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Psychology head of department: Our communication has not been good enough

Students are threatening a blockade, but Head of the Department of Psychology Vibeke Koushede says that the two sides are close to agreement. She hopes that a number of new initiatives will prevent an impending conflict.

Communication. This is the one word that management at the Department of Psychology uses to describe the problems there.

And if department head Vibeke Koushede has to elaborate:

»I have to admit that the communication and dialogue with the students has not been optimal. And I, of course, take my part of the responsibility for this,« she says.

The Head of Department is making her first public statement since the students issued eleven demands to the management at a general meeting in November. The demands came with a warning: If management does not listen to them, the students will blockade the department.

READ ALSO: Psychology students threaten to blockade department

But the management team is listening, according to Vibeke Koushede. They have just not been good enough at informing about new initiatives that are underway.

She started as head of department in May 2020, after the corona pandemic forced the university to shut down all in-person attendance. This is, according to her, part of the reason why the dialogue has gone awry between management and students.

»There is a difference between sitting together physically, and having a debate via the University Post. This tends to accentuate the differences. We agree far more than we disagree.«

She will not respond to questions about the 11 demands that the management is currently negotiating with a group of student representatives.

The demands are, in general, for a wider academic focus on the psychology programme. The students find that quantitative methods are taking up too much relative to qualitative methods, that empirical data is displacing critical theories, that Anglo-Saxon literature is dislodging Scandinavian texts from the syllabus, and that a natural science orientation is taking over from a humanities and social science orientation in the subject.

It is a trend which the students demonstrated in a critical study of the syllabus last year, and which they fear will turn them into »worse psychologists«.

Brand-new subject in the autumn

Vibeke Koushede rejects the idea that the psychology programme is as »one-dimensional« as the students claim it is.

But she says that the department management team takes the students’ criticism seriously and is ready with a number of new initiatives. Not as a consequence of their threat to blockade the department, but due to the »concerns« that the students, according to Koushede, have expressed since she started as head of department.

I actually don’t think a lot about the blockade threat

Vibeke Koushede, Head of Department, Psychology


She points to a new compulsory subject on the bachelor’s degree programme in qualitative methods, which will start from the autumn of 2022, a series of new lectures in critical cultural psychology, also on the bachelor’s degree programme. And she points to several new electives which the department is working with in collaboration with the anthropology and sociology programmes – in advanced qualitative methods for example.

The initiatives derive from the department’s new strategy, which, according to the department head, emphasizes the broad academic approach that students want.

»The breadth is crucial in psychology, because the subject is so complex,« she says.

»No one is interested in running it as a purely natural science programme. It won’t be. We are, first and foremost, a social science programme.«

»We are not lacking in terms of breadth«

When Vibeke Koushede speaks of initiatives to broaden the department’s academic approach in psychology, it could occur to you that she agrees with the students that it is this breadth that is absent at present. But she repeatedly rejects this idea.

»I don’t think we are lacking in terms of breadth. When we look at the employees we have, they range, I think, between different methods and perspectives. Both the management and the instructors share the students’ wish to ensure a broad, academically well-founded and critically conscious education programme.«

»But we could be better in terms of teaching our students to navigate the complexity of the subject. We have spoken, for example, of setting up panels where students can meet their instructors and discuss psychological issues from different perspectives.«

We agree more than we disagree

Vibeke Koushede, Head of Department, Psychology

Vibeke Koushede repeats that a lot of it is about communication. To show the students that management has listened to, and reacted to their criticism.

But the criticism is based on the fact that students actually experience that their courses have become more homogenous. This is not about communication?

»I think you should look at the students who are starting on the bachelor’s degree programme now. They will find that we have taken these concerns seriously, and that this is reflected in a number of new initiatives.«

Doesn’t think about blockade threat

The department’s management team has held its first meeting with the critical psychology students, and a working group has been appointed consisting of students and employees that will agree on a so-called action plan for the department’s future.

At the same time, Vibeke Koushede says she will participate in several academic council meetings within the psychology department and be better at inviting students to a dialogue.

She says that she is »really sorry« that the department has ended in a place where the students threaten to blockade it if their requirements are not accepted.

»I actually don’t think a lot about the blockade threat. I think that we now have to strengthen our collaboration and our dialogue about how we can create the best study programme for the students together.«