University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Student counsellor fighting for Eastern European Studies

Study and career counselor Thomas Rasmussen sees vast untapped potential in regional studies at the University of Copenhagen. His defence of the small subjects comes in the wake of news that Polish and Balkan Studies are be redesigned as a new and comprehensive bachelor’s in Eastern and Southeastern European Studies.

Thomas Rasmussen is a study and career counsellor at the Department for Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies ToRs. He is also a former student of Polish and excited about the idea of ​​a joint bachelor’s programme in Eastern European studies. It was previously been considered to include Polish, Balkan Studies, and Russian in a joint bachelor’s programme.

This could, according to Thomas Rasmussen, provide a consistent study process and a better opportunity to unify students across the different regional studies programmes.

Knowledge is university’s duty

Thomas Rasmussen has always believed that the closure of the programmes was not a foregone conclusion, and has hoped for the continued opportunity of immersion in regional studies. He believes that it is the university’s duty to maintain the small language subjects.

“I sincerely believe that it is the university’s duty to maintain access to knowledge and specialisation. We have a duty to ensure access to knowledge to maintain Denmark’s competitiveness. We take pride in ourselves being a knowledge society, but I do not think you can allow yourself to be called that, when you shut down these very important areas. Areas which are in development and which will be important for Denmark in the future,” he says.

Low admissions is due to negative discourses

Admissions numbers in Polish and Balkan Studies are not overwhelming and the previous attempts to increase the number of applications have failed.

However, says Thomas Rasmussen, the potential for a much larger study programme is there. When you look at the subject’s future, it is simply about making Eastern Europe sexy, he says.

“That subjects like Polish have been small is due to several factors. But one of the reasons for the closure plans are, in my opinion, the attitude towards regional studies. I think many people associate Eastern Europe with some older discourses. Hardly anyone chooses an education programme that they know nothing about, or that represents something that is not particularly positive. It is something like this that unfortunate ignorance creates. You go for the studies that are hot – you often choose what your neighboúr chooses,” he says.

“My question is simply: Who is to build the bridges across cultures?

Thomas Rasmussen, study and career counselor, Polish studies

He adds that previous campaigns have been too narrowly focussed. You cannot just advertise on the faculty website, but need to get out to high schools and to education fairs. He believes that with increased visibility, a natural interest will follow.

“There are lots of human resources and talented experts who can provide information about the education, and how good they are. With these resources, backing by the business sector, and some decision makers who know just a little bit about the subject, you can get really go far and create a greater interest. This interest will automatically be reflected in the number of applicants. But this costs money – and everything that costs money is harder to get through. There is a huge focus on science and technology subjects. We have to maintain our infrastructure and build new physical bridges. But my question is simply: Who is to build the cultural bridges?”

Students are scared away from regional studies

The recommendation to shut down Polish and Balkan Studies was mainly rooted in the low production of graduates and the high drop-out rate. Thomas Rasmussen believes that the university itself is maintaining a high drop-out rate by cutting budgets and lowering the priority of regional studies.

“I know that the graduate statistics are not particularly good and that this is being looked at. However, it is quite clear to me that the dropout rate is so high because you are told that you cannot be used for anything [on the labour market, ed.]. It’s a vicious circle. If others say you cannot be used for anything, why should you waste time on it? Then you will look for other paths. Someone asked me if they should do a bachelor in one of the professions instead, or a vocational training course. Just so they could prove their value to society,” he says, adding:

“The students get an impression of their subjects, which I do not think is true. The waiting, the constant cutbacks, the legislative changes and the reforms are creating uncertainty and frustration for everyone. I would say that this applies to both students, teachers and administrative staff. The worst thing is that it has an emotional impact on the students. They end up doubting themselves. It is life changing for some of them, when they hear that their education cannot be used for much. The frustrated students come, distraught, to counselling, because they read that their education and expertise is neither profitable nor with any labour market relevance.”

Great potential in regional studies

“Us that have studied the subject, we know where the opportunities are. When decisions are made on the basis of faulty information, we stand back in wonder,” says Thomas Rasmussen. He stresses yet again that he believes there is plenty of work to find.

Students just need to have the tools to create their own jobs.

“The business sector can easily see the potential. You do not hear about them every day in the media, but there are giant corporations here that, for example, do business in Poland. I am convinced that they would be very interested in a master of Eastern European studies. The presentation of the studies as not relevant to the labour market is from my viewpoint simply not true”

You can’t google your way to specialist knowledge

Thomas Rasmussen, study and career counselor, Polish

Thomas Rasmussen believes that regional studies have a huge, untapped potential. A potential he hopes will be utilized in the future, and that the quality of the programme will be maintained with the plans for a new joint bachelor. He concludes by saying that today it is only possible to become an expert in a region at a university and emphasizes:

“You can’t google your way to specialized knowledge.”

At time of writing plans are being renegotiated for a combined bachelor of Eastern and Southeastern European Studies. Before the subjects Polish and Balkan Studies were earmarked for closure, this possibility was also considered a way to make the subject areas economically viable, but then rejected.