In collaboration with six universities throughout the world, Roskilde University (RUC) has pioneered an academic alliance which aims at ensuring critical thinking in lectures at RUC. Some practical issues remain unsolved.
Roskilde University (RUC) stands out of the crowd of universities. The teaching toolbox of a RUC-lecturer is remarkably wide, critical thinking is the vital organ of the university, and group work equals RUC work. These three features constitute RUC’s brand. And yet, they are not captured in the set of traditional criteria by which universities are measured globally.
In the face of such a challenge, Critical Edge Alliance (CEA) was established by RUC and six other universities with one purpose in mind: to apply critical thinking when it comes to knowledge creation, the inner workings of the education system, and society in general.
According to the president of CEA and lecturer at RUC, Kasper Risbjerg Elskilden, the collaboration is meant to spread the message that RUC is not a lone wolf on the academic tundra.
“It might be the case that we (ed. RUC) are quite eccentric in a Danish context, but we do in fact have like-minded collaborators in a global context. We share an alternative way of defining a university, an alternative way of studying, and an alternative way of construing the role of universities in society,” he states.
Sharing a common goal of doing maintenance on the machinery of critical thinking is not enough. CEA has potential to expand its operations even further.
“In order to develop our partnership, it requires cross-border interactions between students and cross-border interactions between lecturers. It all comes down to building a framework within which we thrive – something we are yet to finish building,” Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen says.
A coherent skeleton of the alliance is paramount for the alliance to survive and succeed, if you ask Julia Madsen who is a RUC student and a part of the CEA team. It is no easy task, given the diverse nature of the active universities.
“We’re still dealing with how we can find common ground now that we don’t experience the world and everyday life in the same manner,” she expresses.
All seven members attempt to reach this common ground by convening at an annual conference hosted by one of the universities.
Active member engagement is a must
The second official conference took place in Mumbai at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences last September. Julia Madsen and her fellow student and CEA-collaborator, Federico Jensen, participated.
At the conference, they dived themselves into student workshops, listened to speeches by professors, and experienced the presentation and discussion of new initiatives. Federico Jensen believes the conferences provide a venue for RUC to continue finding new ways of conceptualizing education.
“In my opinion, RUC must go in the direction towards more critical thinking, not less. We should not become indistinguishable from other universities, offering the same kind of courses. RUC’s gene of critical thinking can only be preserved in conjunction with other universities that share this gene,” Federico Jensen says.
But when certain members choose not to show up at the conferences, it weakens the development of ideas and the collaboration itself. Last conference experienced the absence of PUC-Rio from Brazil and The New School from the US.
“When they (ed. PUC-Rio and The New School) don’t show up, the collaboration cannot be advanced any further. We thereby stand still regarding our development,” Federico Jensen states.
Their conspicuous absence may be explained by a continued lack of funding. According to Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen, an inflow of Danish students to India is relatively manageable but not the other way around.
“The collaboration struggles with finding avenues of public funding, because it involves alternative education opportunities like ours. Subsidies are often targeted at research, not at teaching. This makes it an uphill battle to build a financially sustainable framework,” he says.
Maintenance are not free of charge. That also goes for maintenance of critical thinking. Nevertheless, new initiatives are continually proposed despite the setback of the two absent universities at the previous session and the financial difficulties.
Last year, an exchange programme was initiated. It included a lecturer-swap where RUC and Evergreen State College in Washington exchanged one lecturer. It was aimed to mutually expanding the general pool of didactic tools applied in teaching sessions.
Social life and academic life are inextricably linked
Conventions diverge. So do the administrative and social conventions of CEA members. It became evident when the Chinese Xing Wei College delegation at the previous conference had a more academic and less social understanding of the collaboration.
“All students differ in many ways so we try to accommodate all interests. For instance, the Chinese delegation preferred to stay at a hotel rather than sleeping on campus along with the rest of us at the Mumbai conference. Also, they didn’t partake in all workshops, as they were interested in exploring the city. Otherwise, the cooperation is quite smooth,” Federico Jensen says, while emphasizing the equal importance of social collaboration and academic collaboration.
Julia Madsen and Federico Jensen have acquainted themselves with a whole lot of new friends by means of the alliance. Particularly the magazine, Critical Edges, has been a source of many friendships. The magazine is a brainchild of the Mumbai conference and it is organised by CEA students.
“The collaboration is social and academic at the same time. Those who contribute with the most to the magazine are also the ones who interact the most,” according to Federico Jensen who regards the magazine as a purposeful academic work that strengthens the social community of students.
“It (ed. Critical Edges) has become a cooperation that begs for further developments. It has potential to materialize some of those ideas generated at the conferences and at the meetings,” he states.
Students from other universities of the CEA community concur with the statement that the social-academic dynamics bolster the alliance. Daniel Gaviria Tobon, a student at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, has been involved in CEA from its conception. He stresses the role of bonding.
“The greatest experience of the conferences was getting new friends. The meetings are unforgettable due to the participants I have encountered. It breathes life into the alliance, so it continues to live. Without friendships, it would have been a struggle to collaborate on projects,” Daniel Gaviria Tobon says. He is connected to Federico Jensen and Julia Madsen and other CEA-activists using the mobile app Whatsapp that makes it possible to send cross-border messages for free.
Here, the students are able to evaluate new ideas for the upcoming conference, to arrange events throughout the world, or just to chatter about minor day-to-day issues.
Julia Madsen personally uses the app when she is trying to overcome barriers in her studies, for example.
“You easily get attached to people when doing collaborations like this one. Especially the giant group on WhatsApp. It offers the advantage of getting quick information and tips instead of researching by myself. It is always the case that someone can provide the answer you need. Such friendships overall benefit the academic community – you may call it knowledge diffusion,” she says.
CEA does not exclusively benefit the active core of the alliance. The collaboration is currently producing exchange programmes for RUC people to expand their horizon at the other alternative universities.
“The exchange deals are about to be sealed. It will surely make it easier to go on an exchange trip to these universities where you are to be automatically accepted because of such an extensive collaboration as ours,” Julia Madsen says.
Daniel Gaviria Tobon has no doubt that the universities can learn a lot from one another. He especially admires RUC’s way of doing project work.
“Both universities implement programmes and projects that are creative and critical, developing unique educations on their respective continents. I’m particularly fond of the project-oriented angle applied at RUC. I think that it could be copied and used at the Universidad de los Andes,” Daniel Gaviria Tobon says. He adds that RUC in turn could be inspired by the Colombian university – more specifically, the audacity to be innovative.
Arguably, you could question the raison d’être of CEA. Why should RUC spend a massive amount of resources by attending its conferences and by doing transnational knowledge-sharing with other universities? The answer is clear to Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen, the president:
“If we embark on creating a student-based community and if we continually widen it to include other students, then it will become tremendously enriching for the holistic university experience and a profitable investment for all universities – including RUC.”
Lizette Knudsen – News editor and writer
Lukas Bennike Lewerissa – Writer
Tobias Lanzky – Translator
For more information and to go the original publication go to RUC paper