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Prorector: Faster studies can be better studies

Copenhagen students are not lazy. They can do their studies faster. But the University must make the system work, and study abroad should be a ‘plug and play’ system, says Prorector for Education

Under new rules, students at the University of Copenhagen have to complete their studies faster, or risk expulsion.

This is according to an e-mail warning from Prorector for Education Lykke Friis sent out to all students Thursday. Fulfill the requirements, or else.

Lykke Friis has been on the job since 1 August, and in this, the first part of a three-part interview with the University Post, she explains why something like the time permitted to complete a Master’s degree is so important, yet so difficult to change.

Don’t mention the ‘completion times’!

Last week, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities sent out a memo to all students and staff with an 11 point plan that would get humanities students through their studies one whole year faster by 2020. This was after data showed that University of Copenhagen students were taking longer than any other Danish university students to finish.

One whole year faster. This means that the students who will be starting in the coming years at the Faculty of Humanities have to finish the same study programme one year faster than those that have just finished this year.

Completion-times need to come down. “Don’t mention the completion times!” Lykke Friis jokes, when the University Post passes her a piece of paper with the subjects that we are to discuss in this interview.

Will improve the time spent at university

“We have a common project on this at the University of Copenhagen, as it is a common problem. Remember, even though the Faculty of Humanities needs to do more, it is the same for other faculties,” she says.

“If we make changes in one faculty you need to make the changes in the other. This is because if you do part of your degree in one faculty, and another part in the other, they have to be compatible,” she says,

The project of getting students to go through their studies faster should actually improve the time that students study at University, she says.

DKK 300m funding threat

But she admits this will be painful – and painful for current students now.

“Let’s be frank. Those that are in the middle of their studies now, may find themselves subjected to rules that were not in place when they started. A transition period would be fair, and we have put forward this argument in the hearing phase of the new legislation,” she says.

But a threat of a cut to funding gives the whole project a sense of urgency. “It is a huge project. But we have to move though, as over DKK 300m may be taken from our funding if we don’t speed up,” she says.

Matching up

The sense of urgency to the whole thing is underlined by the fact that the attempt to reduce completion times may run counter to another University of Copenhagen policy goal: More Copenhagen students need to study abroad on exchange, to match the numbers from those countries and universities who send students to Copenhagen.

For some countries, like Poland, the imbalance is glaring:

“Right now we are receiving 326 Polish students to the University of Copenhagen. Yet only 33 from Danish universities are going the other way,” Lykke Friis explains after offering the University Post one of a batch of sweets left as a gift in her office. “This is one of things I have just talked to the Polish ambassador about.”

Balance is not right

Copenhagen students are falling behind in going to universities in Poland, the Czech republic, Austria, Germany and Belgium. And there is not much that the University can do about it, except encourage more Danish students to go there through events and promotions.

Ultimately, the Danish government is holding the University of Copenhagen responsible to uphold a balance between incoming and outgoing exchange students. And if the University doesn’t get it right?

You guessed it. They will cut funding.

Study abroad, now a risk?

The exchange imbalances won’t, on a first analysis, be helped by the attempt to speed up Copenhagen’s students, according to Lykke Friis.

“The biggest hurdle right now for getting the exchange balance right is actually the Study Progress Reform, and our attempts to reduce completion times at the University of Copenhagen,” says Lykke Friis.

“If the pressure is on students to finish on time, there is the danger that students will say: if I go to Berkeley, what happens if our course is cancelled.”

And if students are stressed out about finishing on time, they are less likely to take the risk of going abroad and risk not being able to transfer credits.

“We are looking at it in terms of setting up a ‘mobility window’ for students. We will say ‘This is when we suggest you go abroad’. We are also hoping to set up packages of courses and a better credit transfer system so credits can be merited,” Lykke Friis explains.

More plug and play

“Take the Faculty of Health for example. They have made sure that a certain part of their programme fits with a specific course with a partner in Sydney, and the course is equivalent to the one in Denmark

“We need to limit the risks of going abroad by having more ‘plug and play’ in students’ choices of countries and courses,” Lykke Friis says.

“As we stand right now, all faculties are going through all our exchange agreements. They are asking themselves: Are they up to standard? Are the exchange agreements a one-way street (something that we prefer) or a two-way street?”


So what is it with us Copenhageners. Why is it such a problem for us and not the other universities in Denmark and Europe. Are we lazy?

Not according to Lykke Friis.

“Copenhagen students have their jobs, their social life. We have a large number of students that have jobs here, as it is the capital city,” she assures the University Post.

But this said, Lykke Friis is not going to argue towards the government that Copenhagen is a special case that needs special treatment.

“Let us put it this way. Our leverage with the government on that point is minimal. Let us be frank, the government needs the money to finance its 2020-plan”, she says.

“We need to get results,”

(In the next part of this interview, Lykke Friis will explain why the University of Copenhagen needs to help its students stay in the country after graduating, and what she thinks of university rankings. Soon to be published)

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