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More time for the Master's thesis at AU

In 2020, the majority of AU’s students will have an entire year to write their Master’s thesis and much better opportunities for involving an external partner in the process.

2015.04.10 | Thomas Sørensen

Aarhus University’s senior management team believes that students should have a year to write their Master’s thesis. Photo: Søren Kjeldgaard

One semester is not enough time to really immerse yourself in your subject. And there’s not enough time to partner with a business or organisation outside the university. Neither is there enough time to ensure that research is genuinely integrated into the project.

This is the position of Rector Brian Bech Nielsen and the senior management team. So to improve the academic quality of the university’s Master’s degree programmes, they intend to give many more students the option of spending two semesters working on the thesis. The goal is for 60 per cent of Master’s theses in 2020 to be worth 60 ECTS credits in 2020. IN 2014, approximately 90 per cent of all Master’s theses at Aarhus University had an ECTS credit value of 30 and were completed in one semester.

“The conditions for our students’ Master’s thesis projects aren’t good enough today. The Master’s thesis is the culmination of a course of study. This is where you demonstrate the depth of your knowledge and your ability to apply the principles of research to illuminate a specific research problem. At the same time, for many students the thesis is an excellent opportunity to work with an external partner, and in this way gain experience and build relationships to the labour market. Both students and their future employers would get a lot more out of the Master’s theses if there was more time to work on them,” says Nielsen.

Students must have more options

The rector explains that there is currently a trend towards shorter and shorter Master’s thesis projects, and that this development must be stopped if the quality of the degree programmes is to be improved.

In the senior management team’s view, six months is actually very little time to establish an external partnership and to develop and explore a research problem, when you also have to write the thesis itself and have it assessed. This is why a decision has been made to work to give more students the option of a 60-credit thesis:

“There’s no reason for the limitation that students at Arts and Aarhus BSS only have the option of doing 30-credit theses. We need to change this. And if we have to apply for a dispensation from the minister, because the legal framework doesn’t permit experiments, then that’s what we’ll do,” states Nielsen.

Today, only students in the heath sciences and natural sciences have the option of spending a year on the thesis, for example if they want to include time-consuming laboratory experiments.

Not an option for all degree programmes

Nielsen stresses that one-year Master’s theses will not always be a viable option, but that the senior management team will now begin  working with students, staff and employers to identify degree programmes where new ways of organising the thesis project can be tested:

“We encourage the university’s programmes to consider how academic quality might be improved by adding a semester to the Master’s thesis project, how external partners might be involved in thesis projects to a greater degree, and how greater use might be made of options like product theses or portfolio theses.”

Rector Nielsen emphasises that while the Master’s thesis must still be a coherent whole, a 60-credit thesis isn’t necessarily a written thesis that’s simply twice as long that has taken twice as long to write. He also emphasises that the goal is not to find a one-size-fits-all solution for all of the university’s degree programmes.

Improved project supervision

Nielsen is aware of the fact that adding a semester to the Master’s thesis process means a semester less for the other elements of the Master’s degree programme. However, he believes that students’ qualifications will ultimately be strengthened by a longer Master’s thesis process:

“Obviously, a longer Master’s thesis period will mean less classroom time in the overall Master’s degree programme. On the other hand, the significance of project supervision will change and increase in relation to before, and we’ll naturally be looking at this together with our teaching staff. At the same time, improved opportunities for students to immerse themselves in their subject and engage in external collaboration will give them new opportunities to activate their knowledge and competences. Ultimately, this will improve quality, and it will better prepare the students for the labour market, which demands independence and cooperation skills at a high level.”


  • In 2014, 92 per cent of all theses at AU were worth 30 ECTS credits, while approximately three per cent were 60-credit theses.
  • In 2014, all theses at Arts and Aarhus BSS were 30-credit theses.
Education, All groups, Degree programmes, Rector’s Office, Policy and strategy, External target group