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Student revolt: »This is a rebellion for those without hope. And it starts with us«

Rebellion — We need a shift in paradigm at the universities, according to a group of students. They have linked up in the movement Student Revolt '22. The University Post met five of them.

There is rebellion in the air.

More and more students throughout the country’s higher education programmes have joined the movement Student Revolt ’22. They are tired of cuts upon cuts, and student dissatisfaction, and they want parliament to scrap the Danish regionalisation plan that will relocate study programmes from the larger Danish cities out to the smaller towns in the provinces.

But who are they actually? The University Post has met five of them.

READ ALSO: Overview: A student rebellion is afoot

Tiril Vergara Lewis, is doing a bachelor’s degree in sociology

What is this revolt for you?

»For me it’s an ideological struggle. It means to challenge the huge cuts to universities that have been going on for many years. If politicians continue with these cuts, the quality of our university degree programmes will go down even further, and to such an extent that they will cease to matter at all. If we only organize our education system in accordance with what the labour market looks like, then I think the idea of the university has failed.«

If we are able to join forces as students, we can do a lot, and we can have a real impact.

Tiril-Vergara Lewis, student

»I’m on the first half of my bachelor’s degree programme, and I have already heard a lot of talk about us just going out and contributing to the labour market. I think this is a misunderstanding. As I see it, university degree programmes need also to be about curiosity and immersion. There’s no space for this as it is now. It is all drowning in cutbacks and efficiency gains.«

»I think that politicians should stop seeing universities as corporations that they can make capital out of, and which deliver a product with some very specific properties.«

Have things gotten worse in your experience?

»We no longer have lessons allocated for exercises in our theoretical subjects. We don’t get any feedback. Everything has to all be so fast now, and we don’t get the chance to get to know the theories. We are here because we want to learn. But this is difficult when there is no time to ask questions after a lecture about something that you did not understand. It is difficult when you can’t get help to get started on an assignment properly. I get the feeling that we can’t breathe because we’re so busy. It is all so overwhelming to be in this situation.«

What are your hopes of the revolt?

»I hope that it ends with a recognition of what the universities can and should do. If we are able to join forces as students, we can do a lot, and we can have a real impact.

Lasse Pedersen, studies psychology on the master’s degree programme

What does this revolt mean to you?

»You can call it a student revolt, or you can go even further and call it a youth rebellion. I don’t think any of these terms are adequate, because they just designate the people who participate in it. This is a rebellion of those without hope. And it starts with us.«

»In Psychology it has been an academic struggle that has been critical of the syllabus. This is something that we fortunately have been able to get management to listen to. But it is also a much larger battle. For me, it’s all about rebelling against a study programme culture that restricts the right to think freely in terms of your own future and the future of society. We need to fight for the world we want instead of just maintaining the status quo. As it is now, there is no room for this at the university. The university should use the energy among students right now, to fight with us for the world we want, instead of fighting downwards, against the students.«

There are many of us behind this struggle, and we have fought hard for this.

Lasse Pedersen, Student

Why are you active in the student rebellion?

»It’s important for me to emphasise that this is not about me. There are many of us behind this struggle, and we have fought hard for this. I have spent a lot of time on this over the past six months.«

»It’s about getting out and solving specific societal issues. But I also think that students need to define and address new issues. Both based on the knowledge acquired at university, but also through the knowledge acquired as an individual through the course of a life. Students need the freedom and opportunity to criticise the world as it is, and to influence things in the direction of how it should be. The freedom to dream.«

What is about to happen now?

»At the psychology department, we’ve had a struggle that’s been more specific to the subject. Others have fought more directly against regionalisation. I think the next step is to call upon all those who want to join us, and to meet up. We have a meeting 28 December, where I think a lot of people are coming.«

»It is our time now, and it will be someone else’s time on some other day. At that time, I hope that I will be able to help them turn their dreams into reality.«

Emma Kisch, studies English on the master’s programme

Why is there a need for a student revolt?

»There are problems with students well-being. But the most important thing for me right now is to stop the regionalisation plan. I don’t think we can take the university’s other problems into consideration if we don’t stop this.«

»You are going to lose so much knowledge with the closures and the mergers. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge and critical thinking has been forgotten. There is a general atmosphere of bashing academics, and there is a strong focus on the fact that you need to be trained for something specific. Not to learn to gain a wider perspective or to improve the system that already exists. You just have to do your job like a machine.«

»We don’t have much to say as a student. Rectors, deans and professors are all forced to be held accountable to someone higher up. But they should first and foremost be held accountable by those further down the hierarchy: Us, the students.«

There is a general atmosphere of bashing academics, and there is a strong focus on the fact that you need to be trained for something specific

Emma Kisch, student

How do you feel things have gotten worse?

»There have been ongoing cutbacks throughout the time I’ve studied at the Faculty of Humanities, including closures and mergers of study programmes. I myself used to have specific subjects like post-colonial literature and grammar. Now these courses have been merged so that new students have translation, grammar and phonetics in one subject. It dilutes the professionalism of the subjects completely when you have to do everything that is possible, but without the time or space to learn it.«

»It’s also a big problem at my department, the Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, that people don’t get enough language teaching. Students don’t feel that they can speak German or Spanish well enough to be able to teach it [after graduation, ed.]: Something that many of them wish to do.«

Why are you taking the fight more broadly across the universities rather than trying to change things at local level?

»None of us can win this struggle on our own. We are, of course, all students, and are busy. But it makes no sense to protest, if we do not at the same time try to protect what we want to protect. There is strength in numbers, and the regionalisation plan will affect everyone. All knowledge is important, and all study programmes are worth preserving. It will not work if some of us lean back and say: ‘we can remove your course, if we just keep mine’. The spirit of being a student is alive again and people are working together.«

»People think humanities academics are strange. And if you read the comments under articles where humanities subjects are mentioned, you can see that some just think that the faculty should be closed down altogether. But now we can see that it is also degree programmes that people normally see as being useful that are affected.«

Harald Toksværd, studying for his bachelor’s degree in religion

What does this revolt mean to you?

»It is, of course, motivated by the regionalisation plan. This is one of the biggest attacks directed at universities for decades. So we need to stop the regionalisation plan first and foremost. But we have to take it further than that, make it bigger than that.«

»We can keep on combatting the cutbacks and reductions and all this bullshit from the parties in the Danish parliament every time they come and try to smash the universities. But what we really need is a shift of paradigm. The humanities and the social sciences have been beaten up on every national budget to such a degree that we only have the sad remnants left. We have to turn this around. This is also why we do not just need to stop the regionalisation plan. We want a refinancing and a restructuring of the university sector, so this does not continue. Otherwise they will just keep on going. And every time we are hit, people become more exhausted, and we will not be able to mobilise the same energy. If we don’t take back the power now, we won’t be able to keep on fighting.«

For me personally, I have very few limits as to what I am willing to do if we have the students behind us.

Harald Toksværd, student


Have you felt any of the reductions as a student yourself?

»There is no time or funding to complete the things that make up a thorough study programme. There is no feedback, there is no one-on-one time with the instructors, the bachelor’s and master’s thesis defences have been been abolished, you have five hours of master’s thesis supervision. This is what it has been like throughout the time I’ve studied. And so it’s important for me to tell my fellow students that we don’t know what it is that we’ve lost. We have lost good study programmes. It has happened some time ago, and now we have become accustomed to it. But if you consider what we once had, and that you might have had a good humanities degree programme, then it suddenly begins to look very sad.«

You were a part of the blockade of the Faculty of Humanities management team in 2019, where students also fought against the mergers of study programmes. Blockade is one of the more drastic measures. What are you ready to do this time?

»I personally only hope that things get more drastic. This is not a fight we are going to win via postings on Facebook and angry e-mails. If we students really want to make the politicians who are destroying our study programmes and our future scared, then this requires serious activism. It will require that we as a mass of students are willing to sacrifice ourselves and carry out a kind of activism that is not just standing there with banners and looking nice. But actually making life miserable for these politicians.«

How are you going to do that?

»It’s not something that I am going to decide on my own. But in 1968, they didn’t just go out and demonstrate. They blockaded the ministry. For me personally, I have very few limits as to what I am willing to do if we have the students behind us.«

Sanja Loncarevic is doing a bachelor’s degree in sociology

Why are you active in the Student Revolt ‘22?

»My interest comes from having been part of the Board of Studies on the sociology programme. And you can really sense how the cuts are made, because we try there to get the cuts to affect the degree programme as little as possible. It has become more and more difficult, because there is nowhere where we can cut back further. This frustrated me a lot, because this should not be the main function of the Board of Studies.«

I see it as a victory if we can have a real showdown with the cutback paradigm.

Sanja Loncarevic, student


»The regionalisation deal includes all of the things that I have been frustrated with for a long time. This goes for the deterioration that it will lead to, and the way in which it has been implemented. They have cut degree programmes which are already under severe financial constraints. You can clearly sense the interests of business and industry in the decisions.«

»It dawned on me that what I have seen happening at the sociology programme possibly also expresses a general trend at the universities. This is much bigger than something that can be fixed by the Board of Studies.«

What is your goal for the revolt?

»I think it’s a kind of marathon. I don’t think it’s a sprint, and then we’ve won it. It will be a huge struggle to reverse the trends that have been seen at universities. It would definitely be a victory to see the regionalisation deal scrapped. But if it’s withdrawn, we may face politicians that will then make new cuts.«

»I see it as a victory if we can have a real showdown with this cutback paradigm. We need to change Danish university legislation so that students and staff once again have an internal majority on universities’ boards. Right now, the Danish business community is too heavily represented on the boards, so I think that this change will make a big difference.«