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Increased focus on AAU students'

Increased focus on AAU students' "employability" – Interview with career counsellor Christian Friis-Nielsen

At AAU there is an increased focus on international students' ”employability”. In this article career counsellor Christian Friis-Nielsen points out how international students through their time at AAU can become more “employable” by participating in the Integrated Career Course and by learning to manage problem based learning (PBL).

How has AAU prioritized its strategic effort in connection with the Integrated Career Course?

The Strategic Council for Education at AAU has set aside funds to improve so-called “employability”. At AAU Career, we are collaborating with several study programmes to make the students more employable. It is a relatively broad term because it is obviously very individual and differentiated what the companies are searching for – and likewise it is also individual and differentiated what the students are looking for and how they define themselves professionally.

What we can do for the students is to support reflection in order to ensure that the students make decisions about their careers on a reflective and informed basis. We give each student tools that help him or her reflect on and define their competencies. This creates graduates who are capable of putting their own competencies into different contexts where various actors are present – the students become more “employable”.

We are so lucky at AAU that problem based learning is our framework because it creates interaction with the surrounding world when PBL is practiced. It creates a variety of compelling skills: The student can seek and confine problems in order to identify tasks clearly; the student can work project-oriented and with problems that have real value outside the “walls” of AAU – hence AAU’s motto “Make it real”; the student learns to navigate in situations where an answer or a way of thinking or acting is not given; and the student learns to cooperate with companies, and to work in groups.

In your assessment, what do you think the international students need?

First and foremost, there is a cultural understanding that helps make the study life easier for the international students. For example, it is important in Denmark that there is a high degree of what the Danes call “freedom under responsibility”. The international students need to be very aware of this – especially during project periods where a high degree of independent work is expected. This is also reflected in the work life in Denmark.

Everyone has equal opportunities but not everyone can use the opportunities there are – it demands knowledge about the way things work. PBL is one element in the freedom because while PBL creates opportunities, it also sets forth demands towards the students’ responsibility for their own learning and ability to cooperate, and if you come from a university that does not use PBL as a learning method, you have to train in the “art” of PBL. When the training has given insights into PBL as a way of learning, the students will have a compelling and strong tool on their hands – also after graduation. Our experience shows that especially the first semester can be difficult for the student but as the expectations of PBL become clearer, the students evolve and dare to join group discussions which demand both compromise and honesty. This is something that we talk about at the Integrated Career Course.

What expectations do the internationals students have to their study programme in Denmark?

I think that their expectations to the study in Denmark are very individual. In general, it seems that a large part of the students has chosen the University of Aalborg consciously because of the PBL model, and this creates a positive approach to their study. When we ask the students during the welcome days, we see that most student wants a study job and are intending to learn Danish during their stay in Denmark.

What works?

If we ask the companies about what it takes to create a successful job match, they emphasize the ability to speak/understand Danish and cultural understanding as extremely important. There are, of course, also large international companies in Denmark where the student will have an easier time adjusting if he or she does not speak Danish but the chances increase if the student speak or write Danish at a certain level. It is important that we help the students to get in contact with the companies through e.g. project collaboration and project-oriented courses (internships) where they will gain experience at Danish companies in order to increase knowledge and understanding about Danish company culture, and also to strengthen their network.

How can the international alumni from AAU help future AAU graduates?

Sign up as mentors where you can help our international student on their way towards their future careers. Also, whether you are alumni working in Denmark or abroad, you can help by creating visibility and focus around talented AAU candidates during recruitment processes. The student from AAU know the PBL principles – your companies will therefore get candidates who can “Make it real!”