Just Say "No" to Copenhagen

by Kapil Kale | 10/19/04 5:00am

The sociology department's exchange program to Copenhagen is a waste of money and in need of thorough review. Every year, a dozen or so students are selected to study at the University of Copenhagen in the Fall term. Currently on the program, I have realized that the exchange agreement with the University of Copenhagen was negotiated without the interests of full-time Dartmouth students in mind. The program isn't a "scam" per se, but when it comes to tracking our tuition money, few other words come to mind.

The major flaw in the program lies in tuition fees. Dartmouth students pay full Dartmouth tuition for a term of study and Copenhagen students pay full tuition to the University of Copenhagen. In turn, each of the colleges uses domestic tuition money to fund an exchange student's study. This would seem fair in most cases, but Dartmouth students pay almost $30,000 in tuition, whereas Danes pay nothing because college education is free for residents of Denmark. Indeed, Danes do pay copious taxes for their free educations, but actual tuition costs at the University amount to perhaps $500 to $1,000 a class for guest students, far less than it costs to attend the program through Dartmouth. One of the students attending actually dropped out of the Dartmouth program and just paid tuition directly to the University of Copenhagen; she received everything the rest of us get but pays thousands of dollars less. Is this a fair exchange agreement?

The Office of Off-Campus Programs claims one of the benefits of the program is guaranteed housing. Indeed, we all have housing, but one of the dorms has no internet and at times no hot water. Upon asking about the history of that building (which we call "the Slum"), students found that it is a converted mental institution. The other dorm, although new and stocked with Ikea furniture, has a shaky DSL connection and is poorly managed. No one knows who is in charge of the building. A few nights ago, with no conflagration anywhere, the fire alarm went off at midnight; after calling the police department, the fire department, and the supposed managers of the building, we realized absolutely no one knew how to turn off the alarm. Instead, we had to use dinner knives to destroy each individual alarm in the dorm so we could sleep. The building alarm didn't turn off until 11:30 the next morning.

Since internet access is tenuous, one would expect that there would be computers we could use at the actual campus buildings. Actually, the Political Science Institute here has a total of maybe eight computers for use. To do course reading, one needs to borrow the single copy of the book in the library and photocopy it. Since there is generally only one copy of the book per class, there is usually a line at the library for photocopying. It doesn't make it easier that the Political Science library is only open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. Since we are only allowed to take books out for a maximum of one hour, in the end it usually takes students more time to wait in line and photocopy the readings than it does to actually read the material itself.

Furthermore, the extremely disorganized departments here did not release final course listings until late August. The brochure said classes would start on Sept. 1. As a result, many students took their summer term exams early in order to arrive in Denmark on time. After we arrived, though, we found that classes did not actually start until a week later. Several people arrived at the airport with no residence in which to live. Only once we had arrived did we realize that we would have to find lodging and live in hostels until they opened the residence halls.

Final exam schedules had to be completely revised at the University to accommodate the structure of the Dartmouth academic year. Students had to deal with much hassle for transfer credit and examination schedules. Two students enrolled in a finance theory class for which they were told there were no prerequisites; almost a month into the term, it turned out that the class uses an extensive amount of linear algebra and calculus with multivariable equations in which they have no knowledge or experience.

After all of this, why is this program still in place? I'll admit, living and studying in Europe is an experience by itself and Copenhagen is a fun city. However, this is all beside the point; paying full Dartmouth tuition when we could be paying much less is a terrible idea. Copenhagen is indeed a good place to study social sciences, but there are many much cheaper and easier alternatives than applying through Dartmouth.

Unless there is any serious revision of the program, I urge students who are considering applying to this program to apply directly to the University of Copenhagen instead. Guest students, as they're called, receive the same privileges (sometimes even more because more classes are available) for a tiny fraction of the cost. The Keble College exchange may be run in a similar manner, but tuition at Oxford is comparable to tuition at Dartmouth and students receive the prestige of attending perhaps the foremost university in Europe. Students at Copenhagen need to see their tuition money in action -- the sociology department and the Office of Off-Campus Programs aren't doing that.

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