Academic Differences

In this post I will account for some of the many differences between university systems around the world. I will also explain why I have chosen to return to the academic system I was born into, namely the Swedish system.

Throughout high school we always studied several subjects at the same time. I remember I couldn’t wait until it was over. I found it incredibly daunting and confusing always needing to do my homework for multiple classes twice a week. The pile of homework never ended. We had maths, English, Swedish, psychology, chemistry, criminology and communication, only to name a few, all at the same time. As you can tell, I was studying psychology and behavioural sciences. In Sweden you can choose your degree in high school already.

At university level here in Sweden, you always only study one course at a time. Every semester you take 30 credits (unless you study more than full time, but you are not allowed to take more than 45 credits per semester). Each semester is normally split into 4 parts, i.e. four smaller units, each of them spans over 4-6 weeks. This means that you focus on studying one part of that one class at a time. You take it and finish it before you start the next part. It is as simple as that. As far as I can remember, you generally do not have more than one assignment at a time to focus on, apart from the reading. Obviously this can vary depending on what programme you are studying and at what university but for most three years long theoretical bachelor’s degrees, this is the case. This does, however, not mean that the workload is not heavy, it definetely is. The workload is generally heavier at Swedish universities than at the ones in the UK, or the US (unless you choose to take over 18 credits at an American university).

The criteria to pass is also a lot higher at Sweidsh universities than Scottish – in Sweden you need 60 % to pass, while 60 % in Scotland is distinction. There you only need to score 40 to pass.

The most interesting experience I had, in temrs of academic systems, was when I was studying at the University of Sussex in Brighton. I took the first two English courses (English A and English B) through the University of Gothenburgh (in Sweden). This meant that they were mixing two university systems. This was sometimes a bit confusing as we would normally study two of the four part courses at once. Therefore we would sometimes have two exams in one week. At the most I had to take four exams in 10 days. Coming from Sweden, this is a lot. The exams at Swedish universities are four hours long while in Scotland, for example, they are between one and three hours, i.e. they are not as broad as the ones back home.

Studying in Scotland was also somewhat confusing to me as I always needed to take three modules every semester, and they were always running alongside each other. Because of the structure of the semesters, all the work always piled up around week 6 and week 12.In Scotland they have six week blocks. One semester is 12 weeks long and split into two parts, thus assignments are usually due right before or after reading week. In between you have hardly anything to do. Because of my degree – English and Journalism, I only had papers to write. So in three years, all I have done is scribbling togehter maybe 20 2500 words essays and a few articles. Don’t even ask me what I did in the remaining time.

After three years of studying like this, coming to America last fall semester was a slight shock. From week one I had one smaller (800 words) paper to hand in every week, and several tasks to complete for each one of my four classes. Over there in the US, the work never ended. It was small and simple tasks but there was always something to do. It felt as if I was back in high school. Attendence was also required. If I were to miss more than two classes, I would have been penalised. I cannot even remember when I last needed to attend school, probably back in seventh grade or something.

Having tried out four different academic systems, I have realised that the one that makes the most sense to me is my home country’s. I cannot focus on writing three different papers all at once. For example, last semester I took creative writing, journalism work experience and a law class. I thus had to switch between creative writing, journalistic writing, reflective writing and academic writing and learn the skills for each style. Obviously being able to do this is crucial and relevant for an aspiring journalist/writer, but cramming them all into 12 weeks, without much guidance from lecturers or teachers.. well, the result cannot turn out the best. It was all just a mess.

Additionally, I have studied at eight universities in total, in four different countries, and I still feel as if I haven’t learned enough academic skills to justify my five years of studying at universities. I haven’t learned to do research or any methodology. I have only touched on several bits and pieces.  In Scotland, I did not get a chance to specialise, not even in three years. I waited for the stimulation to come, but it never did so I decided to move back home to finish my bachelor in psychology. I need to finish the A level course, as well as take the B and C course before I can apply for my bachelor’s. The C level is the highest undergraduate level and in which you write your dissertation. It is usually between 10 000 and 12 000 words long and accounts for 15 credits. This needs to be an academic/research paper. I will therefore have to study methodology in the B course, to prepare for my disseration.




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