A brief history about RUC

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In June, RUC hosted an international conference for critical universities. This text was part of the introduction to RUC given to the international guests, but it’s also a good way for current students of RUC to learn about the past of the university. 

A picture from the early days at Roskilde University. Students cram into the lecture hall, which is way above capacity. Foto: RUBibliotek.

A picture from the early days at Roskilde University. Students cram into the lecture hall, which is way above capacity. Foto: RUBibliotek Archives.

Written by Adrian Ortega Camara Lind, student at History and Philosophy and Science Studies at Roskilde University

This text is a short historical introduction to the history of Roskilde University that was originally published in connection with the international Critical Edge Alliance conference held at RUC on the 22nd to 24th of June 2016. The conference explored the theme: Innovative and Critical Approaches to Higher Education in the 21st Century, and was the first of its kind.

It was originally published to give the international guests at the conference an overview about the history of our University, but we think that that text deserves to be shared among current students (Internationals as well as Danish students) as well, since it gives an important look into the roots of our university. So without further introduction, here it is.

Humble beginnings

Roskilde University Center was created 43 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.

For the first 16 years, RUC was quite isolated with no train station. Even after the station came, the students had to make their own paths through the fields to get to the university. Foto: RUBibliotek Archives.

For the first 16 years, RUC was quite isolated with no train station. Even after the station came, the students had to make their own paths through the fields to get to the university. Foto: RUBibliotek Archives.

Here at RUC, teachers and students are closely associated – the students themselves conduct research 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.

A rebellious tradition

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.

RUC has a long history as a left-wing and very critical university - ideas closely associated with the Danish student uprising of 1968. Foto:

RUC has a long history as a left-wing and very critical university – ideas closely associated with the Danish student uprising of 1968. Foto: RUBibliotek Archives.

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.

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.

A global alliance

Critical Edge Alliance is a newly formed alliance between universities worldwide that define themselves as being critical in regards to their approach to knowledge, education and society itself – as opposed to the traditional universities. From it’s very humble beginning, RUC has been comitted to these ideals, so it was natural for the university to host the first Critical Edge Alliance conference.

At the conference, this alliance of universities was formally constituted around a set of principles based on ideals of studentcentered approach to learning, critical thinking, inderdisciplinary education as well as research and involvement in society.

You can read more about the alliance here: Critical Edge Alliance

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