Field mission #9 – Final visit: the Aarhus Summer University, a window on the world

In July, the last flagship initiative of the Strategic Partnership InnovEd4TS was hosted virtually at Aarhus University.

Invited experts from four Circle U. universities and the University of Lisbon were introduced to the Summer University and participated in one of its courses. The Aarhus Summer University is a university-wide and attractive initiative which celebrated its 10 years of existence in 2019. Every summer, it gathers around 2,700 students from 70 nationalities.

The Summer University is a flagship initiative that involves a wide variety of disciplines. Between 2011 and now, the number of students involved has doubled. All courses are credited to encourage students to participate. The Aarhus Summer University team is anchored in the International Office, where it involves three full-time staff who handle all the administration and arrange the accommodation for students and staff. The Aarhus Summer University is a strategic initiative, coordinated by a committee composed of representatives from the five faculties and members of the International Office. In 2021, the Summer University had approximately 2,700 participants enrolled in 59 online courses and in 24 on-campus courses. The courses covered all academic fields and lasted 2-3 weeks. Students could obtain from 5 to 10 ECTS for a course.

Transferable Skills developed in the Aarhus Summer University

Intercultural understanding is the knowledge and understanding of intercultural interactions and sociocultural difference by individuals or groups within a society.    It involves knowledge about one’s own culture, other cultures, and the similarities and differences between cultures.

Global citizenship is considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values and situations, promoting wellbeing not only of the self but also contributing to the welfare of others.

A centralised initiative, at the heart of the international strategy of Aarhus University

“Before 2010, the Summer University at Aarhus University - AU was decentralized. Departments had their own programmes”, explains Rikke Nielsen, International Director and administrative head of the Summer University. “After 2010, it became part of Aarhus internationalisation Strategy and a central organization was set up, with a budget and a dedicated administration. AU Summer University is highly prioritized by the top management”.

Meeting the increasing demand for short-term programmes

This initiative is designed to meet the demand for short programmes, which have become increasingly popular. They are intended to attract international students who do not wish to spend a whole semester or year abroad. Aarhus University "uses the summer school as a branding platform to attract potential students and foster new cooperations with international professors", explains Rikke Nielsen. 25% of the students participating in the summer school are international students.

One of the main features of the programme is that all courses leads to ECTS. Students and teachers are accompanied by an accommodation service. They are invited to participate in additional social and cultural activities.

The Summer University is also very attractive for Danish students. Some of them try to lighten their workload for the coming semester, as they usually go abroad or do internships. They also participate to gain cultural and social experiences. For them, Summer University courses are unique opportunities to learn about special topics, as those courses are not normally offered during the year.

Intercultural understanding at the heart of the initiative

To facilitate students interaction, especially between Danish and international students, Danish student “helpers” (or mentors) are hired, whose mission is to interact with the international students.

In order to broaden its outreach and attract students from all over the world, Aarhus University collaborates with DANIDA, Denmark's development cooperation, which is an area of activity under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. DANIDA funds tuition fees for some students.

Invited students highlighted the strong added value of the Summer University in terms of intercultural skills: “it is interesting that we have different internationalities in the courses, that we can talk about problems with people across borders and with various educational backgrounds”, said one of them. In Cathrin Helen Bengesser's English-language course "Serial(ized) crime on TV across Europe", students study series from an international and intercultural perspective. "The fact that it is an English-speaking course exposes me to other cultures and other universities. For someone who is planning to move and study abroad, it kind of gave me the opportunity to see how other people see the world, how other institutions see the world. That socio-cultural aspect is very important”.

Covid though challenged the interactions between students: “When I learned that we were going to be with international students, I wished it would have been face to face, so that we could also meet after the class. It would be easier to form friendships with people from across borders if you got to meet them in person”, explained a Danish student in the visit. 

Different approach to teaching

The courses offered over the summer differ from those offered during the year. The focus is put on the way the courses are delivered and on the interaction between students and professors.

In her course, Catrin Bengesser pays great attention to the methodology and the pedagogy. The methodology of this course emphasises group work and interaction between students. Students are assessed collectively. Even at a distance, the tools serve the methodology: thanks to the Wonder platform, a virtual space where people can meet and talk, students meet in virtual rooms and move from one virtual room to another to exchange ideas. 

Students emphasised the original atmosphere, which is different from that of a normal course, and more conducive to exchange and self-reflection: "When you take a subject in three weeks, it is more intensive, and very different from the other things we do. The atmosphere is warm. Even though it's an intensive subject, the atmosphere is more relaxed”, emphasized one of the students. 

Aarhus Summer University in the future

The Aarhus Summer University flagship programme is evaluated every year. The leaders of the initiative expect to increase the number of students and the number of courses offered. They foresee more courses to be co-developed with international partners. Circle U. offers a very good opportunity to follow this path.

Leaders of the Aarhus Summer University

Rikke Nielsen is the International Director at Aarhus University. She is responsible for the international office including services for incoming and outgoing students, administration of mobility programmes, housing for incoming students, institutional partnerships, AU Summer University, international recruitment and retention activities. Rikke is also in charge of administrative services to the senior management and the collaboration with governmental bodies.

Cathrin Helen Bengesser teaches the Summer School class Serial(ized) crime on TV across Europe ( She works as an Assistant Professor for Digital Media Industries at Aarhus University’s Department for Media and Journalism Studies. The Summer University course on Serial(-ized) Crime on TV is based on her audience and industry research and European collaboration in the Horizon2020 project DETECt ( Cathrin came to Denmark in 2019 from London, where she completed her doctorate. She also studied in France and her native Germany. Her first-hand experience of navigating different European university systems as researcher, teacher and learner makes facilitating intercultural communication in the classroom a natural focus in her teaching practice.

Other participants from Aarhus University

Students from different background and countries participating in the visit: Blaise Moten-Mills, Nadia Vestergaard Andersen, Maria Brøgger Christiensen, Rasmus Nielsen and Lucas Medaer.

Peer experts Panel

Paula Guimarães is an assistant professor at the Instituto de Educação, Universidade de Lisboa since 2012 where she teaches on adult education, local development and community intervention, training in work contexts and social economy and education. She has been a researcher at the Unit for Adult Education of the University of Minho (Portugal). She is a member of several national and international research project teams on adult education. She is coordinator for Portugal of the project INTALL – International and Comparative Studies for Students and Practitioners on Adult and Lifelong Learning.

Sabrina Courtois is a teaching and research assistant in Corporate social responsibility and Sustainable Development at the Louvain School of Management of the Université catholique de Louvain. She coordinates and organises online and offline educational activities including field projects with stakeholders (e.g. “B Corp Live Experience”). She has actively participated in the “SDGs4U”, an unprecedented European cooperation between three NGOs and four major European Universities committed to the SDGs.

Guri Vestad is a Project Leader/Special Adviser in Internationalisation at the University of Oslo. During several years of management and as special adviser in internationalisation in a large, comprehensive public university, she has acquired skills in advocacy towards leaders and external decision makers to put internationalisation on the agenda; working with student organisations and representatives; developing internationalisation strategies and action plans.

Thomas Touzet is Internationalisation Projects Officer at Université de Paris. After studies in International Relations with a focus on Latin America at Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (SciencesPo) and several professional experiences in Embassies, international organisations and university networks (Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie) he joined Université de Paris in February 2021.

Wolfgang Deicke is a social scientist by background. He is currently the lead of the bologna.lab, Humboldt-Universität’s laboratory for innovative teaching and learning. Before coming to Humboldt-Universität in 2012, he variedly taught sociology, politics and the history of European thought and society at the (now) University of Northampton, School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Ruskin College, Oxford.

Published Sep. 23, 2021 1:50 PM - Last modified Oct. 4, 2021 8:54 AM