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Mathematics programme hit by language rule

New language rules mean that from now on all mandatory courses in mathematics on undergraduate level will be taught in Danish only. A setback for internationalisation, say critics

As of autumn 2012, the Faculty of Science at the University of Copenhagen will uphold a new rule: Undergraduate courses are to be conducted exclusively in either Danish or English. The rule sounds logical and harmless, but it has had unforeseen repercussions at the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

»The primary goal has been to make the language used on any given course as transparent as possible,« says Henrik Busch, Associate Dean for BSc Programmes, who has contributed to the implementation of the new rules for the descriptions of courses offered at Science.

But, at the Department of Mathematical Sciences, it now means that most of the bachelor courses on offer will be exclusively in Danish. This, in turn, has hit the exchange programmes, as non-Danish-speaking students cannot participate. Most student exchanges take place at the bachelor level.

Late announcement

»If we offer courses in English, then everything – according to the new rules – has to be in English. Having to take exams in a foreign language (English) would be a significant deterrent to Danish students. This is why the Student Council has decided that all obligatory bachelor courses should be in Danish,« says Jens Hugger, head of the Board of Studies at Mathematics and Datalogy.

In the past, second and third year courses were offered in English, so guest students could pick and choose between them. Courses that had no international students were conducted in Danish. The changes were announced so late that the department’s international partner universities may not be able to adjust before the next term start.

»This is a very messy affair because we are attracting international students under false conditions. I don’t believe that we can avoid having a lot of students arriving in September, expecting to be taught in English, who will be sorely disappointed,« says Hans Plesner Jakobsen, the department’s International Coordinator.

Long-term strategy

According to Jacobsen, this will have an unfortunate effect on the quality of the mathematics course: »Our international Erasmus students are often highly capable and talented, and they enrich the course,« he says.

Associate Dean Henrik Busch points out that there are options to dispensate, and that individual tutors and exchange students can arrange so-called ‘individual studies’. The Faculty of Science’s management explains the procedure as follows: »Either part of the teaching is in English (as long as the other students give their okay to this), with special exams in English organised for these students, or that the student writes an essay or something similar in English, which covers the course content«.

If the latter is implemented, exchange students will essentially self-study, without actual contact with their fellow Danish students. Henrik Busch does not, however, believe that this is the case, and emphasises that the new rules will improve internationalisation in the long-term.

Mandatory Danish courses

»The former Faculty of Life Sciences [LIFE] had positive experiences with internationalisation, seriously improving their international applicant numbers over the last five-ten years. This is one of the reasons that we have built on this, and made [LIFE’s, ed.] transparency commonplace at Science, so you know exactly what you get, when you start a course at the Faculty,« says Busch.

Board of Studies head, Jens Hugger, believes LIFE was a different case: »These places cannot be compared – LIFE had so many exchange students that they could create parallel, English-language courses. We lack the capacity or the economic means to do so.«

Furthermore, almost all of the basic courses at Mathematics are mandatory – exchange students will not have the option to take other courses.

Giving the wrong impression

»It is a shame that administrative demands are destroying an otherwise well-functioning system. Up until now, we have had a solution that had room for everyone,« says Jens Hugger.

Henrik Busch says that it is full degree students that the Faculty is aiming to attract. But Hans Pelsner Jakobsen, the International Coordinator, points out that quite a few internationals only choose to do a full degree at UCPH because they have already had a chance to get to try studying here on exchange programmes.

Jakobsen fears that international partners will be deterred from taking on Danish students and funding UCPH research if the university gives the impression that it does not take internationalisation seriously.

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