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Psychology department managers: "It’s not about gender, it’s about diversity”

Gender balance — The majority of students at the Department of Psychology are women under 25 from affluent families. The department’s management calls for more diversity on the programme and has set off a debate on future admission procedures.

It is actually a luxury problem. As things are going really well at the Department of Psychology.

“Our students are really good, they get good grades, and there is work for them when they graduate,” says  Head of Department Søren Kyllingsbæk

He has, nevertheless, with Director of Studies Torben Bechmann Jensen and Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Social Sciences Andreas De Neergaard kick-started a debate on the lack of diversity among psychology students. In an article in the newspaper Politiken a few weeks ago, they wrote that the psychology programme is short on diversity and on eccentric minds.

For me it’s primarily about whether the students can identify with our clients – including those in the social psychiatry treatment area.

Department Head Søren Kyllingsbæk, Psychology

“The piece should not be taken as a criticism of our current students. It’s not about gender, it’s about diversity It could well be a problem if the students resemble each other a lot. Maybe it would be good if there were differences, so that they could be of more use to each other,” says Torben Bechmann Jensen.

“It’s not because there are too many women. For me it’s primarily about whether the students can identify with our clients – including those in the social psychiatry treatment area. And whether the clients can reflect themselves in them. And there is an issue in this area,” says Søren Kyllingsbæk.

How do you experience it as a problem?

“Sometimes our graduates come out into a practice, where they are shocked to find out that their ties to the practice’s clients are so tenuous. I know a social educator at a psychiatric care home who has three newly qualified psychologists employed who are under the age of 25. And they risk having clients reject them as a therapist – either due to their young age or because the psychologists cannot figure out how to talk to them,” Torben Bechmann Jensen responds.

Compete with each other

Approximately 230 students are admitted each year out of 1,700 applicants. The last two years have had required grade point averages from secondary school of 11.5. This year, the study programme’s required average grade is up on 11.7 and is thereby the UCPH highest.

And according to Torben Bechmann Jensen, the limit has been reached. The high average grade requirements means that the programme attracts a certain kind of student:

“They are good in a specific way. And this has an effect on the study programme, because they to a higher degree compete with each other, and are focussed on grades rather than on helping each other out. You can look at how they, say, put little weight on peer feedback or on conversations with each other. Perhaps they are so similar in their perspectives, that getting a response from your fellow student is no longer of any importance? We are working on a study of feedback in the Department of Psychology, and we can see that they put little value on peer feedback.”

You are looking for pioneers. Why is this important at the Department of Psychology?

“It doesn’t have to be pioneers in terms of family background or social class. But I would like to see some students, who could bring in other perspectives. Who could bring up some other issues and who could challenge our perspectives,” says Torben Bechmann Jensen.

“This is what we mean by calling for more eccentric minds. Many of our lecturers would love to see our students sometimes answering something different than what they expect the teacher wants to hear. If all the students have the same focus, you risk missing out on some important nuances,” says Søren Kyllingsbæk.

Better collaboration

UCPH has warned that the quota 2 admissions system will be changed from 2020. It is still not entirely clear how the admission procedure will be in the future. But in order to increase diversity at the Department of Psychology, the three managers propose that the admission procedure be changed so that up to 50 per cent of the students get in via quota 2. Today, it is a mere 20 per cent.

This will mean that the average for Quota 1 admissions will go even higher, because fewer students will be admitted. But the question is how, if half of the students are admitted via quota 2, this will change the study environment,

We do not care at all about what the students are given in grades. All we care about is whether they are good psychologists
Head of Department Søren Kyllingsbæk

“We hope that this will mean that the students find out that they can find more use for each other’s skills than they do now. So that the cooperation among the students, but also between students and teachers is intensified. In this way, they can move away from focussing on meeting the requirements, and move towards answering the assignments in an alternative way,” says Torben Bechmann.

“We do not care at all what the students are given in grades. We care that they are good psychologists,” adds Søren Kyllingsbæk.

Lack of resources

Diversity in management

In a featured comment in the University Post two female psychology students write that diversity at the Department should start with the management team.

They write that it consists of 20 per cent women. However, the proportion is 33 per cent (two out of six) according to Søren Kyllingsbæk.

In addition, they write that for the last professor posts, four men and one woman were hired. The Head of Department adds that a total of five female, and six male professors, have been hired at Psychology.

In response to this featured comment three psychology students write in Politiken, that if there is a shortage in diversity, then it is in the teaching, which they believe is too theoretical. They write:

“Each semester has between 2,000 and 3,000 pages of compulsory syllabus, so if there is one eccentric mind that has found its way into the programme in September, this curriculum will soon try to straighten them out.

The conditions under which we are able to organise the study programme are getting worse and worse.

Director of Studies, Torben Bechmann Jensen, Psychology

Torben Bechmann Jensen agrees that there is a lack of practical training on the programme. But it is a question of resources, he says:

“This has to do with us getting relatively less public funding via the taximeter scheme compared to other health science degree programmes. The conditions under which we are able to organise the study programme are getting worse and worse. And we lack instructors, because we are constantly being cut, and have to apply for funding our own research. In fact, the number of academic staff has dropped by more than half over the past 25 years,” says Torben Bechmann Jensen.

“On the other hand, we now need to spend a lot of money on external instructors, who cannot ensure elective subjects, summer courses, and immersive teaching to the same extent So we have to use our academic staff to do ordinary instruction and lecture teaching.”

Nothing is decided

Søren Kyllingsbæk and Torben Bechmann Jensen emphasise that it has not yet been decided how the quota 2 system is to be set up from 2020.

“It has not been determined how the quota 2 system will be in the future. There’s going to be a test, but the rest is completely open. We would like to be able to give some input on how the composition of the student body should be in the future. The idea of the featured comment was to launch a debate about what the programme should look like in the future,” says Søren Kyllingsbæk.