Board of studies sidetracked

Work on the new academic regulations for the Bachelor's degree programme in business administration ended in a messy process where the student members of the board of studies felt their influence had been diminished. This led them to vote against the academic regulations and to criticise the process. A criticism that the other boards of studies also support.

[Translate to English:] Grafik: Astrid Reitzel

"We’ve not experienced being sidetracked to such a degree in important matters previously." Those are the words of Philip Bjerre Andersen, student member of the board of studies for business administration and vice-chair of the Academic Business Council.

The situation he describes is the recent reform of the academic regulations for the Bachelor's degree in business administration which the board of studies was asked to consider in February.

The original plan was not to alter the degree programme until 2015. But due to the study progress reform, the academic regulations had to be altered anyway prior to the 2014 commencement of studies and the process was therefore brought forward.

That led to an abbreviated process where the Department of Economics and Business and the Department of Business Administration (who together offer the degree programme) had to agree on the degree programme’s distribution of subjects and ECTS points. On the whole the parties were also in agreement.

Involved to begin with

"We students were very involved in the process up to the board of studies meeting on 28 February together with the chairman of the board of studies and the department heads. We also presented a proposal for a compromise between the two departments which the Dean's Office presented for a final decision by the board of studies," explains Philip Bjerre Andersen.

The board adopted the proposal. But in the wings a dispute was brewing between the two departments concerning the allocation of ECTS points. On a degree programme that is one of the largest at AU with many students, even a few ECTS points can make a great difference to a department’s finances.

On 3 March the Dean's Office took the board of studies’ decision off the table and, after that, the students were removed from the process.

The dean put the brakes on

"We received an email from the dean. He wrote that he had to put the brakes on the process and that he could not approve a new structure because there did not appear to be academic agreement between the two departments. After this the dean, the vice-dean and the two department heads started their own process. A top-down process that we were completely excluded from," says Philip Bjerre Andersen.

The students never received an explanation of exactly what the dispute between the two departments was about. But they were first included again the day before the new compromise proposal was to be approved at the end of March.

"Mostly because we demanded to be given an insight into the process before we had to take a decision at the meeting the day after."

No reasons were given to the chairman

Neither did the chairman of the board of studies, Erik Strøjer Madsen, who is director of studies and associate professor at the Department of Economics and Business, receive any further explanation for the proposal suddenly being taken off the table, though he says:

"The departments and the faculty control the resources while we’re responsible for the approval of the academic aspects. If we on the board of studies adopt something that does not have financial support then where will we end up? And if the management no longer supports the proposal then we cannot do much about it on the Board of Studies because a new reform of the academic regulations must have the support of the management." 

Like the students he was also excluded from the continuing process leading to a new compromise proposal.

"It’s certainly not been a process we can be proud of. It has been brought forward due to the study progress reform and that has meant we haven’t been able to implement the process that the board had otherwise agreed to implement in such cases, also because we need to be able to have input from employer panels and graduates."

Unqualified basis for decision

The student members of the board of studies are also worried about the lack of time to hear input from employer panels or look at analyses of drop-out rates and why students opt out of the degree programme.

"We do not feel that we have had a qualified basis for making a decision. It’s difficult for us to assess the new academic regulations because we haven’t been involved in the entire process. That’s not satisfactory for us. It’s unfortunate that we students haven’t been involved in the final process because we are important for ensuring the quality of the programme."

Five voted against

At the end of March, the Dean's Office had a new compromise proposal for new academic regulations ready – drawn up together with the departments but without the students. A proposal that the board of studies was to consider on 28 March.

To express their dissatisfaction with the hasty process and the lack of involvement, the students decided to vote against the proposal. Or, rather, five of the six students on the board voted against the proposal, so it only just scraped through with the help of the other members votes.

"If all six of us had voted against the new academic regulations we would have de facto taken the new students as hostages. We’d end up in a situation where there might not be any academic regulations in place for the new students who start in September. So we chose this pragmatic solution to show our dissatisfaction."

The students' criticism is clear in the minutes of the meeting. They also reveal that the other members of the board of studies, including chairman Erik Strøjer Madsen, joined the criticism.

The chairman does, however, add that he does not share the students' concerns about the quality of the new academic regulations.

"I think we’ve ended up with a good set of academic regulations and that we have got a much better degree programme out of it," says Erik Strøjer Madsen.

Must not be allowed to set a precedent

The experience of being completely sidetracked still worries the students, however. Particularly because the board of studies is the only forum where they have direct influence on their own degree programme.

"If they, if the management gets away with it this time, then ... " Philip Bjerre Andersen hesitates, before stressing:

"This case cannot be allowed to set a precedent!"

No reply from the dean

Omnibus has contacted department head at the Department of Economics and Business, Allan Würtz, and department head at the Department of Business Administration, Karen Brunsø, and asked them to comment. Both have referred us to the dean of BSS, Svend Hylleberg. Omnibus wanted to ask the dean why he decided to intervene in the decision-making process by taking the adopted proposals off the table? And what the dispute between the two departments was more specifically about. And why the students were not involved in the final part of a process that they had initially been a part of. Despite repeated enquiries, the dean has not commented.

What do the by-laws say?

The board of studies’ tasks and authority are laid down by the Standard Rules of Procedure of October 29, 2012 for boards of studies.

In section 3 it is e.g. stated that the board of studies is responsible for the preparation of draft academic regulations and amendments thereto.

With regard to the board of studies decision-making authority, section 4, subsection 2 states that “decisions of major importance and decisions on establishment/change of practice may not be delegated. In addition, decisions may not be delegated to such an extent that the board of studies in reality becomes superfluous.”