Aarhus University is essentially a happy valley

There is nothing like spending time with young people, who are eager to learn and explore the world, says Professor Svend Hylleberg. He has now passed on the dean’s baton and will be returning to the Department of Economics and Business Economics.

2015.07.01 | Helge Hollesen

After 17 years as a manager at Aarhus University, Svend Hylleberg is now passing on the baton. 30 June was his last day in the Dean’s Office, and the 70-year-old professor of economics is now returning to the teaching profession and daily life in the company of the students, which is something he is looking very much forward to.

“I don’t feel like I’m below par. Some people have said that I’m crazy for wanting to continue, because what if it doesn’t work out? But I’m more than happy to take the risk,” says Svend Hylleberg.

His greatest passion is the university and teaching the students.

“I love doing all the things we do as teachers at a university,” he says, stating the reason why he has not opted to spend his new-found leisure time on some of his other interests and hobbies.

“A university is essentially a happy valley,” stresses Svend Hylleberg and proceeds to cite the American economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman. He was once asked to explain why he wanted to stay on as a college professor.

“You have interesting colleagues and you get to spend time with young, inquisitive, intelligent students,” answered Friedman.

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Professor in distinguished company

Throughout his academic career, Svend Hylleberg has met a lot of those interesting colleagues, inquisitive students and young, talented researchers. He has a photo to testament this, taken at a seminar in celebration of his 65th birthday, where a lot of colleagues from his international network were gathered.

The event was also attended by a couple of Nobel Prize winners and several leading researchers whom he has worked with through the years. Several of them are graduates from the former Department of Economics. Today, they are professors at some of the hot spots in the field of econometrics, which is the branch of economics that Svend Hylleberg has been primarily focused on in his research.

“Of course, being considered part of the company of such distinguished researchers really boosts your academic pride. But I get the most joy in knowing that I’ve helped educate people who are doing really well out there in the world,” says Svend Hylleberg. Not all of them were his students, but he has used his international connections to help their careers along.

Would be considered a failure under current circumstances

It was not until late in his studies that Svend Hylleberg became interested in econometrics, which he describes as the link between economic theory and a reality represented by data.

“My interest was awakened when Ebbe Yndgaard came along. He was the first teacher at the department to teach the subject. At that time I was almost done with my Master’s in economics, but then I started studying econometrics and I was delayed,” explains Svend Hylleberg. A lot of people who have done well later in life have similar stories to tell from their lives as students – not least a couple of the politicians who are now pushing for a tightening of the study progression regulations.

Svend Hylleberg financed the extension of his studies with the money he earned as a student teacher.

“But in light of the pressure that we put on students today to finish their studies as quickly as possible, I would be considered a failure – because I suddenly became interested in something I hadn’t planned for,” emphasises Svend Hylleberg.

Students should be allowed to structure their own study programmes

He holds absolutely no sympathy for the study progress reform that has been implemented as a means to shorten the prescribed period of study for the students.

“It’s an unpleasant encroachment on the personal freedom of these students. In my opinion, being able to structure your own study programme is a basic human right. If the students can’t complete their studies within the prescribed time frame, we could impose cuts to their educational support instead. But I don’t see how it can be of any concern to the rest of society if the students then choose to take on work alongside their studies,” says Svend Hylleberg.

Svend Hylleberg greatly values the level of freedom that the university has to offer.

“A university is first and foremost a framework for research and education, which offers you opportunities to follow your own path and work on something that is not immediately applicable or useful,” he says.

“But the drawback of this life is that you never really have time off. There’s always something you could be doing,” says the man who has enjoyed 50-hour work weeks throughout most of his life.

The three pillars of good teaching

When asked to highlight some of the results of his 17 years in university management, first as head of a department and then as dean of a faculty, Svend Hylleberg emphasises the fact that he succeeded in drawing focus to the necessity of upgrading the educational and pedagogical skills of the teaching staff.

“This initiative wasn’t to everyone’s pure delight, but I’m fully convinced that courses like ‘Go Online’ and the supervision courses will heighten the quality of the teaching,” he says.

Svend Hylleberg bases his teaching on three principles, and he was happy to learn from his daughter, who is an educated teacher, that these three principles are also the foundation for an entire school of thought in the field of pedagogics.

“You have to be competent in the field that you teach. You have to be excited about the material and be able to communicate your excitement to your students. And you have to like the students. There is nothing like spending time with young people who are eager to learn and explore the world.”

When Svend Hylleberg returns to teaching, the first students to encounter the enthusiastic professor are a group of Bachelor’s students on a course in economic dogma history.

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