Real progress instead of Study Progress Reform

Skrevet af Jannick Friis ChristensenJørn AlbertusJesper Snedker Adamsen, (versioning) - Foto: Jørn Albertus - 10. november 2015 - 16:110 kommentarer
- I fully understand that students stress over the increased emphasis on performance – so do many of my colleagues. But we must remember that pathological reaction patterns are merely healthy, human reactions provoked by a sick system.

Dean of Education Jan Molin called for a ’future reform’ at the Study Progress Reform conference held on Thursday, October 29th. The participants seemed to support Jan Molin’s request as the general attitude towards the Study Progress Reform was confirmed at the conference as participants widely labeled it ‘rubbish’. 

The art of reform without change

The headline of the conference was: “When speed trumps quality and relevance.” And thus the tone was set for an academic 360 degree revision of the Study Progress Reform.

As the conference got under way during the morning of Thursday October 29th, it quickly became clear that students, politicians, university and private sector representatives, as well as representatives from trade organizations were all eager to express their discontent induced by an increasingly unpopular Study Progress Reform.

But although practically everyone agrees that the reform must be revised, such a process is not that easy to carry out. That was one of the initial points made by the conference’s moderator, Jakob Brandt, who is also vice president of the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikerne):

- We are allowed to change everything. However, modifications must in no way conflict with the criteria regarding students’ average program completion time. To some degree, you could compare the situation to that recently offered to the subsistence allowance commission (dagpengekommissionen).  

Does the financial premise for the reform stick?

Member of the Socialist People’s Party (SF) Jacob Mark doubts that it does:

- The billions of DKK that students pay in taxes from their part-time jobs are not included in the financial basis for the reform. And the Administration would miss out on these particular tax revenues if students increasingly opt to devote less time to their part-time jobs due to the reform, said Jacob Mark, who is currently in the midst of completing his graduate program, and continued:

- The Ministry of Finance also expects an increase in labor supply due to the Study Progress Reform; but if the reform prompts an increase in drop-out percentages, that expectation will not be fulfilled.

A cornucopia of issues

In general quite a few deficiencies were debated during the 4-hour conference.

One of which was the issue of stress. Another one was the increasing number of applications for exemption from exams, while a third discussion addressed the fact that Aarhus University’s Business and Social Sciences program has experienced an increase in non-attendance at exams from 18 percent to 52 percent; a trend which has also found its way into CBS.

One lecturer expressed frustration as the developments have forced her to devote a larger part of her time to administrative tasks, which takes away valuable time that could be spent advising and counselling students.

Jørn Kjølseth Møller, program director of the Department of Communication, Business and Information Technologies at Roskilde University (RUC), questioned whether the Study Progress Reform was in any way necessary:

- Our students’ average completion time is 5.4 years, which is not as good as the completion time at Aalborg University, which is 5.1 years. However, on average, our students only exceed the standard completion time by 4 months, so where is it that we need to improve?

And, as some pointed out, if leave of absence was not included in the statistics, students’ average completion time would surely match or almost match the standard completion time.

CBS Career Centre: graduating at the same time is a potential problem

Representatives from CBS Career Centre were also present at the conference and they encouraged participants to devote attention to the potential challenges spawned by the fact that the reform streamlines graduation dates and thus all students will be graduating at the same time.

Previously, graduations were dispersed throughout the year with November being the month with the highest number of graduations; but now the deadline for handing in the master’s thesis is May 17th, which means that all graduate students complete their programs in June just as most companies send their employees on summer holidays.

This likely means that an increased number of graduates will enroll in unemployment benefit schemes for a longer period as competition for a stagnant number of jobs is intensified.

Universities guilty of negligence

CBS’ dean of education, Jan Molin, was among the panelists and argued that the universities are guilty of negligence as they have failed to properly revise their operations.

- It is a false contrast, the one between rate and quality. I am actually fine with the Study Progress Reform in the way that at CBS we have been very determined not to compromise quality and relevance, said Jan Molin and added:

- But we are certain that we can do things faster and smarter; and isn’t that the purpose of universities: to think and do things differently?

From progress reform to ‘future reform’

And instead of moaning about the Study Progress Reform, Jan Molin beat the drum for a debate about a ‘future reform’: 

- I believe the Study Progress Reform is a sad example of the effects of a public education sector dominated by performance management.

According to Jan Molin, the problem is that the performance management culture pushes substance aside and thus we end up with a culture of conformance:

- Every aspect of this debate is influenced by the premise promoted by the Ministry of Finance and that it completely meaningless. If we continue like this, we will surely lose the battle, said Jan Molin, whose statements were widely applauded throughout the conference, and continued:

- I fully understand that students stress over the increased emphasis on performance – so do many of my colleagues. Researchers are also forced to cut corners where possible, but we must remember that pathological reaction patterns are merely healthy, human reactions provoked by a sick system.

CBS has no contingency plan

None of the representatives from the Danish universities were able to present any form of a contingency plan specifically designed to manage the unintended consequences of the Study Progress Reform, and CBS was no exception.

- We will go as far as we can in relation to our current operations and planned operations and beyond that we will just have to fork out whatever is necessary, stressed Jan Molin and added that, in his view, the reform has already had the desired effect:

- Students are definitely stressed by the intensified performance culture and they have surely developed new perceptions of what it is like to be enrolled in a university program. Thus, the coercive measures might as well be removed at this point.

Akademikerne suggests flexible ECTS bank

Whether or not the current political negotiations concerning the Study Progress Reform will result in any solutions to the unintended consequences only time will tell.

The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikerne) presented four specific suggestions to minor adjustments, including the establishment of an ECTS bank which is to replace forced exam registration with a more flexible structure.

However, judging from member of the Social Democratic Party and MP Mette Reissmann’s comments, any potential adjustments will be minor as she and the Social Democratic Party do not have any intentions of rolling back the Study Progress Reform.

But she is willing to look at solutions to the variety of “minor unintended consequences” of which it seems there are quite a few judging from the discussions at the conference.