Clear requirements and guidance to ensure student progress to degree

The study progress reform: Clear requirements and targeted student guidance will ensure that AU maintains the quality of its degree programmes while avoiding the penalty that could cost the university up to DKK 240 million.

The abolition of automatic exam registration, first-year exams on Bachelor’s degree programmes, and a requirement to earn at least 45 ECTS credits annually on Master’s degree programmes.

Along with a so-called study barometer, these are some of the initiatives aimed at helping Aarhus University lower average time to degree by 4.7 months, and thus to avoid a ‘progress to degree’ penalty of up to DKK 240 million.

“We have to admit that the financial framework doesn’t leave us much room to maneuver. But I believe that the proposal we have developed can help the university and the students succeed through a combination of clear requirements and targeted guidance. But the key priority in all of our work is to avoid compromising on academic quality,” Pro-rector Berit Eika explains, referring to the proposal that AU’s Education Committee has just made available to the faculties and the boards of studies for comment.

Bachelor’s programmes: the first year of the programme is extremely important

According to the proposal, future Bachelor’s degree students would be required to pass a 45 ECTS credit first-year exam in order to progress to the second year of the programme. The exam would include all the various exams taken in the first year of study.

“We know that the first year is incredibly important for a student’s subsequent academic progress. Students who get off to a good start and learn to practice good studying techniques from the beginning are generally happier and more hard-working. Conversely, students who have trouble advancing through their programme in the beginning often have a harder time completing the rest of the degree programme. With a first-year exam, what we’re really doing is highlighting the importance of the first year of a degree programme,” explains Eika.

The pro-rector also points out that the great majority of students already live up to the requirements the first-year exam places on them:

“About 90 per cent of our second-year students have already earned at least 45 ECTS credits during their first year. But this exam sends a very clear signal that this is an important milestone and a requirement that students must live up to in order to advance in their degree programme. At the same time, this requirement must be counterbalanced by a targeted effort to inform students about it, so that everyone clearly understands what is expected of them and what help is available to them.”

Abolition of automatic exam registration

According to the proposal, automatic exam registration will be abolished at both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree level. Automatic registration has cost students exam attempts, and has meant that co-examiners and administrators have spent time on preparing for exams and re-exams that students never intended to take. In future, most students would be responsible for registering for and withdrawing from more courses and exams, which gives individual students more opportunities to plan their own course of study.

For Master’s degree students, the plan proposes that students complete their students during the prescribed time to degree plus six months. Students would also be required to complete up to 45 ECTS credits per academic year. Berit Eika admits openly that the greatest challenges exist at Master’s degree level, both for the university and the students:

“This is where students often get behind, and we have to work on this together. If we don’t do anything, it could cost the degree programmes millions, and we can’t afford this if we also want to maintain quality. There’s no getting around the fact that we will have to make stricter demands on student progression to degree in future. So the best thing we can do is state our expectations clearly, so that everyone is aware of the consequences of the academic choices they make. At the same time, we need to keep an eye out for students who need a little extra help to succeed at the critical moments,”explains Eika, referring to the so-called ‘study barometer’, a digital tool that will be developed to give individual students a clear overview of their academic progress.

Stronger links to practice

Pro-rector Eika points out that students often get behind in their studies because they are attempting to broaden their CVs, as many prospective employer prefer to hire new staff with work experience:

“I really do understand what’s driving the students. We have to do a better job of linking education and practice. That’s why we’re working to improve work placement, for example. Our plan to introduce one-year Master’s theses is another important initiative, because a longer thesis process would give students precisely that opportunity to develop more extensive and solid collaborative relationships with external partners.”

Eika emphasises that the local implementation of the study progress reform needs to be well-considered and well-informed, and that the response from the university’s academic environments will have decisive influence on the rules that are established.

The boards of studies and the faculties have until 11 April to comment on the proposal. The senior management team is expected to reach a final decision at a meeting on 4 May, and the new rules are expected to come into effect after the summer holidays.


Facts about the proposal:

  • Bachelor’s degree programmes must be completed within the prescribed time to degree plus six to twelve months (depending on the extent to which the individual degree programme permits three exam attempts).
  • Bachelor’s degree students have two attempts to pass the first-year exam of 45 ECTS credits.
  • Master’s degree programmes must be completed within the prescribed time to degree plus six months.
  • Master’s degree students must complete 45 ECTS credits per academic year.
  • The current exemption rules will continue to apply to all students.
  • According to the proposal, the active enrolment requirement will be extended to apply to current students as well as new students after the summer break.