University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Social sciences faculty to educate future masters’ students in big data science

Master's — A new master’s program will train economists, political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists to gather and analyse big data.

The Faculty of Social Sciences (SAMF) at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is launching a brand new master’s program which marks the first of its kind in Denmark.

Pending approval by the Danish Ministry of Education, the new two-year program called Social Data Science will be offered to 60 students from 2020.

The aim of the program is to train students with a social sciences background to gather, structure and analyse large volumes of data, says Andreas de Neergaard, pro dean of SAMF.

The data will come from Danish registry data from up to 50 years back as well as new information sources, including social media usage, internet habits, web-based information searches, communication and contact with official authorities.

The pro dean says that the potential is huge as both the business sector and public institutions are seeking cross-disciplinary educations where students learn to use data about people’s choices and preferences.

A massive surge

UCPH has trawled through 1.6 million job posts from 2010 to 2018 and the figures show a massive surge in the number of job posts seeking candidates with cross-disciplinary competences within precisely political science and data science.

The new Master’s in Social Data Science is part of a larger SAMF and UCPH strategy to invest in big data.

When the candidates have developed their toolbox, this will completely change the analyses they are able to carry out

Andreas de Neergaard

In 2016, SAMF opened Copenhagen Centre for Social Data Science and data science is one of the areas which the university has prioritized in its “Talent and Collaboration” (Talent og Samarbejde) strategy.

The government also wants to see more cross-disciplinary master’s programs where digital competences and technology literacy is integrated, according to the draft setting out future university programs.

Will not produce programmers

De Neergaard explains that the future graduates will not be specialists in programming. However, he says that they will receive a six week crash course in foundational programming.

The program is a collaboration between Datology and Law at UCPH, which contributes professors with relevant competences from within the two fields.

The idea is that the new candidates will be a link between programmers and the rest of the organization where they are hired.

“They will create dialogue, analyze and ask the right questions of the data. When they have developed their toolbox, this will completely change the analyses they are able to carry out,” says de Neergaard.

Like ‘koldskål’ in the summer

He adds that everything from a local ice cream shop to global companies such as Maersk can benefit from using big data.

“As one of customers said: it is easy to predict that the sales of the koldskål (Danish dairy beverage, ed.) rise when the weather is good, but with large volumes of data you can find out many other consumer patterns,” says the pro dean.

One example of what big data can be used for stems from the US. In response to an increase in the number of influenza cases in the health system, in 2008 the authorities sent out a warning that an influenza epidemic had broken out. If they had instead analysed American Google searches they would have been able to see that an influenza epidemic was brewing one week earlier.

Another example is found within psychiatry, where sleep and activity patterns or even speech recognition can be used to predict whether a person is about to experience a manic or depressive phase faster and more effectively than a doctor.

China is a concerning example

According to de Neergaard, the future students will also work with the legal and ethical implications of using big data.

“We all leave many traces without knowing it,” he says.

He points to GPS data from Facebook about people’s journeys and recently the Danish government had to drop a case of monitoring data from electricity meters in homes to reveal social fraud.

China has gone one step further and is closely monitoring its population. The plan is to introduce a system where all inhabitants are awarded points according to their behaviour, including on social media.

Potentially this could mean that if, for example, someone speaks critically about the communist party, this could impact whether their children could go to university.

“You cannot enter this arena without taking on many considerations – partly there are the legal issues around personal data, but just as equally is being able to participate in a conversation about what this data collection does to our lives and society,” says de Neergaard.