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Written exams: A Russian roulette

Different Danish requirements for different subjects at the Faculty of Humanities. Russian student was given a low grade in one subject with reference to minor grammatical errors - a high grade in another based, instead, on content

Exams are nerve-wrecking. But for one student it was a gamble with her academic future.

When she studied Danish, teaching and minority Studies at the Faculty of Humanities (KUA), her grades were completely dependent on who her professor and who her external examiners were.

Svetlana Mikkelsen, who already has a degree with her from Russia, has written Danish that isn’t flawless, but perfectly understandable. She would be in trouble if she had a professor or examiner for whom perfect written Danish was essential. But if they looked past grammar errors, and instead focused on actual content, chances were, she would get a decent grade.

»Students ought to be judged on their merits as a whole instead of on a formal grammatical basis alone. If the University of Copenhagen truly has ambitions to attract more talented, creative and competent young people from abroad, its teachers and examiners will have to understand that internationals will have some limitations as far as written work in Danish is concerned.« says Svetlana Mikkelsen.

See the Faculty of Humanities reaction to this story here.

Passed the test

One professor went so far as to tell her that she had to learn to write Danish perfectly, as this was more important than the content of her essay.

It was also suggested to her, several times, that she hire a proofreader. Luckily she knew people that could help out, but she knows others that spent hundreds of kroner every term to pay proofreaders, and she’s been told that it costs between DKK 3000-5000 to have a thesis proofread.

Despite all this, she did complete her Bachelor’s degree in Danish and her Master’s in teaching in September last year. Svetlana Mikkelsen has lived in Denmark since 1997 and passed Studieprøven (The Study Test, ed.), which grants access to higher education in Denmark. Her Danish capabilities were, in other words, already deemed good enough by the authorities.

Language leeway for Scandinavians only

Because other students are in a similar situation to hers, she is now calling for clear rules on how students with a background other than Danish should be graded on their written work at the Faculty of Humanities.

Svetlana Mikkelsen says she understands that a high academic standard should be maintained – also in Danish – but she still believes that circumstantial requirements are a problem for Denmark as a society if it hopes to invest in knowledge and innovation in the future.

She thinks it strange, for example, that dyslexia is taken into consideration (and that other Scandinavian students can write in their native languages because they are similar to Danish), but that problems faced by people from other countries aren’t taken into account.

Talent could benefit Denmark

Some international students known to her were deterred by the initial requirements, and others that gave up along the way because they were faced with one obstacle after another.

»There are highly educated people that could benefit Denmark if they were they allowed to upgrade their education at Danish universities. Being a good scientist is not the same as writing in perfect Danish«.

»There’s no reason to risk losing talent with unique, creative ideas because of the stringent language requirements set by some teachers,« says Svetlana Mikkelsen.

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