15. University, Danish style

Today was my first day of classes, and also happened to consist of half of my classes for the week. Working out our timetables has been enough of a mission – you don’t have set times each week, they are completely variable. What was 8am Monday one week maybe 3pm Thursday the next. The University leaves it up to you to find out if your timetable clashes and then you have to change your courses. Too bad if you are in your final semester and you need your papers to graduate! I have come out with Tuesday and Friday off, which makes up for 8am-9pm in class on a Monday. Hello long weekends gallivanting around Europe!

In my mega day of classes I have noticed a number of things that are very different to my previous experiences in NZ.

First of all, if you remember everything taught in class you can have a high five but it won’t get you an A (or a 12). The Danish style, and potentially that of many other European Universities, is to discuss theories in class, then outside of class you are expected to do a great deal of extra reading/research to enable you to critically discuss the theories and apply the processes to cases. This isn’t completely foreign in a Bachelor’s degree at Otago, but most of my classes thus far have focussed on memorising information (which you will most likely forget again soon after). The exams for my papers as yet are either open book or an oral exam/presentation solving a case study.

Second, the marking scale isn’t linear. The average grade is a 6 or 7 (a C+/B+) across the entire school of business, but one lecturer explained that most students would be really happy with a 4, which is about a C-. Betwenn 8 and 12 is an A- to A+ and almost no-one gets a 12. It is almost like an A+++. There is also a complex scaling system which limits everyone’s ability to do well, so most people just pass and are happy with that.

Third, socialism reigns supreme at this University. One of my classes apparently usually has 70 students in it, but this semester only has 5 exchange students. Supposedly the reason is that last semester the exam was really hard and many of the students failed (there were some mathematical calculations that the poor marketing students weren’t expecting) so this semester the Student Union organised a boycott of the paper. So apart from those of us from foreign countries who had no idea what was going on, there wasn’t a single Danish student there. The Danes are really big on their unions and associations here so even if you needed that paper to graduate, if Union says no…

On that point, one class has an optional presentation which “in theory should be worth 10% of your grade but if you guys don’t want to do it we don’t have to.” Our lecturer explained that in the Danish system “nothing is compulsory” (which seems to make sense to me, you don’t have to go to any exam at Otago, but you won’t pass either. Perhaps passing your papers is less important when you don’t pay tuition fees). He then said that if we all collectively decided we didn’t want to do the presentation we wouldn’t do it, but he strongly urged us to do it and further incentivised our commitment by deciding on the spot he would promise to give us the full 10% just for giving it a go. I wonder if that had anything to do with 1/4 of the lectures being taken up listening to presentations, so if we didn’t do them his work load would increase… Whatever we decide, we have to somehow all come to the same resolution. A classroom dictatorship would be so much easier. (I think they actually call that the lecturer deciding how to examine the students, but I could be wrong).

Fourth, most lecturers don’t speak english as a first language (as with most students in the class) which makes for an ideal speed to keep up with taking your notes.

Fifth, there is this strange concept called the ‘academic quarter.’ I am not too sure why it isn’t just ‘your class starts at quarter past on the dot so be ready to go,’ but supposedly the concept is that although your timetable says 10am, class won’t begin until 10:15, which is meant to allow time for discussion with the lecturers. In reality, it means you sit and wait for 15 minutes while the students who know the system slowly creep in. Most of the ‘2 hour’ classes also have 15 minute breaks, so realistically it is more like 1.5 hours.

Sixth, spell checking just got a whole lot easier, as they use american spelling here which is much more Microsoft Word friendly!

Finally, lecturers really seem to go out of their way to entertain. Again, this isn’t so new as a number of lecturers at Otago showed short video clips or played songs, but it seems to go a little bit further than a 3 minute clip of something semi-relevant to the course materials. In my Organisational Communication (or should I say OrganiZational Communication)  paper we watched the first 15 minutes of ‘A Bug’s Life’ and analysed the Lyrics of ‘Circus’ by Britney Spears. The first to illustrate the development of processes and systems in large societies and organisations, the second to represent dealing with difficult people in the workplace.

Day one was an enlightening experience all round!