
Before the reform, students had to ensure that their courses didn’t overlap and that they had ECTS points enough. Post-reform, the responsibility now lies with the university.
To this end, they use STADS – an IT system developed in the 90s. STADS can’t approve students changing subjects after the term has started, so this has to be done manually, putting massive pressure on the administration, according to Asbjørn Jessen, section head of UCPH’s uddannelses-it (educational IT).
The administration has a processing period of six weeks max for credit and dispensation applications. As credit transfer is now obligatory (see #1) and students are automatically enrolled, the university is expecting a significant rise in administrative work in July and August.
At the Faculty of Health Sciences, vice dean of education Henrik Saxild says that the pressure is manageable:
“We’ve run with a lean-process for our credit and dispensation cases, which has drastically reduced our processing time. Last year, we went from 0 to 1000 cases at the start of term, and we will probably be under pressure again this autumn. But now we’re ready for it, so it shouldn’t be a problem”.
So this is the list of Study Progress Reform-related issues – so far. Last year a committee of students and management presented 10 recommendations on how the University of Copenhagen should fulfil its obligations under the reform. First of them was for students to ‘be a full time student’.
A recent survey showed that students on average spend 28 hours a week on their studies, which includes classes, preparation and homework. This now has to be 37 hours – equivalent to a full time job.
But the recommendations included pointed fingers to staff and administrators at the University of Copenhagen, who need to change the way they do things.
The reform has already gone political, with opposition parties asking critical questions to Minister of Education Sofie Carsten Nielsen about the reform and its consequences. The issues are bound to be the centre of attention for students, staff and university management over the coming years. They will be hoping that politicians also make it the centre of their attention in the upcoming Danish national elections.
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