Focus on the quality of Master’s theses at Aarhus BSS

A new study shows how the study progress reform has affected the Master’s thesis process at Aarhus BSS. While the students have become better at managing the actual process, they are now less inclined to write an experimental thesis. In addition, many supervisors are experiencing increased time pressure in the spring. The results will now be used to strengthen the Master’s thesis process for both students and supervisors, says vice-dean Per Andersen.

2018.04.13 | Sinne Brandt Jakobsen

How has the study progress reform affected the Master’s thesis process and the quality of the Master’s thesis at Aarhus BSS. This question has just been answered in a recently published study carried out by the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the request of the Academic Council.

The study zoomed in on aspects such as grades, degree programme structure and the experiences of students and supervisions after the introduction of the study progress reform. The results of the study are based on responses from a total of 208 Master’s thesis supervisors across Aarhus BSS, data from the study administration as well as the students’ supervisor evaluations.

Useful results

Among other things, the study showed that while the students have generally become better at managing the process and complete their thesis, 37 per cent of the supervisors note that the quality of the Master’s theses is decreasing. However, the study also shows that student grades haven’t changed significantly after the reform, while the learning goals have remained the same. However, certain types of Master’s theses have clearly been affected by the reform as 43 per cent of the supervisors now advise their students against writing an experimental thesis due to time pressure. In addition, 24 per cent of the supervisors find that fewer students collect their own data.

According to the Vice-Dean for Education Per Andersen, the study sheds light on some of the key challenges that we need to work with from now on:

“I am really pleased that we have succeeded in creating a framework that allows the majority of students to complete their Master’s thesis on time,” he says.” I would like to applaud the supervisors, the departments and the students for enabling us to implement the ideas of the reform as rapidly and as properly as has been the case. Now we need to a way to ensure that there is room for experimental Master’s theses and independent data collection within the given framework. Among other things, we need to increase our efforts to prepare the students for the Master’s thesis during their studies, clarify the Master’s thesis process and what is expected of them, and not least, we need to find out how we can offer our students the opportunity to start working on the more experimental Master’s thesis sooner.”

The study also shows that 43 per cent of the supervisors are experiencing a greater time pressure in the spring, and we need to take figure seriously, says Per Andersen.

“Timewise, the Master’s thesis is subject to a framework and specific deadlines that we can’t really do anything about. However, we are now making sure that the Master’s theses are distributed more evenly as we have introduced procedures at the departments that allow for a broader allocation of the theses. I also hope that we can ease the pressure of the supervisors when the students become more independent in terms of the process. This should allow the supervisors to focus on the more subject-specific part of the supervision.”

What happens next?

Since the study progress reform, many degree programmes at Aarhus BSS have introduced workshops on academic writing and specific Master’s thesis days to help students get started with their thesis. In the future, Per Andersen would like to see a lot more study support activities at department level in connection with the Master’s thesis process.

“It’s important that we now engage in a systematic discussion of how each degree programme can work towards improving the process and thus affect the quality of the Master’s theses,” he says.”Here we can draw on the results of the study and from what we have already learnt at Aarhus BSS, but also at AU. I really look forward to discussing the possibilities with the directors of studies and the departments during the autumn.”

Read the entire study here. (in Danish)