University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Here we go again: "The students are not 'stupid and lazy'"

Unsuitable to be students? — A number of lecturers say students are lazy and shouldn’t be students at all in a new study. Associate Dean Jens Erik Mogensen rejects the criticism and says instead that universities need to be better at understanding what students can do. But one experienced lecturer does not buy in to this explanation.

Students are stupid and lethargic. Too many maths students can’t do their sums. Too many humanities students can’t spell words. And they don’t even want to try.

This claim crops up at regular intervals from dissatisfied lecturers at universities in Denmark, the latest in a survey by the Danish news site Politiken. Of the 19,000 instructors that the news site contacted, 5,000 responded. Half of them reckoned that students “lack academic grounding”. Every third instructor says that students come to lectures unprepared.

Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen, Jens Erik Mogensen, understands that lecturers’ experience this, but says that the whole premise of the debate is wrong.

“I can well understand how you can experience that students achievement levels have dropped, and we should take it seriously, when instructors says this is what they experience. But the students are neither worse nor more lazy than before. The world has changed, and the students can do something different than they could 30 years ago,” he says.


According to Mogensen the problem is not the students’ alleged lack of skills, but the lack of interaction between upper-secondary and university study programmes. The Danish secondary school gymnasiums are educating with one purpose in mind, the universities are expecting something else.

As chairman of the UCPH committee for co-operation with secondary schools, he leads a project to make the transition to university smoother than it is today.

“It is extremely important for us to have a dialogue with gymnasiums so that we at university can find out what the students can do today. This has changed considerably after the most recent secondary school reforms, where there is more focus on interdisciplinary skills and global issues. This does not mean that we should accept lower requirements at university, but other requirements.”


Many of my students have no methodological training, and they have not been taught how to work with a text. And they have not learned to be disciplined in their learning process.
Siff Pors, teaching assistant professor, English


Long production line of GRAMMATICAL ERRORS

Teaching assistant lecturer Siff Pors has 27 years of experience in teaching the English degree programme at UCPH, and recently criticized the students’ skill levels on the Politiken news site. She doesn’t think much of Jens Erik Mogensen’s analysis:

“What he says is that is actually okay to lower requirements. The problem with cross-disciplinarity is that it requires that you are firmly anchored in a subject. It requires a solid foundation, and many of the students have just never got one,” she says to the University Post.

Pors emphasises that she still meets many highly skilled, diligent students at university. But she speaks of a growing group of young people who “have been allowed to dilly-dally through secondary school” and that now have a “negative impact on the teaching,” because they lack the basic skills.

As an example, she points to the subject Textual Analysis, where she estimates that approximately every fourth student constantly make glaring grammatical errors. They cant conjugate irregular verbs, they do not use the possessive correctly, and they cannot write a longer sentence that makes sense.

Jens Erik Mogensen acknowledges that there is a problem in the languages area.

“The language subjects are in a particular situation as languages are given a low priority in today’s secondary schools. Few students have German and French in their study programme projects. And this is a huge problem,” says Mogensen.

“We lose our motivation, of course, when we’re constantly being branded as lazy and stupid, and as an expense and a burden.”

The Amanda Büchert, Chairman of the Student Council

He emphasizes that the Danish government has earmarked DKK 100 million for a language strategy that is to remedy these defects.

But according to Siff Pors the problem extends far beyond language skills.

Many of my students have no methodological training, and they have not been taught how to work with a text. And they have not learned to be disciplined in their learning process. It has become unpopular to sit down and do a hard piece of work,” she says and accuses parents and the Danish education system of not teaching children and young people that “requirements and obligations follow from rights and privileges.”

Student Council: Harmful NARRATive

Chairman of the Student Council, Amanda Büchert, disagrees completely. And she believes that this recurring narrative of students being lazy and stupid has a damaging effect.

“This is not the way I see my fellow students. “But we lose our motivation, of course, when we’re constantly being branded as lazy and stupid, and as an expense and a burden,” she says.

Just like Jens Erik Mogensen, Büchert wants the transition from secondary school to university to be made easier. But unlike Siff Pors she does not believe that the requirements for students are too soft – quite the opposite.

“We live in a time where students are to a higher degree under pressure from the Danish Study Progress Reform. This is in contrast to previous generations. We have to quickly rush through the system, and this means that many find it difficult to thoroughly read up on all the courses. At the same time, it is a problem both in secondary schools and at university, that the focus has moved away from general education to grades. I think it is necessary to remove some of the pressure so that we can rediscover the pleasure of the learning process and give some of the value back to a general education.”