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Response — The University of Copenhagen's (UCPH) language policy is criticised for lowering teaching quality, ruining the image of the university internationally, and even being influenced by the Danish People’s Party. But this is a misunderstanding.
It is purely gesture politics — the student Sif Høg writes in an opinion piece in the University Post — when the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) expects that, after only a few years in Denmark, international researchers should teach in Danish. The language policy reflects a ‘nationalist gesture politics’, where the university is under the influence of the Danish People’s Party, she says.
The readers might think that this sounds like an overstatement. And it is, of course.
I had the pleasure of heading a secretariat that served three committees with wide cross-faculty representation, where students, researchers, and administrative staff drafted the UCPH language policy. Following a consultation that included all academic councils, the university’s Board adopted the language policy in 2021.
We no longer tell incoming researchers that they can easily make do with English — as this is a truth that needs modifying
Language policy is quite internationally oriented. It emphasizes that UCPH should have as an objective that it offers more study programmes and courses in English, and has more international students. Just like UCPH should exploit the fact that up to half of the teaching on Danish-language programmes can take place in English.
However, the committees also took note of the fact that more than 40 per cent of the researchers at the University of Copenhagen come from abroad and therefore do not have Danish as their native language. This number is increasing. For this reason, we formulated an objective that researchers from abroad can be included in teaching in Danish after three to six years.
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Why? This was to prevent the teaching environments from being broken up into two halves: a Danish one and an international one. The risk is that international researchers and teaching staff who are not able to speak Danish cannot help prepare exam questions in Danish, cannot sit on boards of studies, academic councils or collaboration committees, may not be heads of studies or heads of department, and cannot participate in committees in ministries or research councils. The list goes on.
Parallel language is still the objective of UCPH. When Sif Høg and others write that there is »a requirement« that international researchers should »teach in Danish«, they omit important details: That international academic staff are expected to be able to »contribute to the teaching in Danish«, as formulated in the language policy.
OPINION ON THE UNIVERSITY POST
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Contributing to teaching in Danish means, for example, that international academic staff can understand Danish-speaking students’ questions – and then answer in Danish or English. It may also mean that the international academic staff can provide guidance or read and assess written assignments written in Danish. However, they may choose to provide written or oral feedback in English or in a combination of Danish and English.
Please note that all surveys – including workplace assessments – indicate that UCPH has not yet been sufficiently successful in the integration and inclusion of international employees. A large part of this is due to the language barrier. But maybe it’s about to change.
We no longer tell incoming researchers that they can easily make do with English — as this is a truth that needs modifying. They can, probably. But if they want to thrive, it means something if they get to know the local language. In this way, they can better participate in and contribute to social and academic contexts at UCPH – and in society in general, for example through the dissemination of research.
This debate should therefore not be either black or white. And the language policy stands in no way in the way of researchers being able to publish in English, participate in international research teams, or profile UCPH internationally. A number of departments and centres at the UCPH actually have English as the dominant working language.
UCPH has now taken on the task of contributing to supporting international researchers’ Danish language development. It is no longer the sole responsibility of the individual employee to find a language school and to learn Danish after normal working hours. This is a very positive development.
In 2022, and in 2023 so far, all newly arrived academic staff have accepted a UCPH offer of a tailor-made Danish course for UCPH employees. This testifies to the fact that international staff both have the wish and the intent to become proficient in Danish as a second language when UCPH supports the learning process with this attractive offer.