“Student learning is held back by a lack of feedback that distorts the learning process to be fixated on grades.”
That’s the settled view of Lauge Lunding Bach, who’s the Chairperson of the Student Council at Roskilde University – and someone that we bumped into on Day 0 of the Wonkhe SUs study tour around Scandinavia.
As delegates were arriving into Copenhagen from across the UK, a pre-party got the ferry from Aarhus-Odden and swung by Roskilde, an early 70s alternative to traditional Danish universities designed to be more democratic, afford students more influence and offer more flexible teaching methods.
These days the model is under pressure – Lauge’s view isn’t just that academics need to be writing more stuff down for students to ignore – it’s that his members have been telling him that there’s not nearly enough time for students to interact with lecturers in a professional context. As he says in his opinion piece:
There is no money for the necessary number of lecturers and the lecturers left in the universities have to run so fast that they do not have time to give feedback to their students. The only viable solution to the problem is for politicians to step up and invest the necessary funds in our starved education sector.”
There’s been a (de)merger
It’s one of the many education issues that his representative council focuses on – something that’s made more straightforward because a couple of years back it demerged from the student run “studenterhuset” that operates a building and supports clubs and projects for students. The separation of the governance of these functions is seen as a key strength on campus, offering students more opportunities for involvement and allowing for a more focussed set of education priorities for the Council.
The student house has all the things we expected to see – rooms to book, coffee and beer to buy, a broken piano – and a brewery. The creation of mini charities that each have a social purpose and serve either other students or the wider community is a big part of student life in Denmark – and because home brewing is legal, the student craft brewery supplies beer at cost to a range of other student groups and events, allowing students to put their scientific knowledge about the brewing process to use.
Another of the student organisations hosted in the house is Roskilde’s student-led welcome and belonging initiative. Every September every student at the university (including postgrads) is allocated a “tutor” whose job it is to familiarise their group of around 10-15 students with the campus, work to cause some networking between different types of student on different courses, answer daft questions and offer advice on activities and opportunities.
It’s a wonderfully personal way to induct students to an otherwise pretty soulless campus and tutors we met credit their experience in their first few weeks with everything from keeping them on their course to the friends they’ve met along the way.
And the student house’s kitchen facility is just brilliant. International student groups book the space out almost every day to use its cookers, pots, pans and utensils to cook not just for each other but for everyone else on campus. Unlike the UK, Denmark isn’t a country that would worry excessively about the health and safety implications of such a facility – everyone is just so sensible – and the evidence that it helps build connection and culture between home and international students is strong here.
Students come because it’s organised by students
About 15 miles north of Copenhagen in a place called Lyngby sits the Technical University of Denmark – founded in 1829 at the initiative of Hans Christian Ørsted as Denmark’s first polytechnic, today ranked among Europe’s leading engineering institutions.
On arrival, we chanced upon another fascinating student-led initiative – a giant careers fair being hosted by De Studerendes Erhvervskontakt, an independent, non-partisan and financially independent student association based jointly in DTU and Aalborg University, which aims to establish and maintain contact with Danish companies in the field of engineering for the benefit of students at the two universities over stuff like internships, projects and graduate job programmes.
While there is a careers function at the university, the proud committee members we met boast of hugely popular events that students engage with precisely because they’re being led by other students. Their DSE Focus Nights At these events attract engineering companies from across the country to meet and network with students as well as facilitate company presentations and extra-curricular talks on engineering-related subjects.
Upstairs at Polyteknisk Forening, the name they (still) use for the SU, Elisa Marie Martiny (pf’s fantastic Coordinator of Educational Politics and International Contact) shared some remarkably similar priorities with us – student mental health, harassment and sexual misconduct, housing and interestingly, student module choice.
Funding pressures have caused the the university to propose a narrowing of student module choice across the programmes which the SU has been fighting – something that UK SUs are almost certainly going to need to focus on in coming years as the unit of resource tightens.
From hazing to anti-bullying
At DTU there’s also a new students programme, which involves the volunteers taking new students on a “rus tur” to a camp, house or other venue before the start of term to cause some bonding between new students. It’s a tradition that has caused controversy in the past, with allegations of hazing and binge drinking sitting alongside those who argue it’s an essential way to introduce students to each other.
These days the SU has cleaned up the act – maintaining the traditions but subverting the initiation into positive social norms. They train the volunteers to use the August events to introduce students to everything from the culture of anti-discrimination on campus to students as partners work, student rights and policies and even bystander training – and events continue all term with the volunteers organising study groups, “cake meetings” and social events within schools that get students over the any wobbles in the first few weeks.