University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Professor at University of Copenhagen: »Students were given a corona bonus«

The teaching quality of online classes is lower than in-person teaching, according to several studies. But this is not reflected in students' grades. Not surprising, says associate professor Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen.


hile students were at home attending online classes, a major survey was carried out. How did online teaching compare to in-person education? It reached a clear conclusion: Online education does not rank highly in either popularity or in quality.

Only four per cent of students prefer to take classes online, according to a survey among first-year students conducted by the Danish Evaluation Institute.  And only two percent said that they like in-person classes and online studies equally.

In February, a major study was published based on several smaller studies funded by the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science. The conclusion was that students and teachers alike experienced a decline in teaching quality due to online teaching, and the authors documented a decrease in »activity level and learning outcomes« among students who were taught online.

It would therefore be reasonable to expect a similar decrease in students’ grades during the corona period. However, that was not the case.

The University Post has gained access to the average grades for students at the University of Copenhagen.

In the years 2017-2021, the average grade for the entire university was between 7.1 and 7.6. The average grades for the summer exams in 2020 and the winter exams in 2020-21 were 7.3 and 7.2, respectively.

Thus, students’ grades in 2020 were similar to previous years.

Corona bonus

It is not surprising that grades did not decrease during the pandemic, according to Associate Professor in History, Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen. After 24 years at university, he is not afraid to suggest a possible explanation for why students achieved normal grades despite the disadvantages of online teaching:

»The students were quite simply given a corona bonus. Since students received slightly worse teaching, the instructors did not see fit to punish them for the corona situation,« says Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen.

The average grade level did not decrease, because most teachers took the circumstances into account when awarding grades. According to Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen this is fair.

»A grade is first and foremost a statement about a person’s ability and diligence. Describing a concrete learning outcome is secondary. Therefore, the grading system is not clinically objective. It is always based on general circumstances, such as how far into the course a student is. New Public Management ideologues may dream of comparing a list of learning objectives and the grade scale. But that is not how it works in reality. If you had to create such precise objectives, it would turn the system into an iron corset,« he says.

»Everyone hates it«

Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen can imagine a scenario where online teaching may continue, even after the threat of corona has subsided, however.

»I can imagine that some university politicians will see it as an opportunity to save money on classroom space.«

But if you ask him, there is no reason to believe that the »online adventure,« as he calls it, will have a happy ending. As coordinator for two courses, Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen has been in contact with several teachers and overall, they have not painted online teaching in a positive light.

»Everyone hates it,« he says. »I have not come across any teachers who love online teaching, although some have been brilliant at making the best out of the situation, and the few students who were happy with it have special needs or circumstances.«