Critique & Inspiration Education

A Look Back on the Creation of Roskilde University

The creation of RUC in 1972 was first a response to the requirements of the highly developed industries which needed a new kind of human capital. But at the same time there was created a new opportunity for the students who fought for a more democratic, socially engaged and critical university.

This text is a short introduction to the history of Roskilde University that was originally published in connection with the first big Critical Edge Alliance conference held at RUC on the 22nd to 24th of June 2016.

Roskilde University Center was created 44 years ago. In 1972. On the 1st September of that year, the first 665 students began their education here. At the time, RUC consisted only of a bunch of newly constructed bungalow-like buildings in the middle of an idyllic countryside, a couple of miles away from the city of Roskilde. Today, there is a train station called Trekroner where all the students arrive from all over the country to attend classes, take part in group meetings with their fellow students or supervisors – and where teachers and professors get off to provide guidance, courses or conduct research together with their colleagues on a daily basis. But for the first 16 years of the life of RUC there was no station here, and those who went to the university by train used to pull the emergency brake when getting off. Later when the station was created, the students had to stomp through the fallow fields surrounding the university center to create their own pathways. Only much later were the roads paved, and commerce and suburban life bloomed up in the station town of Trekroner.

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Meeting with supervisor during semester-project writing

Here at RUC, teachers and students are closely associated – the students themselves conduct re- search from the very first semester, aided by a supervisor whom they select. The research consists of a jointly created project report which is submitted at the end of each semester. In their projects, the students work in groups consisting of roughly 3 to 6 members or more together with their supervisors, they freely choose a relevant problem to examine and solve. Education here is interdisciplinary, which means that all students have a basic education in their general field, and that most students specialize in two different disciplines.

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Group Work during the semester-project writing

When our university was created, it was in the light of a tremendous change in the societies of Denmark and Europe. There was a demand for a more flexible university, rather than the traditional authoritarian “professor-ruled” universities as Copenhagen University used to be. The traditional universities had developed themselves into rigid and narrow expressions of the previous hierarchy, which the students were to be disciplined and shaped into. But the change in the European and Danish industries and societies caused a need for a large amount of highly educated workers, instead of an inflexible and narrow stable of old-fashioned officials. Decision makers and power holders were starting to gain a concept of human capital – where the educated population could be measured as a form of capital for national growth, thanks to new ideas established by UNESCO and OECD in the late 1950s.

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A political theater is staged in the garden of building 3.

Because of this, the traditional universities were overflowed with a very high enrollment of students in the 1960s, which in turn deteriorated the quality of education and further widened the gap between the students and the teachers, as well as shook the future prospects of the majority of the newly enrolled students, of whom many came from families without an academic background.

These factors partly led to the famous student uprising of 1968, which resulted in an anti-authoritarian mindset necessary to criticize the old-fashioned university forms, education and knowledge, both in Denmark and across Europe.

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RUC students protesting against the government’s many intentions to close down the university

The Danish student uprising wasn’t very political to begin with, but dealt primarily with university democracy, quality of education and representation in the study councils. The protests none the less won the students a significant amount of power in the political system, which gave them an important voice when the first plans for the foundation of RUC began to come together in 1970.

The creation of RUC was a response to the requirements of the highly developed industries which needed a new kind of human capital – flexible and highly skilled workers, educated in more than one field. But this change of structures gave space and power to the students who actively agitated and worked for a new kind of university which they believed should both be critical and serve the general interests of the people, as well as breaking with old ideas. In this way, RUC was essentially born out of a marriage between two different interests, one capitalist in its nature, and one (to a large extent) very anti-capitalist in its nature, or at least anti-authoritarian. One of state and power who wanted flexibility and new forms of control, and one of students who wished for less control and more freedom in education, learning, research and engagement in actual problems in society.

Sources:

  • RUB Archive
  • Nielsen, Chr. Jens: Utopien der slog rod. Roskilde Universitetsforlag (1997)

Here are some pictures of the first many years of the then young university of Roskilde

About the Author

Adrian Ortega Camara Lind

Student at History and Philosophy and Science Studies at Roskilde University; Volunteered for the 2016 CEA Conference at RUC.

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