The Ban on Group Examinations in Danish Higher Education Lone Krogh & Palle Rasmussen Department of Education, Learning and Philosophy Aalborg University
Government has decided to abolish group examinations. This is done to secure for all students the right to take individual examinations. (…) “We do this because we want to know what skills the individual has. And that is best measured by examining individually”, says Minister of Education Bertel Haarder. “If the students do group work it is not our business; but the individual as well as a future employer can reasonably expect to know what skills the individual really possesses. For this reason we now make sure that the individual student always gets assessed individually when he/she takes exams”, says Minister of Science Helge Sander. Press Release, 29 November 2005 The Ban
Implementation • Examination must be individual. Students are to be alone with examiners in the room. • Students are allowed to work, do reports and prepare examinations in groups. However, if reports are to count in the results students must sign their individual sections. • Group examinations are allowed in some situations were group work in integral to the task; for instance in some artistic disciplines. This covers very few of the study programmes where group examinations were used earlier.
Educational background: Project study and group examinations • Danish progressive universities of the seventies: Roskilde and Aalborg • Problem-based, project-organised cooperative learning • Used in all disciplines • Project reports basis for oral examinations • Project study mostly done in groups, but group work is voluntary • Group examination, individual assessment • Cooperative study in other parts of the education system.
Educational consequences Students’ experience of group and individual exams at Aalborg University • Compared to students taking group exams, students taking individual exams find to a much lesser degree that their academic skills were questioned and examined • Examiners find that individual exams give much reduced possibilities for asking questions related to deeper academic understanding, and they find that the basis for assessing individual performance is better in group exams. • Both students and examiners find that a number of skills are less likely to be assessed in individual exams than in group exams. These include arguing for choices of theories and methods, discussing different solutions to problems, transferring knowledge from the study project to other contexts, engaging in dialogue and teamwork. Source: Kolmos and Holdgaard 2007
Political background • Denmark: Small, fairly homogeneous and democratic welfare state • Post-war society mainly shaped by governments led by Social Democrats • Since 1980 two long periods of Liberal-Conservative coalitions governments • Present liberal-conservative government supported by the radical right (“Danish People’s Party) • Continued commitment to generous welfare provision • Neo-liberal reforms in many areas, not least education
Political reaction and debate Strong objections to the ban from: • Educational institutions (because it limits their scope for deciding appropriate forms of study) • Student’s organisations (because it limit students’ freedom of choice) • Business organisations (because it discourages teamwork and limits employers’ freedom of choice) Debated in parliament: • Opposition parties proposed a bill prohibiting government from banning group examinations • After heated debates the bill was rejected by a narrow margin • Possibility of partly allowing group examinations not raised • No trans-national aspects raised
Political reaction and debate 2 Quotes from debate in parliament, 18 January 2008: • Minister of Education, mr. Haarder: I happen to have been around in the landscape and I have asked external examiners and new graduates: What happened when you participated or examined in the group examinations? I may have met some very special persons, but till now I have met not one who has participated in a group exam where individual grades were given. All have experienced that the same grades were given (…) Unfortunately the freedom to have group examinations have been misused to give all group members the same grad, which makes the diploma insignificant. That is what has led to government intervention. • Mr. Rasmussen, Speaker for Conservatives: We Conservatives find it important that the individual has the opportunity to express him- og herself individually in the examination situation, for example in order to prepare the individual for a possible job interview after graduation (…) Companies often look for persons who can participate in a team and here both the invididual and the workplace are better off if the person can demonstrate his or her individual skills.
Possible explanations 1:Modern individualism? Individualisation in contemporary societies: • Collective actors are gradually dissolving • Life trajectories become more individual, • Formal qualifications gain importance Government intervention as response to • Decreasing legitimacy of collective forms • Increasing demands on individual certification of educational qualifications But: Why such a specific and persistent intervention?
Possible explanations 2:Political backlash? • Institutions with project study and group examinations (especially universities in Roskilde and Aalborg) strongly associated with “68” and student movements • Contemporary neo-liberal and conservative ideology positions itself in strong opposition to these phenomena • Parallel example: Democratic governance in universities and conservative struggle against it • Government intervention as a symbolic gift to embittered traditional liberals and conservatives (including the Minister of Education) • But why are these aspects not more visible in the discourse? And do such things really have a place in modern politics?