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Problem-solvers to the Rescue

Problem-solving is the core competence of the Department’s graduates. We educate leaders that can act responsibly in a time of change, writes the new Head of Department in this description of his ambition for developing the Department into a truly global ideas institution.

At the Department of Political Science in Copenhagen you learn how to solve problems. We educate problem-solvers and perhaps that is why an increasing number of the Department’s graduates become leaders of large public and private organisations. In a world of rapid change organisations have an increasing number of problems to solve, but organisations often become problems in and of themselves. People who thrive when faced with the problems because they are confident that they have the skills to deal with them do well in such a world. Especially if they understand the interconnected and international nature of the problems which Western societies in general and Denmark in particular face.

A World-Class Department
The Department has gone from being one of three Danish Political Science and IR departments to become the number eight department in Europe (QS World University Rankings, 2015). A recent research evaluation states that ”the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen provides … one of the best research environments in Europe for the conduct of leading edge research of international quality in all aspects of political science and international relations”. We should pause to, first, congratulate ourselves for that achievement and having done so. We should then reflect on the qualities of the Department which has been the conditions for this success.

These assessments reflect the fact that the research staff have increased their output and impact, and that the cand.scient.pol degree has been supplemented by a new Master program in Security Risk Management as well as a number of specialisations. We have thus worked systematically to develop a pluralistic research environment on the basis of expanding and internationalising an already strong research environment. This is also true in terms of recognised international impact.

By its very success the Department has outgrown a number of the norms, procedures and structures that defined the Department 15 years ago. The strategic challenge for the Department is to design a framework which will enable the development of the Department into a truly global ideas institution.

Setting Trends in a Post-Liberal World
One can become a top ten department by following trends, but one cannot remain a top ten department without setting trends. We cannot exclusively define success in terms of how influential or well-paid our alumni are, the number of publications published by faculty and other of the metrics of academic success. This does not mean that these measurements are unimportant, far from it, but while they measure whether we met standards, they cannot say whether we set standards. Our challenge will thus be to keep a high standard at the same time as we focus on how to address the big societal issues that faces Western societies in general and Denmark in particular.

Political science has to a large extent been the science of the particular version of liberal democracy that came into its own in Western Europe and the United States following the Second World War. This model of democracy is increasingly under pressure as its geopolitical and socio-economic foundations are being eroded. Brexit as well as the rise of Trumpism in the United States and Putinism in Europe is in their very different ways examples of a challenge to an international order based on institutions which presupposed their members where liberal democracies set on integrating into an ever closer union, to borrow a phrase from the EU. These institutions are not only challenged from within, but also from  the outside as China and a number of other rising powers challenge the United States. This challenge is also a socio-economic one. As the US National Intelligence Council noted in 2008 “rather than emulating Western models of political and economic development, more countries may be attracted to China’s alternative development model.” These developments are closely associated to the rise of new technologies which will fundamentally change the organisation of production and social relations in the years to come.

In the future, political science will need to be able to analyse competing models of democracy and models of economic growth. This understanding is of great value to Danish society because learning from different models on how to cope with social and technological change is the precondition for liberty and welfare in the twenty-first century. The Department must translate Danish experiences to the outside world and translate international experiences to a Danish context. This translation is internationalisation in its most genuine form.

Students Surfing Trends
The Department can continue to have a great societal impact by publishing research and contributing to the public debate. We must engage with these issues in a more concerted manner. In the end, however, our greatest contribution will be in producing graduates that know how to navigate change. Research and education have to be considered inseparable and mutual inspiring activities. Students will be integrated in research activities from their first semester and onwards in various degrees and forms with a clear progression from year to year. This means to focus on society and its problems. It also means that one must recognise that these problems are defined by technology, social developments and other issues that calls for a multi-facetted approach. The Department’s pluralistic research community will be a real asset in engaging with this type of issues. The aspiration is that diversity in the forms of knowledge is a condition of possibility for innovation, new ideas and knowledge in both research and education. Academic social responsibility will be a hallmark of the Department’s graduates.

One of the great benefits of studying political science in Copenhagen is that ministries and corporate headquarters are only a short bike-ride from campus. We should make much better use of the fact that many of our students get a hands on experience with the practice of public and private governance at the same time as they attend classes at CSS. Teaching should reflect those experiences and give students specific competences on how write effective memos and produce the killer slide that will convince decision-makers. This concrete experience will make a great foundation for reflecting on democratic norms and values as standards for their future work. At a time when democracy and the norms of fact-based public decision-making is challenged, this ability to reflect on what constitutes good and fair decisions and the ability to distinguish between inspirational leadership and demagogy is perhaps the single most important thing students can learn.