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The study programme that is driving people nuts

Faculty collaboration — The bachelor's degree in animal science and the master’s degree in animal science are part of the same study programme. Yet they belong, administratively, to two different faculties. For students, this has turned life into an administrative obstacle course.

There is a story going the rounds about a student who applied for a dispensation. The study boards on each of the two faculties then demanded a prior approval from the other study board before they would process the application.

 

Many students will recognize that it can be a challenge to find your way through UCPH administrative rules and systems if you, say, have to apply for an exemption from exams.

Now imagine you had two different study boards, two student counselling services and two parallel administrations that do not communicate together. This is the harsh reality for students on the bachelor’s programme animal science, which is part of the Faculty of Science, but where the students can also do subjects in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

To make it extra confusing for the students, the master’s degree programme – for an animal science degree – is physically located at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, something unique at the University of Copenhagen.

Not my responsibility

Line Sass Kierkegaard, who is doing her master’s thesis, says that, as a student representative for animal science students, she is regularly contacted by desperate fellow students wanting her to help solve their case.

She finds that students are wasting their effort struggling through a forest of administrative staff to get answers to simple education problems that they end up spending months trying to find a solution to.

According to Line Sass Kierkegaard, the student counselling at both faculties refer cases to the other faculty.

“Students constantly have to do their work by talking to administrative staff themselves and trying to get them to find a solution. When you need time to find out simple things like where to sign up for exams and where to submit your bachelor’s contract, then the time is taken away from the readings, and this is negatively affecting our education,” she says.

 

And then there was the bachelor’s student who asked the student counsellor if you could start in the winter for a master’s programme. The counsellor at Science could not answer, so the student had to leave the meeting, go and ask the student counsellor at the Faculty of Health and Medicine and return to the original counsellor at Science again …

 

On the question, “how frustrated are you on a scale from 1 to 10?”, master’s student Ole Ulloriaq Lønberg-Jensen replies: “it’s a pure 10”.

His problems began when he read on the study programme’s website that you could follow a summer course that counts for your master’s programme while you are still studying for your bachelor’s.

He wanted to make use of this to get off to a good start on his master’s degree. The only catch was that he needed to apply to the study board for permission. This should have been a formality, but he was soon made the wiser.

You are sent back and forth between two student counsellors, and nobody knows what they are talking about and where to send you on.
Ole Ulloriaq Lønberg-Jensen, master’s student in Animal Science.

At Science, the study board said that they could not give him prior approval. At Health, they did not want to deal with the case as they believed it was part of the Science study board remit.

“You are sent back and forth between two student counsellors, and nobody knows what they are talking about and where to send you on. From the counsellor at Health I was told several times that it could not be done. I have so many strange e-mail correspondences, and I’ve spent four months on something that should be simple,” says Ole Ulloriaq Lønberg-Jensen, who ended up being allowed to follow his summer course.

 

And then there was the student who missed out on her re-examination because the student counsellor had not informed her that she needed to sign up manually and not through the self-service on the Kunet intranet system …

 

Another horror story is from Line Enemark, who is doing her third year of a bachelor’s degree. She had for a long time planned to do a business project and thought that everything was in the best order as her supervisor, the student counsellor, the company and the head of department had all signed the contract.

After two months of work, she handed in the project on 3rd November. But on 21st November, she was informed that the assessment would take extra time as she, as a BSc student from Science, cannot have a supervisor from Health.

“They say that it should not be possible at all, and that something went wrong when my contract was approved so they are trying to figure out what to do with my project,” says Line Enemark.

She does not understand how three people, who should know the rules, have signed the contract without discovering that her supervisor was from Health and that she is a bachelor of Science.

“It has been really confusing and stressful as I did not know if I would get my project approved and whether it would affect whether I could apply to get into the master’s programme. Now I’ve been told that I’m doing my exam on Friday and that I will get a grade, but I’m still in doubt as to how it will be written in my diploma,” she says.

Study programme paranoia

Lonnie Wendt Lundin, who suffers from exam anxiety and is dyslexic, has had several problems with student counselling. One of her worst experiences was when she failed the exam in anatomy and physiology.

The student counselor’s office said she could wait to take a re-examination until the following year, but the subject did not show up in the self-service on Kunet, as it was located in the Faculty of Health, so she missed the registration deadline and ended up having to start the whole thing over again and follow the teaching again.

When she complained, the counselling said that she should have written to them to sign up. But this information does not appear anywhere.

“The only thing I’ve learned from this is to be tremendously paranoid and to constantly double check on all the rules. It’s really stressful to be nervous about whether things work, as I need to be calm in connection with exams,” says Lonnie Wendt Lundin.

She says she had to figure out everything herself. All dispensation applications, for example, have to – obviously – be sent to both faculties and the rules are different in each. Science has additional preparation time for oral exams, but this is not the case with Health.

 

And then there was the student who, due to administrative error, was removed from the exam list on a course at the other faculty…

 

It pleased Line Sass Kierkegaard when she was invited as student representative in December 2016 by the management of the two faculties to attend a working group to evaluate the programmes. It was clear from the terms of reference that the group should include an “assessment of the future anchoring of the programmes in Health and Science, including an analysis of the academic and financial consequences of any relocation.”

They were, in other words, to discuss whether it would not be better if both the bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes were located at the same faculty.

“We students thought ‘yes!’, finally there was a forum where we could discuss all our problems,” says Line Sass Kierkegaard. Prior to the committee starting its work, students held a general assembly where they agreed that they wanted a common study board for both programmes, a common study counselling and a common administration.

Committee went off track

But the discussions between committee representatives from management and students quickly deteriorated due to the question of the placement of the education programme, says Line Sass Kierkegaard.

“The problem is that the University of Copenhagen has built up a system of boxes that cannot be redesigned. They can only be stacked in a way so that cross-disciplinary programmes do not fit. We first proposed a common study board, and when we were refused this, we said we would like to be put together in one box, but then things went completely awry,” she says.

The two deans from each faculty subsequently wrote to the members that the working group should not look at the question of where the programmes were to be. Management would subsequently consider whether the topic should be addressed later.

We guarantee that we will solve all the issues we have been made aware of. We have a considerable management focus on this.
Grete Bertelsen, Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Science

In frustration, the students then contacted the rector’s dialogue forum on 12th October, and the deans subsequently invited the students to a meeting on 6th November.

“We could present our problems, but we were told that the placement of the study programme is a management decision. What they said was, basically, that they had now heard us, that they had deigned to listen to us, and that was that. I think it’s terrible that they choose to neglect students this way,” says Line Sass Kierkegaard.

She is backed up by Esben Ø. Eriksen, vice chairman of the Health council and member of the study board for veterinary medicine and animal science, and of the Faculty of Health’s academic council.

“We student representatives spend many hours each week giving constructive input to the university, and it makes you lose your motivation when you experience this kind of thing. The management’s attitude in this case has been arrogant and is detrimental to student engagement. I also made this clear to faculty management at the Academic Council in October,” he says.

 

And then there was the bachelor student who had her business project approved, even though it should not have been possible…

 

The committee, which evaluated the programmes, subsequently sent a draft of a plan that included improved cooperation between the two faculties.

Hans Henrik Saxild, Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Health and Medicine and Grete Bertelsen, Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Science, both concur that they are aware of a number of problems with the two programmes.

“The students are largely correct in their assessment. There have been problems, and we take it very seriously because we must be able to handle cross-disciplinary cooperation,” says Grete Bertelsen.

“We have shook hands and agreed to solve the problems. We need more leadership when things go across different faculties, and perhaps we needed more of this,” adds Hans Henrik Saxild.

Employees to be updated

He says that the student counsellors and the administrative staff in the two faculties are to be updated in the other faculty’s rules and procedures.

A small booklet is also being worked on, so that employees and students can look things up if they are unsure how to handle a question.

In addition, a general assembly is to be held for students, where the committee will present the results of their work.

This is what is driving the students nuts

According to student representative Line Sass Kierkegaard, the placement of the bachelor’s programme of animal science and the master’s programme of animal science at two different faculties has led to the following problems for students:

• the planning of summer courses sends students back and forth between the faculties.

• the planning of study abroad at the start of master’s programme sends students back and forth between faculties.

• a bachelor’s student had her business project approved, but was subsequently told that her project could not be done as her supervisor was from Health.

• examinations in compulsory or limited elective subjects are placed at the same time, and it is up to students to draw attention to the fact and find a solution.

• an administrative error removed a student from the exam list of a limited optional course at the other faculty. In the subsequent sign-in period the student was sent back and forth between faculties.

• it is not possible to apply for re-examination in compulsory subjects using the intranet self-service in the other faculty.

• admission under §9, a transitional arrangement where coursework at upper level master’s level is done before the bachelor’s degree is completed, requires dispensation from both faculty’s study boards. Students are sent back and forth between faculties as both study boards need to receive their opposite number’s approval first.

• students are sent back and forth between faculties to clarify the placement of re-examinations, as the time periods are different each faculty.

“Our idea is that there should be a common theme in the guidance from the bachelor’s to the master’s programme, and that students should have a coherent study environment. This will include their own study programme location, which is theirs alone,” says Grete Bertelsen.

New academic committee

Another point is the set-up of a new, advisory, academic council with representatives of both employees and students. It is primarily to ensure academic coordination, and address issues.

“We guarantee that we will solve all the issues we have been made aware of. We have considerable management focus on this,” says Grete Bertelsen.

She adds that in the committee work, they have called on both employees and students to list all problems that they encounter.

The two associate deans maintain that it is academically the best solution to have the programmes located in two different faculties.

“The science subjects are located at Science and the animal subjects at Health, so it makes sense that we exploit the respective strengths of the two faculties,” says Hans Henrik Saxild.

He adds that the placement at one faculty would not solve the problems that students experience, as they would still have to do subjects at both faculties.

The associate deans say they chose to follow the students’ demand that they come up with their viewz concerning the placement of the two programmes.

“A meeting with a high level of management was held with students, which shows that we are taking this very seriously. Unfortunately we could not reach agreement, but we appreciate the fact that they are committed,” says Hans Henrik Saxild.

Disappointing results

Line Sass Kierkegaard reckons that there are good things in the working committee’s draft on strengthened cooperation, better communication, and that students should not be shunted back and forth between faculties.

Yet she still says the result is disappointing, as it basically does not contain anything new.

She points out that there already is an advisory academic committee for the programmes that has not been operational for years after its secretarial assistance was cut. It is already clear in the cooperation agreement between the two faculties that the administration is committed to cooperation, but it just does not work, she says.

“The faculty managements’ proposal to revive an advisory academic council is a solution that has been taken off a shelf of previously filed models, which have been implemented on the programs without success so far. We are not confident that this will solve the problems that affect the academic level of the animal and veterinary science education programmes,” says Line Sass Kierkegaard.

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