Pro-rector: "Things will be less bewildering once the reform actually comes into force"

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AU's Committee for Education is ready with a proposal for implementing the study progress reform at AU. Enforced registration for courses and exams will be abolished; the university will introduce more proactive student counselling; and a first-year exam will be introduced together with a range of checks to ensure that the students comply with the active enrolment requirement. According to AU’s pro-rector for education Berit Eika, the committee has tried to safeguard the financial framework needed by AU without inconveniencing the great majority of students. Here she explains the proposal.

2016.04.05 | Marie Groth Andersen

Pro-rector for education Berit Eika. Photo: Anders Trærup

You have previously stated that the central priority in your work with the proposed model is for AU to avoid compromising its academic level. How is this reflected in the proposal?

"I’d actually question whether the quality of the degree programmes is challenged by the reform. The quality comes from the students spending time studying and the university delivering high quality teaching. We’re already doing that and that isn’t going to change. But the point is also that this would be much more difficult to achieve if we did nothing and ended up paying a full study progress penalty. So I don’t agree with this correlation that the new rules will lead to poorer quality programmes. We know from surveys that what is important for reducing the time to degree and for strengthening the well-being of our students is precisely good relations with fellow students, good teaching and academic challenges."

On the one hand your proposal gives the students responsibility for their own education by abolishing the exam registration requirement. But on the other hand, you’re going to introduce a lot of checks to ensure that the active enrolment requirement is complied with. Do you agree that this can seem paradoxical, as you on the one hand say you are giving the students responsibility, while on the other hand introducing a lot of control?

"The control lies in the fact that we look at how far the individual student has come, and how many credits that person has earned. The controls provide the names and student registration numbers of the delayed students so we can contact them and offer them student guidance that can help them progress in their degree programme – or perhaps switch degree programmes. It can also be seen as a service and a sign that we’re not indifferent. The abolition of the enrolment requirement also improves opportunities for students to determine their course of study.

We will also introduce a speedometer so the individual student has an overview of his or her own active enrolment. Are they driving in the green lane? Fortunately, the vast majority of students at AU are."

You talk about a targeted student guidance initiative. What kind of help will AU make available to assist students in completing their studies within the prescribed time?

"We’ve previously had a student guidance practice in which the student had to actively contact the student guidance. In fact, we’re going to see a paradigm shift in student guidance as it becomes more proactive in the future. Our professional supervisors at the university will drive part of this initiative as we intensify the student guidance in the academic environments. One reason for this is that we can see that a large part of the delays at graduate level occur in connection with Master's theses."

How many students do you expect will fail the first-year-exam requirement of 45 ECTS credits and then have their enrolment at the university terminated?

"We can see that in 2014, ten per cent of the students had not earned 45 ECTS credits after their first academic year. That figure is in my opinion a worst-case scenario. My expectation is that the clearer requirements will lead to increased completion within the prescribed study period."

You suggest a transition for students already enrolled in a degree programme and also a reasonable deadline for the individual student to complete their degree programme. How will you specifically administer this?

"The new rules that we adopt in May will apply to all students enrolled from this autumn. A transitional arrangement will be put in place for the remainder. For those students who are currently delayed, we’re planning to introduce an individually based arrangement. All this is unbelievably demanding administratively, but fortunately the majority of AU's students are not delayed."

A research project from DPU has investigated student expectations for the study progress reform. Fifty-eight per cent expect to become more stressed, 43 per cent expect to be less happy and less interested in their studies, 42 per cent expect to be less committed to their studies. Is AU going to address this?

"We carry out on-going study environment surveys at AU where we examine the subjective well-being of the students, including their level of stress. I certainly hope that the above-mentioned expectations won’t turn out to be correct. I believe things will be less bewildering once the reform actually comes into force. We’ve also abolished the registration requirement so the students can have increased influence on their own situation. It’s true that they’re a number of requirements during the first year, but after this the degree of flexibility increases. The idea behind the first-year exam is that there must be clear requirements during the first year to create focus on the amount of time and energy that students put into their studies from the very beginning."

The university has been forced to introduce the reform by the politicians. As pro-rector for education, what do you think about a situation where AU is being forced to tighten the framework for students in order to avoid paying a study progress penalty?

"We’re walking a tightrope by having to ensure we have the necessary financial framework without inconveniencing a large majority of the students. This is what we have sought to do with our proposal. But clearly I wish that we weren’t put in this situation." 

The proposal is sent for consultation until 11 April. The senior management team is expected to make a final decision about how the study progress reform will be implemented at AU on 4 May. The new rules will enter into force after the summer holidays.

Translated by Peter Lambourne

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