Participating in student politics
Henry Lankes, an international student from Germany studying Nature Management (MSc) at UCPH, was recently elected as a student representative on the Geosciences Study Board. What motivated him to run for election? Do students actually have a say there, and does it make a difference that he is an international student?
We got in touch with Henry Lankes to learn more about his engagement in student and education politics at UCPH. The Geosciences Study Board has six academic staff and six student representatives, and it covers six different programmes. Henry’s experiences show that student representatives do play an important role and that, as an international student, Henry brings other perspectives to the table. It also shows that in some parts of our university administration, language remains a challenge.
What motivated you to run for a place on your Study Board?
“The first impulse was given by our Head of Studies, who told us on the first day that it was important that someone from Nature Management would sit on the Study Board, as this is also where decisions are made regarding our programme. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to help shape our study programme, and I felt it was essential that international students are also represented on the Study Board. That's why I decided to run.”
Is student democracy different at UCPH than what you have experienced at your previous institutions?
“I didn’t have much experience with university politics at my previous university, as I was not part of the Study Board there. However, we did have a student council that was actively involved in shaping what was going on at the university. In Nature Management, we lack that, though it’s because we are a fairly small Master's programme with no Bachelor's programme.”
In your current role on the Study Board, how much influence do you have, and how do you experience that?
“I feel like I have as much influence on decisions on the Study Board as the other members do. Everyone brings their own experiences, and we students have a unique perspective that staff and professors don’t have themselves. I feel that our opinions are valued as much as anyone else’s, and I experience this as very positive because I think it’s essential to include each group that will be impacted in the decision-making process.”
Which issues are important for you as a student representative on the Board?
“A very important issue for me is the design of the study programme and the curriculum. As a student, you get to experience first-hand what works well and what needs some improvements. And as a member of the Study Board, I have the opportunity to positively influence the future development of the programme, which will then benefit the student community.”
“Another important issue for me is the personal development of students. For example, suppose a student wants to take a course outside of the curriculum because they think it will contribute to their personal and academic development. In that case, I will do my best to help them make this possible.”
“All in all, I would say that the most crucial thing for me is to represent my fellow students and to act in their interest.”
Does it make a difference that you are an international student?
“As an international student, I have a bit of a different perspective on things, as we face different problems than Danish students. The cultural transition, the integration, working alongside studies to get SU [state grant] if you are from the EU and the language, to name a few. I can understand the problems and needs of international students well, as I’m in the same position and can thus represent them better in the Study Board.”
“Unfortunately, it also has negative sides. When I ran for the Study Board, I was not aware that all communication in the Study Board was in Danish. Since my Danish is not quite as advanced yet, I sometimes can't follow discussions as well as I would like to. Of course, I prepare better for the meetings to express my opinion, which I’m allowed to do in English. Nevertheless, I find it really disappointing that all decision-making is done in Danish, as this puts both international students and international staff at a disadvantage when it comes to participating in university politics.”
“However, I’m very excited to be part of the Study Board because I think the work is extremely important. I would love to see more students interested in actively participating in university politics and shaping the study programmes to create something great for current and future student generations.”
Henry’s appeal of having more students engage in student politics and shape the study programmes accord with the ambition of our new Prorector for Education Kristian Cedervall Lauta’s ambition of further developing programmes of high academic standards, which the University is already known for, and ensuring that both students and staff take ownership of the programmes.
Henry’s point about the language barrier is something that UCPH is working on as part of our language policy. It is an inherent challenge at international universities in countries where English is not the first language. Can we overcome it entirely? Probably not, but we make a dedicated effort to ensure that international students like Henry are able to engage fully in our university community.
By Anne Bruun and Sara Dinesen
At UCPH, study boards are composed of an equal number of representatives of academic staff and students and are responsible for organising the University’s study programmes. Among other things, this involves assuring and enhancing the quality of teaching, drawing up proposals for curricula, organising exams and processing applications for credit transfer and dispensations.