Better legal aid to students in a tight spot

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After the summer holiday, students will be able to get free, impartial help in connection with problems like complaints against a decision of the board of studies or studies administration or contesting a grade.

2018.06.08 | Marie Groth Andersen

Mikkel Sørensen is a 10th-semester law student and a member of the board of the Student Council’s legal aid service. Photo: Ida Marie Jensen

Facts about the Student Council’s legal aid service

  • The Student Council’s legal aid service offers free, impartial legal advice to everyone, not just students.   
  • The legal aid service can provide advice on a variety of legal issues, including tenants’ rights, family law, inheritance, social cases, employment, compensation and debt. 
  • The legal aid service has a duty of confidentiality, and despite its name, is independent of both the Student Council and Aarhus University.
  • The legal aid volunteers staffing the service are AU law students.
  • You will find the Student Council’s legal aid service in the Student House, Fredrik Nielsen’s Vej 2-4, and at DOKK1 two days a week.

For several years, the AU Student Council has been pushing for the introduction of a student ambassador such as the University of Copenhagen has had since 2013. While they haven’t yet succeeded, AU’s senior management team is expected to approve a recommendation from Pro-rector Berit Eika to bolster the Student Council’s legal aid service. The aim is to improve services for students who need help dealing with problems related to the university’s academic rules and regulations. For example, students who want to lodge complaints about decisions handed down by their boards of study or studies administration office. 

READ MORE: A number of European universities have one. The University of Copenhagen has one. But not Aarhus University

Mikkel Sørensen is a 10th-semester law student and a member of the board of the Student Council’s legal aid service. He has been a volunteer legal aid adviser since 2016, and will be finishing his degree this summer, after which he plans to continue on at the legal aid service as a supervisor assisting the volunteers in connection with particularly difficult cases. In preparation for this, he is currently making a thorough study of the laws and ministerial orders which govern the Danish university sector.  

Denials and complaints over grades

According to Sørensen, examples of the kinds of cases in which the legal aid service will be able to provide even better support include applications for dispensation from rules or denials of applications to use special aids in connection with exams, as well as complaints about grades. 

READ MORE: AU reacts to #MeToo – and makes it easier to get help

“In these cases, we can look at the legal basis for the university’s denial and evaluate whether it’s in compliance with the rules. Or we can advise them on what they need to include in a complaint. We can also advise students who have experienced harassment or bullying at university about whether the incident is a criminal offence, and whether the student should go to the police. But we can only provide legal advice, it’s not psychological counselling,” stresses Sørensen.

The art of the possible

Although the senior management team hasn’t introduced the student ambassador function proposed by the Student Council, Emil Outzen, chair of the Student Council, is satisfied with the solution now on the drawing board.

“Student politics is the art of the possible. Clearly, an expansion of the legal aid service isn’t the same as if we’d gotten a student ambassador. But by strengthening the connection of the legal aid service to the tasks that are performed at AU, we also strengthen the counselling and advice students can get in relation to academics, and we’re quite pleased about that,” he says. 

“In a perfect world, we would like to have a student ambassador who would be able to make a more sustained effort to promote students’ legal rights and who had more time to study the ministerial orders and academic regulations in depth. But this is a step along the way, and now it’s a question of seeing it work in practice,” Outzen concludes. 

The need is there  

Outzen does not doubt that there is a need for counselling and advice for students who feel they’ve been treated unfairly by AU in one way or another. Nonetheless, the legal aid service only handled 19 cases related to university rules and regulations last year. 

“But I expect that this number will increase when word gets out about the expanded legal aid service,” says Outzen. 

By way of comparison, according to the student ambassador’s newsletter, the student ambassador at the University of Copenhagen was contacted by students 184 times in the year’s first quarter alone, especially in cases related to exams and applications for dispensation.

Sørensen also believes that the legal aid service will see an increase in the number of cases related to the university’s administration of rules and regulations, but not a huge boom. And the number of legal aid volunteers will remain unchanged, between 15 and 20. 

“Right now it’s not that difficult to get through – you don’t have to book an appointment, you can just show up or call. And you can also send us a mail. The plan is to evaluate how this is working after six months. Is there anything we haven’t been able to help the students with? And has it gotten harder to get through to us?” Sørensen explains. 

Independent of the university and the Student Council

The legal aid volunteers at the Student Council’s legal aid service are all law students who have either taken or in the process of taking the administrative law course. In addition, they will also be given an introduction to the laws and ministerial orders governing the university sector and university degree programmes in the course of the summer.

AU, who is the opposing party in the normal course of events, has contributed material aimed at improving the legal aid volunteers’ knowledge in this area. But neither Sørensen nor Outzen sees any conflict of interest in this. 

“The legal aid volunteers are very aware of the importance of remaining impartial and independent in relation to the university. But the administration of university law is not particularly well-documented, and that’s why it’s necessary to get some insight into how the university administers the law in relation to studies administration,” says Outzen.

Sørensen emphasizes that AU has not produced material especially for the legal aid service, but has simply put together an overview of the laws, ministerial orders and rules governing the university’s administrative practices.

In addition to independence from the university, the legal aid service is also independent of the Student Council, whose influence extends exclusively to lending the service its name and providing an office.

Translated by Lenore Messick 

Facts about the Student Council’s legal aid service

  • The Student Council’s legal aid service offers free, impartial legal advice to everyone, not just students.   
  • The legal aid service can provide advice on a variety of legal issues, including tenants’ rights, family law, inheritance, social cases, employment, compensation and debt. 
  • The legal aid service has a duty of confidentiality, and despite its name, is independent of both the Student Council and Aarhus University.
  • The legal aid volunteers staffing the service are AU law students.
  • You will find the Student Council’s legal aid service in the Student House, Fredrik Nielsen’s Vej 2-4, and at DOKK1 two days a week.

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