Popular international health-based master’s

Last Monday, the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences inaugurated its first almost entirely digital master’s programme. The response has been enormous, with students participating from all over the world.

There was a ceremonial atmosphere in the virtual lecture theatre on Monday, when the rector, dean and academic staff welcomed students to MARE, the Master’s in Healthy Ageing and Rehabilitation.

A total of 29 students, spread across 15 countries and 3 continents, have registered, and the teaching will be in English.

First distance learning master’s

Hanne Tuntland, Head of Section for Interdisciplinary Masters and Continuing and Further Education was the driving force behind the study programme, and she is delighted that it has finally come to fruition

“As far as we know, this is the first distance learning master’s degree at HVL, and is the result of a major development project that has been ongoing for three years. We originally planned to start with a 14 day on-campus meet-up in Bergen, but we had to think differently because of COVID-19, and were in a good position to make the inauguration fully digital”, said Tuntland, emphasising that the study is important in a number of ways.

“It is one of the University’s goals to achieve better internationalisation, and we are helping to pave the way for that work. We are also taking up the national and international challenges set by organisations such as the WHO, on prioritising the health of older people in the years ahead.

Unique interdisciplinary learning

The admissions requirement is a relevant bachelor’s degree in health or social studies. The aim was to recruit at least 20 students, but there proved to be more interest than expected. Of the 29 participants enrolled at the start of the course, around a third come from Norway, but there were also students logged on from Zimbabwe, India, Germany, Bangladesh, Uganda, Greece, the Philippines, Nigeria, Finland, Pakistan, Nepal, Northern Ireland, Ghana and Malaysia.

“In the invitation, we said we were looking for candidates from the disciplines we teach at HVL, but the applications we received were more varied, with some from more experienced students. In all, a total of 12 different professions are represented: physiotherapy, nursing, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, social education, ergotherapy and nutrition, as well as candidates with bachelor’s degrees in public health, community-based rehabilitation and science in exercise and health and human biology”, Tuntland explains.

She thinks that it is a major advantage to have such diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Experience-sharing across national borders

“We are delighted to have such a broad range of students. The students will work in groups and compare how things work in different countries and institutions. It will be interesting to learn about these differences. The teachers will also learn a great deal, and the students will benefit from a learning experience that they would not get elsewhere”.

We have to recognise diversity

Associate Professor Djenana Jalovcic agrees. She is the programme coordinator for MARE, is based in Canada and has many years of experience with international projects. On Tuesday she had her first sessions with the students.

“The first day is always unpredictable. The most important thing is to create a good atmosphere, show that we care, and create an arena for cooperation. The feedback so far has been excellent”, said Jalovcic.

Rehabilitation for older people – a global need

She is grateful for the opportunity to work with such dedicated students. The aim is to be able to give them the tools they need to develop good programmes for rehabilitation and active ageing in their own communities, with the resources they have available to them.

“This is a very specific subject. There are not all that many opportunities to study it, and these are people who are really interested. We hope to provide a broad spectrum of perspectives on how we can best help older people, from a variety of standpoints and contexts. We have a tendency to categorise older people as a monolithic group, but we need to recognise the diverse nature and uniqueness of every individual, while also taking into account social, sociopolitical and financial conditions”, explains Jalovcic.