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»I thought, to hell with it, I am going to study electrical engineering«

Eva Maria liked her humanities subjects, but her master’s couldn’t land her a job. Now she is studying to be an electrical engineer and reckons that the Danish government’s downsizing of study programmes is a good idea.

»I have applied for about 400 jobs,« says 32 year-old Eva Maria Thorning Hein.

»And I only landed one job interview, where it turned out that the job was actually volunteer work. Something had to happen.«

Initially she took supplementary courses to get her physics and math skills up to A level, and then she started over. For a year, she has now commuted between her home in Copenhagen and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, and by 2020 after a change this summer to DTU, she expects to be an  electrical engineer.

»There is something about transformer systems, power plants, gearing for big engines, things that make a big noise. And then the wind turbines and solar cells,« says Eva Maria Thorning Hein.

Extended night school

Eva Maria Thorning Hein is an MA from the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (TORS) at the University of Copenhagen Faculty of Humanities. Besides a bachelor’s degree in Chinese studies and a master’s degree in the subject field of cross-cultural studies, she gained experience from working as a trainee in the Danish consulate in Chongqing for one year.

The education programme, which is a six year programme (because the bachelor’s degree contains one year of language teaching), took her eight years including the year in China.

This is not an unusual length of time for a Danish student who began to study before the Study Progress Reform kicked in, which forced students to speed up their studies in 2014. For personal reasons, Eva Maria had to wait one year after her graduation before she started looking for a job, and this gap in her CV could have reduced her chances on the job market.

»I spent six years of my life in China. The only place to learn Chinese is in China. From the fourth semester we only had a few hours Chinese a week, this was just an extended night school.«

It is worth noting here that the number of teaching hours in the humanities has been debated for some years, and that a minimal requirement has been introduced today so that students in bachelor’s subjects get 12 hours a week. This is pointed out by the head of department at TORS Ingolf Thuesen in a response to the criticism by the former student.

Who needs someone to play on an Indonesian instrument?

Eva Maria Thorning Hein says that, despite the low number of hours in class, liked studying at the University of Copenhagen and appreciated her lecturers’ commitment and teaching.

»But the education programme was more or less useless in reality. I have taken exciting subjects, which I do not understand why I was allowed to follow, and which I was even persuaded to select. I have studied Indonesian folk culture and heritage preservation at the National University of Singapore at summer school because the department suggested we could get some ECTS points there. It was fascinating material to master, but who the hell needs it?«

She laughs.

»I can actually play Indonesian folk music. But there are only two sets of instruments for Indonesian folk music in this country, one of which is at the National Museum, and the other is at the Indonesian Embassy. I will never use it. I also have a degree in Chinese literature and have followed a subject on how the body is perceived in Chinese culture. This was fascinating, but maybe we should look at how we can give young people something they need when they come out into the world of business. Most of them will end up there, after all.«

She mentions a few examples.

»I would like to learn something about how things work in China. But it was just not there. A subject about legislation, negotiation techniques, or production standards in China would have been great, but here I was told that I should have studied law or political science instead. But I wanted be a China expert; know a little about everything and specialize later. But that was not the toolbox they gave me. I can, however, tell you a bit about some trends in literature in the early 19th century.«

But you can surely present it in the form of an analysis and investigate the interactions between Chinese and Western culture?

»Yes. And this would be good if you are to be a researcher. But why are we focussing on giving students the skills to research or teach when most of them are going into the private sector? The way I see it, we should focus our education programmes on those who are going to get jobs outside academia.«

The wrong title can be a problem

According to Ingolf Thuesen, Head of Department at TORS, the master’s degree in Cross-Cultural Studies was initially conceived as an »education programme for the wider labour market and never as a programme for academic research.«

Read Thuesen’s response to the criticism of TORS here.

But the Faculty of Humanities appears to have a problem. Only 58 per cent of graduates from the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen, according to a study by the Ministry of Education, reckon that their education programme have given them the prerequisite skills for their jobs. This is well below the 67 per cent which is the average among university graduates in general. To the news site Politiken, Dean Ulf Hedetoft has said that the number is »too low«.

Just like in the wider Faculty of Humanities, graduates from Cross-Cultural Studies reckon to a lesser degree than the average of candidates from the University of Copenhagen that their study qualifications are relevant to their job.

Ulf Hedetoft says to Politiken that new education initiatives have made the humanities programmes more business-oriented.

Humanities degrees deselected

This could possibly improve the brand of the Master of Arts in business, for the benefit of people like Eva Maria Thorning Hein. She says that graduates of classical humanities education programmes risk being deselected [by recruiters, ed.] in the job hunt, no matter how gifted they are, simply because they have the wrong title.

She explains that she has applied to many jobs where there was a good match between her skills and the job description, but where the workplace wrote back to say they are looking for a person with a master’s in communications.

»These jobs are ‘soft jobs’, and they may get 675 applications, which means that the workplace certainly needs to set up some kind of machine search to sort out the humanities degrees. And I don’t think there will be a job posting for a master’s in cross-cultural studies before one of my classmates starts their own business.«

UNEMPLOYMENT

The unemployment rate for new graduates from cross-cultural studies at the University of Copenhagen is 31 per cent.

The corresponding figures for other humanities subjects are:

Theatre and performance studies 35 per cent
Literature science 29 per cent
Art history 25 per cent
History 22 per cent
Danish 15 per cent
It and cognition 9 per cent

29 per cent of the cross-culture graduates who get a job, get it by applying to a vacancy.

Source: uddannelseszoom.dk

The Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies does not use the numbers from the Danish government’s comparison module Uddannelseszoom. For small programmes such as Assyriology, the numbers have been shown to contain errors. According to TORS’ own figures, the unemployment rate for graduates of Cross-Cultural Studies is 23.5 per cent. (The unemployment statistics used by TORS are worked out by the University of Copenhagen’s Education Service based on data from Statistics Denmark (which is also the basis for the Uddannelseszoom figures).

»The management of China studies should talk to people in the business sector and find out what it is they need. But it seems like they prefer to be in their own little nerd bubble. It is a fascinating place to be, but they just train more nerds, and the business sector does not know how to find a use for them, or the graduates lack the skills that the world of business needs.«

Jeopardy winner also still looking for a job

Eva Maria Thorning Hein is not the only one with a cross-cultural studies education who has publicly expressed frustration with not being able to find a job despite a long education and a tough job search.

Her fellow student Jens Andersen has, despite a brain that has made him eleven times the winner of the quiz Jeopardy on Danish broadcaster TV2, told news site Avisen.dk, that he has applied to 900 jobs without success.

»I don’t say the students should do the kind of ‘hard’ subjects like the Copenhagen Business School CBS, but they could teach them about law in China, or about how different ministries interact in China. Soft subjects, but still relevant to any company tracking through the jungle of business in China,« says Eva Maria Thorning Hein.

It is the kind of knowledge she missed herself when she worked for one year at the Danish consulate in Chongqing.

»Some would say you should have just attended Copenhagen Business School, but their Chinese language teaching was not as good as the one I could get at Chinese studies at the University of Copenhagen. At least as far as I could see when I, in 2005, applied for the programme. And, yes, CBS is more oriented towards business, but this does not mean that the University of Copenhagen, which has higher admissions numbers, should have all its students oriented towards research.«

If you study medicine, you become a doctor. If you study law, you become a lawyer, but if you study Chinese, you don’t become a Chinese person. It’s a vague education programme

Eva Maria Thorning Hein, MA from TORS

Eva Maria Thorning Hein supports the Danish ‘dimensioning’ policy of a majority in parliament restricting the supply of education programmes where the graduates have statistically been plagued by unemployment. This has been a key part of the UCPH decision in 2016 to close down a number of smaller subjects.

»Now they have – luckily – closed down some of the smaller subjects, because what do we need tibetologists for? I know a few tibetologists, but none of them have tibetology-related jobs. What should they use all the tibetology for? I have nothing against Tibet and have also been there and I enjoyed it. But just because something is exciting, nice and interesting does not mean that Denmark absolutely has to teach it.«

Subjects with vague names

According to Eva Maria Thorning Hein, it was difficult to decode exactly what the China-studies programme contained before she began it.

»I applied in 2005 before the financial crisis, and from everything that I heard, society needed Chinese. People who could speak the language, but also people with knowledge of Chinese society. I assumed that I would get some basic research knowledge, but in the curriculum there were very few subjects that had a specific name. Many subjects were called Realia A, Realia B, etc., and had all-inclusive headlines like ‘Chinese society’ and ‘History of China’. Within these you could choose among a variety of subjects, but these were all equally useless in my opinion.«

She says that the job centres call on graduates to seek out businesses and to create their own jobs, but that it is difficult when you are unproven professionally and have no industry knowledge.

»If you study medicine, you become a doctor. If you study law, you become a lawyer, but if you study Chinese, you don’t become a Chinese person. It’s a vague education programme.«

There was nothing wrong with the quality of the subjects I was taught in. It was the relevance of the subjects offered that I would like to see changed so that their purpose was to train employees to society and not researchers for the university.

CBS was a dirty word

Eva Maria says she tried to angle her assignments in a direction which was business-relevant. But this was not what her professors were fishing for.

»My dissertation was about CSR in a cross-cultural perspective, but I felt that it was considered Copenhagen Business School-ish, and CBS was a bit of a dirty word at my department. It was difficult to orient my education towards business when the professors were into business. They were just very gifted nerds in fields that can only be applied to research.«

»There was nothing wrong with the quality of the subjects I was taught in. It was the relevance of the subjects offered that I would like to see changed so that their purpose was to train employees to society and not researchers for the university. There were about five permanently employed professors and lecturers at China studies, and you cannot absorb 10 students a year as researchers.«

Ingolf Thuesen, Head of Department at TORS, has sent the University Post a comment responding to the criticism of Eva Maria Thorning Hein. You can read it here.

 

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