RUC – 50 years across disciplines
At 50, everyone has the face they deserves, said George Orwell. Judging by the journey from Trekroner Station to campus, Roskilde University has never looked better than on its 50th birthday. The sound of shoes in the mud on the walk across the fields of Marbjerg Mark is a thing of the past. The walkway from the station to campus has long since been paved, and the new white laboratory building designed by Henning Larsen Architects brightens up the campus on a sunny day. More than 7,000 students attend the university.
Back in 1972 there were only 665 students in three buildings in a field, each with their own basic studies programme. The rest had to be made up as they went along. And they did.
Solving real problems
’50 years in reality’ is the slogan for Roskilde University's anniversary. Talking to both the staff and students, they agree that "at RUC, you solve real problems".
But what does Roskilde University's position in the university landscape actually look like today if we ask Rector Hanne Leth Andersen?
"As I see it, RUC's major strength is still its experimental approach and deep-seated interdisciplinarity. Most students today are familiar with group and project work. However, only Roskilde University consistently uses problem-based project learning as a working method. This provides our graduates with unique skills. They can work across disciplines, create dialogue and address problems from their very first day in the workplace."
The problem-solving aspect is common to many people's descriptions of RUC. You don't just read a lot of theory and then try to translate it. You have the opportunity to make a real difference in the world. Roskilde University graduate and former Member of Parliament and Minister of Education Christine Antorini, now Director of the LIFE Foundation, has previously described Roskilde University and her time as a student of Communication as follows:
"I helped launch the world's first digital hearing aid. (...). Lars Kolind was right – you could use a graduate from RUC to transform the engineers' enthusiasm for technology into something that people could actually use."
Oluf Danielsen was one of the teachers who helped to start the Communication programme at Roskilde University.
“They couldn’t understand what we were trying to do with that education programme,” as Oluf Danielsen explained to Journalisten in connection with the 40th anniversary of Communication in 2017. That was the reaction he and his research colleagues at RUC were met with in the mid-1970s, when they decided to create Denmark's first communication programme. Nowadays, few people would question the merits of this education.
Jesper Tynell, a former RUC communication student, journalist and winner of the prestigious Cavling Prize, describes his earlier university and communication education like this:
"At RUC, you are trained to find holes in your arguments. In today's world, it is important to train yourself to delve into complex issues and to understand how power, relationships and decision-making processes actually function. If you can make things so well documented that they become quite irrefutable (...). Then you can get a commission reopened, get the appeals board to withdraw its decisions. Or you can get the ministry to withdraw the statements that cause municipalities to stop paying out social benefits."
The range of subjects at Roskilde University is broad: from communication to global studies and urban development to physics and medicinal biology. Although the field of natural science is the smallest of RUC’s main areas, it still attracts high-profile researchers. Fatima AlZahra'a Alatraktchi joined Roskilde University as an assistant professor at the Department of Science and Environment in 2019. Like Antorini and Tynell, she believes that Roskilde University has something special to offer in its approach to both teaching and research.
She herself holds a degree in engineering and a PhD from DTU and has received a number of awards and honours for her work, including “Dissertation of the Year” from DTU and the Lundbeck Foundation's Research Talent Award. Her TEDx Talk, about using bacterial communication to predict disease-causing activity, has been viewed more than 1.9 million times and is subtitled in 22 different languages. In 2019, she was featured on the Forbes' list “30 under 30 – Europe”, which celebrates the most influential people under 30 in their field today.
"At RUC you meet across disciplines and discuss real issues. You can really feel that when you work at a department with so many different disciplines, which help each other to find solutions to problems that you can't solve alone or within only one discipline. This leads to ground-breaking research," she says.
Kenneth Horst Hansen, Head of Planning at the City of Copenhagen, studied Geography and TekSam at Roskilde University. He is also in no doubt that the problem-oriented project work is unique, and that it has been an important foundation for his own career, first as a consultant at Rambøll as a new graduate in 2011, and then as a full-time urban planner at the City of Copenhagen, where today he is the head of planning for the department responsible for the overall planning for the urban development of Copenhagen, with a staff of 20 employees:
"I came to RUC as a 19-year-old guy from Nakskov on Lolland. I came from a non-academic background and for me it was a huge gift to meet scores of different types of people in my first semester. It was very educational for me to engage in group formation, group projects and group exams etc. It has given me an important understanding of the different ways people work and the dynamics in a group. This has given me an important understanding of people’s different ways of working and the dynamics that play out in a group."
At Copenhagen City Hall, Kenneth Horst Hansen has very consciously chosen to staff his department with an eye for interdisciplinarity:
"My team is a perfect multidisciplinary mix. And that's what RUC can do. It is very important to have different professional input when it comes to projects such as Lynetteholmen and the planning basis for Fælledby on Amager Fælled, or when we develop more general plans for what kind of city Copenhagen can develop into in the future. The special thing about the RUC graduates that I have hired is that they can navigate in a broad field. You can give them all sort of tasks and they can run with them," he says.
From sandbox to swan nest
There have certainly been critics of Roskilde University over the years.
The 1980s was the decade when Bertel Haarder became Minister of Education, and he was far from enthusiastic about RUC. The Student Council spent a large part of their time at Christiansborg Palace Square fighting for RUC. Among other things, he attacked the group project ideology and wanted to close the Bachelor Programme in Humanities (Hum-Bas). But in 2021, the former minister of Venstre - the Liberal Party was much more positive about the university – here in an excerpt from a long post in ‘Sjællandske Medier’:
"RUC has evolved from a sandbox to a swan’s nest! I saw this for myself the other day when I visited RUC as an elected representative for Zealand. The strong ideological approach is put aside in favour of a practical problem-oriented project approach to the subjects and with programmes that include internship opportunities and project collaboration with external partners."
Rector Hanne Leth Andersen also believes that the university has changed a lot, especially in recent years, although she does not share Bertel Haarder's specific analysis of what RUC used to be. She particularly emphasises the new way in which master's programmes are structured:
"What is new is that we have abolished the system of many combined programmes. Today, it is we as a university who define the overall academic profile. This has created a more manageable and profiled range of master's programmes that the outside world can more easily decode," she says.
The new master's programmes are the result of a comprehensive reform process that has been underway at the university for the past two years. Business representatives and the RUC Advisory Board, together with RUC researchers and education specialists, have contributed to the development of the 30 new master's programmes.
"I am very pleased, both as a citizen and as a business leader, that RUC's new master's programmes are now a reality. Business needs new knowledge, innovative thinking and people who can solve complex problems independently. RUC's graduate programmes are an important contribution to ensuring that we in Denmark train graduates who can deliver just that," says Thorsten Thormann, Vice President of Research at Leo Pharma and a member of RUC's Advisory Board, in connection with the launch of the programmes in 2021.
But despite change and renewal, interdisciplinarity and project work remain central at Roskilde University. And it should continue to do so, says Professor of Literature Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, who last year left Roskilde University to become Director of the H.C. Andersen Institute at the University of Southern Denmark. In an article in Weekendavisen on the occasion of the 50th anniversary, he said of Roskilde University:
"Is there a difference between RUC and the other universities? Yes. Is there a difference between the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University? No. RUC needs to be even more different, not less. RUC must be bold, not mainstream."
According to Kjældgaard, the old universities in Copenhagen and Aarhus are continuing the German tradition of specialising as much as possible. Roskilde University is more Anglo-American and resembles a college in that it starts broadly and it’s only after a few years that the students choose what they want to specialise in. That's why the graduates are not as specialised, but the group work makes them skilled project managers”, says Kjældgaard.
“It’s important for the Danish educational environment to have both, but we need generalists most, that is the Anglo-American model," he says.
If you ask Lauge Lunding Bach, the head of RUC's Student Council, he agrees that RUC must continue to distinguish itself from other universities, to cultivate its distinctive features and to dare to experiment in the years to come:
“When you take a degree at RUC, you don’t just become an MSc, MA, etc., you also become a RUC graduate. Our special educational structure with problem-oriented project learning, interdisciplinarity and group work, helps to give RUC a strong brand, which many people are so proud of that they identify as RUC graduate for the rest of their lives. It is important that in the future we maintain what makes us RUC. We must cherish the combination of subjects, interdisciplinarity and project work. This does not mean that we should rest on our laurels. RUC must continue to be a pioneering university that dares to experiment and to challenge the status quo."
For further information, please contact RUC Communication & Press or Rector Hanne Leth Andersen: email@example.com