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Outside perspective: »Danish students are left to take care of themselves«

Compared to Germany, associate professor and archaeologist Tobias Richter finds more freedom and more flexibility at Danish universities. But he says the university could take better care of its students.

You can hear laughter and cheerful voices from inside Tobias Richter’s office. The main language is English here. This comes naturally, as Tobias Richter was born in Germany, educated in the United Kingdom, has lived in Denmark, is married to an Italian, and works with both Danish and international researchers.

We are at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, where the 41-year-old associate professor and archaeologist has been employed for almost ten years. The door is open. That’s how Tobias Richter likes it. It is important for him to signal that both colleagues and students are welcome. That he is interested in them.

One of the big differences I noticed when I came to the University of Copenhagen was this distance between the instructors and the students. Even though Danish students have a great deal of influence, they are often left to take care of themselves.

TOBIAS RICHTER

/ 41 years old

/ Lives in the Amager district with his Italian wife and two children who are six and three years old

/ Was born and grew up in Germany

/ Got his master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David

/ PhD from the University College London

/ Associate professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), University of Copenhagen.

In the UK, they take care of the students a lot more than they do here. If a family member dies, for example, or if a student has personal problems that mean that he or she has difficulty submitting an exam assignment, they can go to their teacher or personal tutor and get help.

As an associate professor, it is important to me that the students feel that the door is open and that they can always come to me. I am not just here to share my knowledge with them. I am also here to help them with the problems they have. Many young people experience challenges during their studies, and they are not all academic challenges. But I feel that there is still an old structure at the University of Copenhagen, where there is a strong distinction between the professors and the students.

READ ALSO: Outside perspective: I like the fact that Danes invest their time in social activities

Danish students, however, have much more influence than students in many other countries. The students are at the table in virtually all councils and decision-making bodies at the university. In many ways, they have more power than the professors. It is generally known here that if you, as a professor, want something done, you have to get the students on your side.

Many people point to the flatter hierarchy as something that distinguishes Danish universities from other universities. But when you have been here for a while, you find out that this flat hierarchy is managed from the top-down to an extreme degree. Danish professors are consulted, and everyone has something to say, but decisions are ultimately taken from above by politicians and senior management. The German universities are far more hierarchical compared to the Danish ones. But professors have more to say than management.

New perspective

At the University of Copenhagen, more than one third of all researchers and teaching staff are from abroad.

In this series, you can meet some of them and read about what they think of working at the University of Copenhagen. What is the working culture like relative to their home countries? What has surprised them the most? And how do they describe their Danish colleagues?

 

I am not saying that the German model is better, but I think that you have to be careful that the universities are not run too much from the top-down. This said, I have no wish to work anywhere else. My children are thriving and I am happy with their kindergarten and school. I have a fantastic research group and good colleagues. And I enjoy the freedom and flexibility that I have at the University of Copenhagen.

The working culture is very different compared to both Germany and the UK. Here, you organise your own working hours and have the opportunity to collect the children at 15.00 unless there are meetings or classes. This is great when you have a family. Just like it is amazing that in Denmark there is something that is called paternity leave for fathers.

READ ALSO: Outside perspective: »In Denmark, you don’t just network to get something«

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