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Uni vows to 'do more' to inform foreign students

12 Apr 2012, 13:46

Published: 12 Apr 2012 13:46 GMT+02:00

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"We all make mistakes, but we need to do more to safeguard against these kinds of mistakes," Göran Svensson, head of the Media and Communication Studies department at Uppsala University told The Local.

"The onus is on us as educators to inform our students and we'll have to do that better."

Svensson's promise to improve information provided to foreign students comes in the wake of a communications mix-up that left Eliana Velez, a graduate student from the United States, without a diploma and in jeopardy of losing her job.

Velez completed coursework for a master's degree in Media and Communication Studies in October, but only learned from Svensson in March that she actually didn't graduate.

She was shocked to discover that the credits for one of the classes she had taken did not count toward her degree.

Velez had enrolled in the class after being told by an academic advisor that it was a possible replacement for a course she had twice failed and which would still allow her to complete the programme on schedule.

But as it turned out, the course credits didn't count toward Velez's degree because it was an undergraduate-level course and Velez had already taken the maximum number of undergraduate courses allowed – something overlooked by both her and the advisor.

"They never told me that I wasn't allowed to take any more undergraduate-level courses," she told The Local.

"I wouldn't have taken the course if I had known."

After being alerted to Velez's lack of a diploma and the potential consequences it had for her job, Svensson agreed to contact her employer to explain the situation and see what could be done to rectify it.

In addition to the letter, an apologetic Svensson is now working to find another class Velez can complete at a distance in order to gain the credits necessary for her to complete her degree requirements.

"We're very sorry about what has happened, but there is no question that Eliana will graduate," he said.

Velez is appreciative of Svensson's efforts, but added that the whole episode has left her "exhausted".

"I just want it to be over," she said.

"The letter that Göran wrote was exactly the kind of letter that I needed him to write. He apologized for the error, and accepted the mistake that was made."

Velez is prepared to take one more class in order to finally complete her degree, but remains critical of the advisor who gave her bad information.

"I just hope that a mistake like this never happens again," she said, emphasizing once again that more care should have been taken in formulating the advice she was given.

Story continues below…

"Had I been advised differently I would be in a different position. It's not easy to know what questions you need to ask so that you get the right answers."

She encouraged foreign students to "as many questions as possible" to avoid misunderstandings like hers.

Svensson also said that Velez's case had been an important learning experience for him and his staff.

"We will certainly look into cases much more closely before giving advice in the future," he said.

"It is complicated, so we will really step up information to make sure foreign students are really aware for the requirements."

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Your comments about this article

17:00 April 12, 2012 by Opinionfool
It really isn't that difficult. What are the course requirements? Mandatory modules? Optional models? The overall tariff? Substitutionary modules? Exclusions? Invalid combinations?

It's not a difficult piece of programming to write. Indeed I've just set it as a practical second year undergraduate computer science coursework assessment. Some trivial tree traversals, breadth-/depth-first. A little boolean matrix algebra. Hey presto problem solved. For extra grade put in a class estimator will you pass, with merit, or with distinction. A more refined version, suitable for a third year (final year) extended project would be to create a small size expert system that will not only check whether the chosen modules make up a degree but that can also suggest alternative modules where there are missing or invalid choices. Again, trivial. Extra grade would be earned by recommending follow-on Masters or PhD study in the major discipline. Though it does require quantitative methods in order to make it all work.

Of course it needs for the student to actually PASS the modules in the first place.
18:41 April 12, 2012 by hipersons1
It is true that, in general, Uppsala is terrible at making things clear for non-Swedish speaking people. There are many quirks in the Swedish system that is just taken for granted by Swedes because they understand it, and then the just figure that everyone else will, too, once translated into English. There is no automated way to make sure all your classes fit into your program, though it certainly would not be too complicated to build, I imagine actually deploying it would be a drawn out process.
20:55 April 12, 2012 by IranianAtheist
A grad student failing a course two times. I remember a time when only the brightest students dared/bothered to enter graduate studies. But apparently It is common to see average and sub-average students entering tubes to become MSc's and PhD's after a while.

Universities in Sweden encourage this also, because it channels the tax money into these institutions.
21:34 April 12, 2012 by johan rebel
"They never told me that I wasn't allowed to take any more undergraduate-level courses" If you fail your graduate level course, then it is perfectly logical that you may take an ungraduate course instead, isn't it? If you then fail the undergraduate course, Im sure a high school diploma will be good enough.
21:53 April 12, 2012 by Puffin
I am just shocked that she is allowed to include undergraduate courses at all on a Masters course

... and yet the course structure for this course - core and electives is explained in English on the University website
21:54 April 12, 2012 by Prothis
@ 18:41 April 12, 2012 by hipersons1

Don't agree with you completely actually. As a non-Swedish-speaking person at Uppsala University (graduate level) it has been made abundantly clear to me many, many times that I'm only allowed to include X credits worth of undergraduate courses in my degree. I guess it depends on the coordinator, and the level of communication about this issue differs from department to department.

In any case it seems logical that a graduate degree cannot be filled (excessively) with undergraduate courses. I feel sorry for the student(s) in question but a visit to the department administration simply to ask "can I do this?" would probably have prevented it all.
00:45 April 13, 2012 by Max Reaver
@ Prothis

I agree with hipersons1. I am a Swedish speaking person at UU, but even I have problem sometimes getting information on eligibility for graduation. coordinators are different, some are nicer than others, and some just dont seem to know anything. in the past i have ran into the dept admin to ask abt stuff, unfortunately you dont always get any helpful answer.
15:00 April 13, 2012 by SuperTulle
FYI, that's not the university in the picture, that's the botanical garden. The garden is owned by the university, but no education is done there.

IMHO, it would have been more fitting to use a picture of the University Hall, or the University Library.
18:13 April 13, 2012 by Opinionfool
@Puffin #5

back when I did my Master degree (not at a Swedish university but a British one) one module had both undergraduate and postgraduate students in the lecture hall at the same time. The difference was the depth expected in the students answere. Undergraduates could get away with brevity and waffle; postgraduates had to be expansive and precise.


Let's not forget that this situation has arise because one specific student is making a fuss even after she failed her quantitative methods module twice, count them once, twice. The advice she should have been given was not "make it up with undergraduate courses" but "the bus leaves from over there, bye bye."
22:49 April 13, 2012 by Max Reaver

Have you studied or worked at a Swedish uni, ever? You cant compare the British system with Swedish.

Let me tell you something. In Swedish universities, over 80% of the students fail core subjects at least once during their program. This is not a statistical data, but something I sum up from my personal experience. I am a Swedish speaking student at Uppsala without having the need to do any re-exam, but so far I have yet to know more than a handful of students on the same level as me. For my program the heaviest course was organic chemistry. On the first try more than half of the attended students fail. Re-exams are just like the ordinary exam, you can score an A there even if you failed earlier. So the difficulty level of re-takes is seldom reduced. Sometimes re-exams are absurdly difficult, with a passing rate of 5% or even lower. If you want to give Eliana an F because she failed one subject, first you have to give F to the majority of Uppsala students. There are certain things with the Swedish uni culture that an outsider simply cant understand. The kind of advice you just proposed, thank god you are never gonna work as an academic advisor.
00:52 April 14, 2012 by Opinionfool
@Max Reaver

Thank god I haven't studied at or worked for a Swedish uni then. If the system is based on the antiquated idea that specific proportions of students should achieve a particular mark then I don't want to study or even work for a Swedish uni. And as an employer I will in future be more circumspect in considering job applications from candidates holding Swedish qualifications.

Exams need to be passed but the marks should be awarded on how many of the criteria the exam is set against has the student achieved. If the whole class gets 100% so what. If one student, Swedish or non-Swedish speaking , fails then to achieve those criteria then so be it, they failed; no one should have to fail with them.

There should be no "passing rate is 5%" mentality, with the exception of medicine where for the health and survival of patients only the best are good enough. If students can't pass the exam there are a number of reasons:

o the exam is too hard, if so it needs to be made easier or more sensibly the marking criteria need to be evaluated and adjusted to reflect what is feasible;

o the teaching is poor, if so the teacher needs to be sacked and a competent one brought in to teach the course;

o the course doesn't adequately reflect the examinable topic, if so then either the course needs to be changed or the student told to "hit the books";

o the student can't cope with the material, if so the student needs to evaluate their status and either change to a course that they can cope with or suck it up and admit they failed.

It is possible that all those reasons are true which makes for a slightly more complex problem. But just letting students retake exams on the off-chance that the weighting the next time is in their favour devalues the worth of the degree.

Education isn't about is this student better than that one? It's all about does this student know the material and can demonstrate their competency with it. That Eliana gets an F so other have to too is idiotic and unfair on the others. If that's what the university assessment culture is in Sweden then that culture needs to change.
01:56 April 14, 2012 by Max Reaver

Once again, you assumed too much and misunderstood a few important things fundamentally. The system, for instance, is NOT based on your antiquated idea. All you have said further strengthens my point that as an outsider to the system, you have very little understanding of how it works.

First of all, the retakes that you deem as something horrible, is not discriminated against in Sweden. The reason a student does the retake might be: the student couldn't attend at the first occasion of exam perhaps due to conflicting schedule: the student might have failed the first exam, or the student wanted an A, but got only B+, so he/she decides to improve his grade by going to the retake.

The retake is simply another exam for people who needs/wants to attend it. You can get everything from F to A on it, instead of only Pass and Fail as in other countries. On your curriculum, it won't say if the you got your grade from the first exam or the retake, it's the same thing. If the student shows competency in the subject, does it matter when he/she obtained the competency during the school time? In some uni you can do retakes as many times as you want, but if it's for improving your grade from something higher than F, you can only do it within 1 year of the original exam. However I think the regulation has shifted somewhat, in some program you can do two retakes. So in Eliana's case, she should have one more chance. Nobody would've known about her retakes if she passed. Unless she failed her second retake, one cannot say that she won't possess the ability of completing the specific course.

The only time when Sweden used proportion based grades were when we tried ECTS grades, an EU invention that lasted only during its trial period because everybody hated it. It's very similar to the curved distribution of grading in many top American universities. now you have not only attacked swedish schools, but condemned most of the ivy league colleges. will you give 2nd thots to their graduates too?

The 5% passing rate I mentioned was the result of occasional improperly difficult exams. Nobody wanted to set a passing rate of 5%, but in the end, 5% of students passed. It was unfortunate, but such events do happen occasionally. Ever heard of Cornell? the ivy least generous with giving out good grades but their students are still wanted. What I'm saying is not "Eliana gets an F so other have to too". I'm pointing out that you cant judge her based on one course. You dont know the system and you dont know the circumstances. The fact she landed a job before getting her degree diploma speaks for itself. looks like she doesn't need you to review her CV after all.
11:15 April 16, 2012 by GBGcommuter
@ 17:00 April 12, 2012 by Opinionfool

You are right it is not that hard, we used to have a system like that back at my university in mexico 12 years ago. it would even check the schedules to make sure you didn't have 2 classes booked in the same time slot and it would give you alternatives of whichever classes you could indeed take. After more than a decade you would think Sweden would have catched up to my "3rd world' country.
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