In March it was decided that the admission of new students to the two Master’s programmes at Umeå School of Architecture, UMA, will be cancelled in the Autumn term 2016. – The situation at UMA is embarrassing for the Swedish educational system, a student says.

In an email 7 March, addressed to the students at the Master’s programmes at Umeå School of Architecture, UMA, rector Ana Betancour and Lennart Nilsson, Deputy Head of Department, explained that the decision to cancel the admission of new students is based on the fact that too few students complete and finish the Architecture programme at UMA.
– This initiative is part of the continuous improvement work at the school and the university to ensure the quality of the education, s­trengthen the five-year programme in Architecture and increasing the number of students who choose to complete all five years, they write.
They also stress that the decision will not affect students who are currently studying in the Master’s programmes, or are currently enrolled as students of the Architecture program.

Vertex has been in contact with former and current students that are highly critical of how the issue has been handled. In the Spring term 2015 students repeatedly expressed their concern about the future of the Master’s programmes, for example in an email to Vice-Dean Staffan Andersson. They asked twelve questions and explained that the uncertainties and rumours were affecting their study process and negatively influencing the quality of their education.
”We only want our education to be stable and secure. Since the appointment of our new rector, those needs have not been met and we worry that our Master’s programmes are being destabilised without good cause”, the students wrote.
That was in May 2015.

One of the students describes in an email to Vertex a situation where many of the teachers were absent on sick leave. A chaotical situation emerged in the beginning of this year, with newly hired teachers that run all studios and programmes. The student also says that several students have contacted the Student Health Service at Umeå University because of health problems due to anxiety, that they have felt discriminated and that some have contacted UKÄ, The Swedish Higher Education Authority, to report discriminating and unfair institutional violence and to ask for help.
– What is happening at UMA is disrespectful to the students, the student says to Vertex.

The student thinks that the situation at the Master’s programmes have been discriminating especially for the international students.
– It is embarrassing for the Swedish educational system. Undoubtedly, this is not how an environment addressed to students should be. The core ideas that made our courses and the school unique have been distorted.

Piotr Paczkowski, former student at the LiAi Master Programme at UMA, reacted strongly against the email where rector Ana Betancour and Lennart Nilsson announced that the admission to the Master’s programmes will be cancelled. In a reply he explains that he chose UMA because of its unique profile in sustainability ”and felt the utmost happiness and excitement when beginning my course in September 2014”.
But soon things got worse and students experienced a gradual decay of the education, mainly because of the faculty’s inability to employ adequate teachers in due time, according to Piotr Paczkowski.

Then, 7 March 2016, came the news that the admission to the programmes would be cancelled.
– You have finally accomplished from what we had warned: you have completely ruined the MA programmes at UMA, Piotr Paczkowski writes in his response to Ana Betancour and Lennart Nilsson.
He also says that he thinks that this could have been avoided if they had listened to the interested parties back in due time.
– I have never before seen a crisis so long and severe and it is really striking that it is happening in Sweden. People who have experience from other countries and schools seem to notice such things early and many of them left and will not recommend UMA to anyone any time soon, which obviously translates to the outflow of students.

Ana Betancour says to Vertex that there were ”serious signals” from the students at UMA that the situation was problematic before she began as rector in January 2015. For example, she refers to a survey among the students made in the spring term 2014. The survey showed, for instance, that a majority (80 percent) of the first-year students of one of the Master’s programmes thought that the foresight from school when it came to different types of assignments was so short that they had to work weekends and evenings to pass their studies.

The issues now raised by the critical students concerns a complex and difficult situation that they have had at in the school during a long period of time, according to Ana Betancour.
– We are now in a process of development, where the cancellation of the admissions to the Master’s programmes for this autumn are a part of this process, aiming to improve the education at UMA, as well as the working environment for all the students and members of staff.
Other examples of this process are recurring meetings with all the students from each year in the school.
– And we are working towards having student representatives in the different parts of the school – all the committees and councils that take part in the planning of the education, says Ana Betancour.

Piotr Paczkowski has written a complaint to UKÄ, The Swedish Higher Education Authority, about the situtation at UMA. His opinion is that the university goes on with the line about ”necessary development”, but forgets to answer a number of valid questions.
– All the chaotic manouvers will not change the fact that the Master’s programmes are gone, that anxiety among students and teachers translated into health problems and that UMA is drifting into some obscure future. It is not comforting to observe that until now, no institution has succeeded in stopping that damage, Piotr Paczkowski says.

Bertil Janson

Read more about UMA in Vertex # 4-2016.