Medical students’ association: Charging money for orientation week is a con trick

The new medical students are charged for the entire orientation week programme, including a weekend trip, even though they may only want to join a few of the planned events. According to the Danish medical students’ association FADL, charging everyone for the whole package is unfair. And the way studies administration handles the payments is tantamount to a con trick.

As the it says on the sign, for the medicine freshers orientation week costs 450 kroner - with or without the weekend trip. Illustration: Astrid Friis Reitzel

Facts: How much does a orientation week cost?

The cost of the weekend trip and orientation week programme varies from year to year at the different faculties and degree programmes.

This year, medicine freshers are paying 450 kroner for the entire programme, an amount which the university tops up with a grant of 425 kroner per students.

The total cost of the medical students’ weekend trip this semester is 161,600 kroner, which accounts for 79% of the total orientation week budget of 203,285 kroner.

The most expensive item is food for the weekend trip: the freshers gobble up 56,000 kroner.

The other major expenses are the tutors’ preparatory course, which costs 22,050 kroner, and other orientation week activities,which cost 13,500 kroner.

When the doctors of the future embark on their studies at Aarhus University later this month, most of them will have paid for an intro programme on line – orientation week. The payment website explains that the new medical students are paying for a ticket to ‘Studiestart Medicin’ (medicine orientation week), and that it costs 450 kroner. But the page provides very little additional information about what the students are actually getting for their money.

FADL, the Danish medical students’ association, is critical of this practice – in fact Søren Helsø, chair of the Aarhus branch, goes so far as to label it a con trick. First and foremost because no students no longer have the option of only buying a ticket to the orientation week events without also paying for the most expensive item – the weekend trip – regardless of whether they’re interested in participating: 

“If you’re not going on the trip, then of course you shouldn’t be paying for it,” says Helsø emphatically.

He’s also critical of the fact that the information provided on the page for the new students is very unclear about what they’re actually paying for when they enter their their account information to pay online for ‘orientation week’ at the university.

“At the end of the day, you’re more likely to pay for something that’s called ‘orientation week’ than for a weekend trip you may not be participating in. You’re pressuring the students to pay for something without knowing what it is, and that’s a breach of consumer protection laws. I consider that a con trick,” Helsø says.

Some might object that 450 kroner isn’t worth getting worked up about. What’s your response to that?

“I think it’s a lot of money. After all, that’s one-tenth of your monthly SU grant, and you have a lot of expenses when you’re starting at university: you have to move, buy books, get furniture and establish yourself in a new city.” 

Helsø himself was head tutor for orientation week last winter and explains that virtually all new student participate in some of the orientation week events. But about five to ten percent of them either can’t or don’t want to join the weekend trip, and a lot of these students have shared their frustration with their tutors.

“Then we need to rethink the whole thing”

The faculty’s administration is behind the decision to charge a flat rate for orientation week for first-year medical students and other freshers at the Faculty of Health. According to Lisette Prins, who is head of the studies administration office at Health, charging a flat rate for the whole package is essential to motivate coming students to participate in the entire week:

“Orientation week is a long programme lasting almost two weeks, and we have the head tutors plan a complete package. We think the students should participate in the whole thing. We don’t just want there to be a weekend trip where you get drunk. It has to be a package deal,” Prins says.

 She also finds the idea of charging separately for the weekend trip and the other activities problematic because, she argues, it would make it difficult for the tutors to figure out what their budget is when booking a cottage far in advance.

“Then we would have to rethink the whole thing, and I don’t see how it would be possible to arrange a weekend trip at all if we don’t know well in advance how much money we have to work with,” Prins explains.

Is that because you expect that all new students will pay for the entire orientation week programme, and that you then can budget with that?

“Yes, that’s what we expect – and what experience has shown,” she says. 

Other faculties make it work

Nonetheless, other faculties have figured out how to offer itemised payment, so that new students can opt out of paying for a weekend trip if they can’t or don’t want to participate. This is how it works for all of the degree programmes under the Faculty of Arts, for example. And according to their studies administration office, it hasn’t caused any problems.

At the Faculty of Science and Technology (ST), payment for orientation week is handled a bit differently. At ST, freshers only pay if they’re going on the weekend trip. And in fact, studies administration has decided that expenses related to orientation week activities are paid out of the faculty’s own budget, precisely to avoid making tutor association’s budgets dependent on how many students sign up. 

At Aarhus BSS, the departments have different solutions: psychology students, for example, only have to pay for the other events on the orientation week programme, while political science and sociology students have to pay for the entire package if they want to participate in any part of it.

Health’s administration invites dialogue

Not only do FADL and Health’s studies administration office disagree on whether charging medical students for the entire orientation week package is fair –  they also have very different perceptions of how widespread dissatisfaction is among the new students. While Helsø states that he’s been contacted by 10-20 disgruntled freshers who’ve complained about the flat rate, according to Prins, only one to three students from each orientation week programme complain to the studies administration office. 

However, she is open to the idea of finding a different way to charge students for orientation week activities: 

“Tell the students to contact us so we can evaluate it. I would really like to engage with them on this,” she says.

However, the freshers who will start at the Faculty of Health this summer will have to cough up the flat rate for the whole shebang, even though the weekend trip accounts for just under 80% of the tutors’ total orientation week budget.

Translated by Lenore Messick