New AU Board members – the folk high school principal and the businesswoman

Two new voices have joined AU’s board: Jørgen Carlsen, a strong proponent of the values of the Danish folk high school tradition. And Caroline Søeborg Ahlefeldt, former countess and tech aficionado.

Press photos.

Dropped out early, leaned in just in time

“Would you like to be the Chaos Pilots’ first teacher?” asked Uffe Elbæk – now a prominent national figure and chair of the left-wing party Alternativet – but back then in 1991 the founder of the entrepreneurship degree programme Kaospiloterne (‘the chaos pilots’).

Caroline Søeborg Ahlefeldt was 21 when Elbæk offered her the job. She had never taught before, and was herself a student at AU. And so she had never considered the possibility of teaching others.

Ahlefeldt said exactly what she thought:

“I don’t believe I can.”

“I believe that you can.”

Ahlefeldt let herself be convinced and became the first chaos pilots’ teacher. 

At the age of 23, she started her own business, the multimedia company MouseHouse, followed in short order by Space Invaders, which became Denmark’s first degree programme in multimedia design.


Five quick questions for Caroline Søeborg Ahlefeldt

This year, my summer vacation will be in: The South of France, where some lovely friends have a house.

Almost no one knows that I:...have a hunting license for bow and arrow.

My favorite way to spend time is when with my children, my family or good friends. For example, I was just at Louisiana with my kids, where the artist Laurie Anderson had done a VR installation. My kids sat there wearing VR headsets – not to play a game like they normally do – but to explore a work of art. It was a fantastic experience. I’m fundamentally fascinated by the possibilities of technology and art, so it’s the best of both worlds for me when they meet.

I mostly use Facebook to:...I don’t use Facebook for very much I use Instagram, but mostly LinkedIn.

My favorite app is:...Blinkist, which is executive summaries of works of non-fiction. It lets you listen to the highlights of a writer’s oeuvre so that you get a superficial familiarity with the subject. And with my busy life that means I don’t get around to reading that much, I really enjoy it..

Caroline Søeborg Ahlefeldt points to her exchange year in Costa Rica at the age of sixteen as one of the greatest experiences of her life: “It was fantastic. Living in the tropics. Wearing a school uniform. Being the only person with blonde hair and being taller than the principal. I’ll never forget my first day at high school. All the students and teachers were waiting for me lined up in perfectly straight rows because I was the first exchange student they’d ever had. The principal was standing next to the English teacher, who asked ‘How is you’? You have to make a choice, so I said ‘I is very fine, thank you.’” Press photo.

She ascribes her successful career as entrepreneur and board member to her encounter with Uffe Elbæk and other members of the entrepreneur community Frøntløberne (‘the frontrunners’):

“That insistence that I had potential was terribly attractive. You know, we have a tendency to limit ourselves, and so it’s important to surround yourself with people who can spot your potential,” Ahlefeldt explains, who was also countess of Egeskov Castle on Funen for a time, until she and Count Michael Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille divorced. She and the count have two children.

Dropout or eternal student?

But whatever happened to her university career, you might be wondering. She did manage to earn her BA in information and media studies from AU, but dropped out of the MA programme.                              

“I was enrolled for many years after that because I had this dream that I would be able to go back and finish my degree. But it was too fun being out there in the real world. 

And the challenges turned out to be different. Rather than my academic specialization, I ended up needing help with management, so I did an MBA at the business school.”

She no longer dreams of a university degree:

“Finishing a programme, getting an advanced degree or writing a PhD isn’t what I think is interesting. It’s the actual learning, and if I live to a ripe old age, I may get around to studying all kinds of things before my time here is up,” Ahlefeldt says.

Disruption in sector after sector

For the time being, Ahlefeldt is returning to AU and will be able to study the university from the vantage point of her new board membership. 

It’s still to early to say whether there’s anything she wants to change at her old university:

“We’re not a group of individuals pulling in different directions. Board work is teamwork,” she believes.

But she guesses she’ll be able to draw on her experience with both IT and entrepreneurship:

“I can definitely contribute entrepreneurship and digital expertise, which I’ve always worked with. As we know, IT is only becoming more and more relevant in an era in which sector after sector is being disrupted, and institutions and companies have to function under new ground rules.”

AU’s new board member: education is about being someone, not just about being something

Would you like a voice lesson? Or a talk about the work of the Danish poet Benny Andersen, the Danish Council on Ethics, the Folk High School Songbook, Grundtvigianism or Danish culture?

Just ask AU’s new board member Jørgen Carlsen. After 31 years as folk high school principal at Testrup Folk High School, he’s still passionate about a lot of things – also on behalf of AU. And he’s already done some thinking about what will be his key issue as a board member:

“There’s one thing I’ll be very focused on, and that’s the academic environment. We need to take a holistic approach, with study spaces, opportunities for study groups to work close to their degree programmes and a lot more. “Because it’s important that we don’t perceive the university as a hospital where you just go in to have something fixed and then out the door again,” Jørgen Carlsen says. Carlsen graduated from the history of ideas programme at AU in ‘77 and has been a co-examiner for the subject for 30 years.

Five quick questionsfor Jørgen Carlsen

Last time I really blew my top was: ...on the committee that’s revising the new edition of the High School Songbook. I’m the chair, and I can really blow my top if some of the others can’t see the depth and meaning of a particular song. That’s happened a number of times recently.

Almost no one knows that jazz.

This year’s summer vacation destination family’s two summer homes on Helgenæs and Anholt with my lovely wife and our two wonderful daughters, who’ve also given us two grandchildren.

The last time I was really embarrassed:...was probably two weeks ago. I came out of the supermarket, and there was a homeless man selling ‘Hus Forbi’ magazines. But I didn’t have any cash on me. It’s not like I want to disappear from the face of the earth, but it’s embarrassing.

I mostly use Facebook to: .... see what other people really mean. I rarely post anything myself, and I never use it to reveal that I’ve baked a cake or am on vacation or that sort of thing..

“What I’d like is for AU to invest in educating the whole person. You should develop yourself at the university. This means you’re something other and more than the subject you represent. You’re also a human being in a specific place that believes something, and that can often get drowned out by academic overspecialization. It’s not a question of being something, but of being someone,” Carlsen believes. Press photo.

The Nobel Park is a ghost town

He believes that the university should draw on the folk high school philosophy:

“The folk high school is permeated with a sense of immersion in a place and a subject – and we shouldn’t turn up our noses at the place part. Because if you study a subject for a number of years and live in a particular place, you start to want to be a part of the place and feel that you belong there.”

With this in mind, there’s one particular place at AU that fails miserably:

“I don’t think that the Nobel Park is a particularly successful development. Precisely because there aren’t any dormitories, and it turns into a ghost town in the evening. An abandoned city. Everything shuts down, and the buildings are utterly empty most of the time.”  

On the other hand, he’s pleased that the university is planning to build dormitories and cafés on the new University City campus on the site of the old municipal hospital, precisely in order to create life. 

“It’s going to be fantastic.”

Began as the principle for thirteen students

Carlsen has served on the Danish Council on Ethics and as head of the former History of Ideas Department at AU. Today he chairs the committee that is revising the 2020 edition of the High School Songbook, and he is a passionate participant in public debate. 

He is a lot of things. But most of all, he is a product and proponent of the folk high school movement. Which is probably due to what he himself calls his greatest professional achievement – his time as principal of Testrup Folk High School.

“Because when I came to the high school, it had basically been written off. There were thirteen students, it didn’t have a good reputation, and it was really an uphill battle,” he remembers.

The school’s deterioration was the result of a vicious spiral:

“Like a university, a folk highs school is financially dependent on how many students it has. And clearly, if a folk high school starts to go downhill, you get less picky about what kinds of students you accept. And the result is that the folk high schools that can’t insist on their high standards become the home of alcoholics, drug addicts and thieves. And that’s exactly what happened at Testrup Folk High School, despite the fact that it’s one of the well-respected old folk high schools.”

So it was a hard battle for the new principal.

“After I’d only been there for a week, I kicked out one of the thirteen students because he was stealing, and we can’t have that. But along with some teachers and other staff, I turned things around pretty fast. We succeeded creating a development, and today it’s one of the most respected folk high schools. That taught me one thing: Don’t give up.”