A few years ago I had a couple of beers with two friends from university celebrating our last exam in history of anthropology. More than half a year ago I decided to apply for funding for an idea we came up with that night; funding that I received almost exactly half a year ago from this day. Three months ago the project was in reality done and finished and finally a few days ago I went back to Copenhagen for a day: I had to present the project at a conference about the strategy for Copenhagen University from 2012 to 2016.
This is not the story of the idea and the following project though it could probably be an interesting journey from a enthusiastic evening to a conference building two years later. Instead this is my view of the conference in Copenhagen and at the same time an example of how a workshop at Knowmads affected me – in this case Organization 3.0 by Edwin Van de Bree.
One year ago Copenhagen University decided they had for too long only spent their money on research and now wanted to change their ways of educating and education at Copenhagen University itself. Their way of doing this was to arrange a couple of conferences or innovationlabs as they called it for both students, teachers and researchers etc. Basically this involved everyone at the university who was interested in this subject. Based on these conferences a lot of ideas came up and some projects were developed and to actually make these projects become reality Copenhagen University created a one-year fond with a couple of million euros. This is where I got my funding.
At this conference a few days ago the intention was to present all the projects that were funded in order to have them as inspiration for the strategy for the university which main theme is developing education. The set-up was well done with a few threats to make it worthwhile for guests, short presentations to develop interest and discussions and some creative stickers to recommend and give advice or input to projects. There was however one major problem with all this – the people that came up with the idea, chose the projects and facilitated all these conferences are not the people with the actual power.
Instead of the projects now becoming a regular part of the educational elements and possibilities all over Copenhagen University they will mostly disappear again. And thus in a couple of years they can do it all over again. Even my project aimed at creating a greater sense of community-feeling connected to the specific study will probably not be repeated and this despite the fact that it was a big success according to the following questionnaire. According to the people with the decisive power the main reason for this is money – nowhere in the regular budgets of Copenhagen University is there a possibility to spend let us say 10.000 euros.
Normally I would be satisfied with this as the one and only explanation since it is clearly the truth, but thinking back to what I learned from Organization 3.0 it is probably only one truth. Another truth could be that Copenhagen University over the last couple of years has turned into one of the most centralized organizations I know of. One consequence of this is a huge bureaucracy and the death of a ton of ideas because they never find their way to the top where financial decisions are made. Most finances are administrated by a couple of faculties and the rest by the central administration of Copenhagen University. And I see the reason for this as a widespread mistrust among different parts of the organization – every unit is simply held as tight as possible because they would otherwise spend too much money. That also means that there is neither any freedom or responsibility and it all turns into an unhealthy circle of mistrust, trying to navigate around the mistrust and thus proving untrustworthy.
Thus the gigantic bureaucratic elephant that is Copenhagen University tries to jump but will probably just hit the ground again a few millions poorer.