Read interviews with students and graduates from the Master of Science programme (MSc) in Agricultural Economics:
Christian Vanggaard is doing an MSc in Agricultural Economics. Even though he won’t finish his studies until the summer, he’s already going to job interviews to find the most interesting job. Agricultural Economics graduates are highly sought after in the labour market, and there is virtually no unemployment.
“I chose to study Agricultural Economics for several reasons. Firstly, there’s a lot of freedom to specialise in the area you are passionate about. It’s also possible to take courses on other degree programmes.
For example, I have taken courses on the Economics programme. On the Agricultural Economics programme you can choose to do an internship in a company. I chose the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, which is an interest organisation, and which has given me some very valuable practical experience.
I think it’s great that it’s a small, intense degree programme with small classes, where the lecturers really engage with the students. You feel that you can influence things, and are seen and heard. There’s also room for change. If you want to change something, it’s possible to do so. There is generally a good, open dialogue, and you can get a lot of academic input on assignments and projects.
Favourite Subject and Financial Competences
My favourite subject is Industrial Organisation. You learn about competition between companies, cartels and what impact company mergers have on the market. Sometimes a representative from Danish Business Authority or a company comes and talks about the things we are learning on the course.
We’ve done projects based on theory, which we then apply to a real-life case. For example, we might look at how making many product variants impacts the market – e.g. iPhones in multiple colours.
In relation to competences, I like the fact that we acquire a wide range of financial tools that can be used in most companies. For example, I can analyse the US stock exchange and spot opportunities for trade with other countries.
I can also ‘dissect’ any Danish or foreign food company to identify their strengths and weaknesses: where they make money, where they don’t, and how they could do so.
What Is Difficult?
You do a very intensive course on economic modelling at the beginning on how to analyse large datasets. This could be data collected over a 20-year period, where you have to make a meaningful model to say something about changes in property prices in a given area in relation to wage levels. This can be difficult given the many different parameters involved. But the course provides solid background knowledge that you can build on and use later on.
I’ve already started going to job interviews, and I get the feeling that employers are really interested in agricultural economists, because we think differently to traditional economists. We are good at analysing and developing new practical solutions in grid-locked situations.
Strong Sense of Community
The study environment is really good. There are many academic associations holding Friday bars and organising inspirational academic trips. For example, there’s an economics group that regularly organises visits to the Danish Tax Authority, the Ministry of Finance and other relevant organisations to hear some good presentations, and perhaps go out for supper afterwards. Good friends and a strong sense of community have helped carry me through my studies.
I know for a certainty that I’ll get a job when I’m finished. I want to work with buying and selling. For example, as an economist in a company that buys raw materials abroad and sells them Fairtrade in Denmark.
It could also be a position that combines commodity and stock trading with budget control. I’ve also thought about working as an economic consultant in a third-world country, but that will not be my first job.
I would recommend Agricultural Economics to anyone who wants to do an economics degree programme that links theory with practical work. You gain tools and learn theories that are needed in the corporate sector – and there is virtually no unemployment. As a graduate, you can sail straight into a job with a company.
Since this interview, Christian has graduated and now works as a self-employed farmer.
When we meet Lena Mubako, she has just handed in her thesis, hoping to defend it as soon as possible, because she’s expecting a child.
I actually started my Master's in Ukraine. In the second semester of my Master's, I went on an internship to Denmark and that is how I and ended up staying in Denmark and studying at University of Copenhagen (UCPH). I didn’t want to go back and finish my Master’s in Ukraine, because the programme there wouldn’t give me the same knowledge I could gain here.
I moved to Copenhagen where I had to start from scratch. I had to take four supplementary courses. The courses were spread over a long period of time, so it took me almost two years.
Was Agricultural Economics the obvious way to go?
I knew I wanted to continue more or less in management or economics, so I chose the most interesting one.
Agricultural Economics was something new, but I found it interesting, and it just matched things, I already knew about. I specialised in International Economics and Development in particular, because I am interested in economic issues in developing countries.
How would you describe the programme?
This MSc programme is a two year programme where you take some compulsory courses but you also have elective courses where you choose subjects which are more oriented towards your interests.
For my specialisation, I chose International Economics and Development. Two of the compulsory courses are Applied Econometrics and Trade and International Cooperation. In addition to those you have a long list of courses you have to choose from.
I decided to take some courses, which are more related to business, including one which focused on EU regulations and standards, and another course which were held at Copenhagen Business School – it was an elective course where you can choose to go to one of the other faculties or you can go abroad.
Furthermore, I also did a course called Project in Practice where you can go abroad and have a very short internship. I spent four months in Zimbabwe Southern African Research and Documentation Center.
What was your thesis about?
I was investigating how increasing trade between Asia and Africa influenced the EU. My focus was one single country, Zimbabwe: how Chinese exports into Zimbabwe displace EU exports.
I was using an econometric model to do some estimates – to do quantitative analysis. I found that in the case of Zimbabwe, China has displaced EU. In manufacturing there was a huge displacement. I also wanted to include the political economy because Zimbabwe has had very chaotic political relations with the West for a decade, which is the explanation why the displacement happened. It’s very interesting.
What differs most from the your university in Ukraine?
It’s a completely different experience. In Ukraine, we focus more on memorizing things, while here you focus more on the analysis. Here you have to actually think a lot ... (laughs). And now I have kind of both – I’ve learned how to memorize things and how to analyse things.
And then of course you have group work here. In Ukraine you do everything on your own most of the time. While here most of the projects I’ve been doing during my courses, I have done in groups. So we are three or four people, we gather information, we discuss it, we decide what to write and then of course you sit down and write yourself.
How do you find being an international student in Copenhagen?
First of all everyone speaks English. You can communicate with everyone on the streets, in the shops and also here at the university.
I know that many international students are complaining about Danish people. That they are kind of closed and that it’s very difficult to get Danish friends. I can see that – but I also understand that, because if we have international students in Ukraine, it would be the same. It’s normal. You have your network already in the place where you grow up.
But during my studies I’ve met a few Danes and we are still in contact and I have become good friends with a few of them. They a very open-minded, keen to meet new people, and they have travelled a lot. I think it depends on who you meet.
Would you recommend the University to other internationals?
Definitely. It’s a great place to study, they have quite a few internationals and they have provided all the facilities for international students so they can feel comfortable here. I think Denmark and Copenhagen in particular is a good place for students. I found it … well, it’s not easy, but I can’t say it’s difficult to be an international student here.
What about accommodation?
It’s especially difficult to find accommodation in August and February. And it’s also quite expensive. People coming from Eastern Europe always complain about prices and that it’s expensive to rent an apartment.
So you need a student job. And a student job not only means money, it also provides an experience, especially if you find something that is relevant to your studies.
What kind of jobs can you get now when you have graduated?
There is actually a quite broad range of opportunities because my programme focuses quite a lot on analysing policies and solving problems. I could work both in the private and public sectors or, for instance, in international financial institutions like the EU, UN, the World Bank or OECD.
If we are talking about Denmark and the public sector here, then of course you have to speak Danish, but even if you haven’t learned Danish, there are so many international companies here dealing with agriculture and the food sector. It can also be banks. Many of the students who graduated from this programme work in consultancies which I guess is more business-oriented.
I would like to work with food security in developing countries. The UN has what they call a World Food Programme and that would be my first choice, because they deal with development and food security. Or it could be a job in an NGO.
Lena has graduated and now works as a Financial Analyst at A.P. Moller - Maersk.
Mikael Strandbygaard holds an MSc in Agricultural Economics and currently works for the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority. Mikael grew up on a farm and has always been interested in agriculture. “Agricultural Economics is a degree programme with a relatively small student intake. There’s a strong sense of togetherness, and job prospects are good,” Mikael explains.
What is your background?
After completing upper secondary school, I had a gap year. I started the bachelor’s programme in Agricultural Economics in 2005, and then did my master’s degree. I graduated in 2011. Alongside my studies, I had a student job with the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, where I worked for almost four years. After graduating, I continued to work for the Danish Agriculture and Food Council until landing a job with the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority in January 2012.
Why did you choose to study Agricultural Economics?
I grew up in the country, so I’ve always been interested in agriculture and the food sector. I was unsure, and thought about doing Mathematics-Economics or Political Science, but chose Agricultural Economics in the end because it’s a mix of economics and politics, which I found interesting. I have a cousin who studied Agricultural Economics, so I knew about the programme.
What is the focus of the programme?
It’s an economics programme, but with a more practical focus than the Economics programme. In addition to the economics element, there’s a political focus on things like the EU’s agricultural policy and development economics. The programme is aimed at the food sector in general, and there are good opportunities for choosing a master’s programme to match your interests. It’s a fairly practical programme that focuses greatly on industrial economics, and as a student you get to work on cases looking at the pressure that farmers are under, or current negotiations on the EU’s agricultural policy.
What was your thesis about?
I wrote about the relationship between changes in the prices of groceries over time and the prices of the suppliers’ products. The correlation between this and market consolidation among suppliers and retailers, where I looked specifically at Arla and Danish Crown.
What do you do in your current job?
I work at the Retail, Industry, Primary Sector and Health Division. The authority’s primary focus is to enforce competition law and ensure well-functioning markets. For example, the Danish Competition Act prohibits individual companies from misusing a dominant position on the market. So we must make sure they don’t.
The authority may also look at anti-competitive agreements, such as cartels in the building sector, which the media has written a lot about, or it may have to decide whether a merger limits effective competition in the markets.
What are your duties?
Basically to ensure well-functioning markets, in which consumers are guaranteed a broad selection of products and services without paying excessively. I spend some time processing competition cases, and some time doing major analyses of the competitive conditions in selected markets. We analyse prices and look for signs of irregularities and non-compliance with legislation. For example, we analyse the potential impacts of changing the Danish Planning Act, which determines how large retail stores may be.
Public-sector services for ministers is also a major part of my job. One thing that makes the work really interesting is the chance to influence the political agenda.
Have you felt properly equipped for the labour market?
Yes, the degree programme has been very relevant. It gives you a good understanding of the sectors I work with. The whole economics mindset is very useful when you have to understand a market.
Like the programme, my job has an international angle. We’re involved in European networks, looking at things like the EU’s agricultural policy from a competition viewpoint, as well as the relationship between the grocery chains and their suppliers.
This is interesting because the market is dominated by a small number of players with large market shares. This can make life difficult for small suppliers, which limits variety. So we seek to support initiatives to ensure that trade and competition between grocery chains and their suppliers work efficiently.
As a graduate, are there qualifications you feel you lacked?
No, I feel we’re pretty well-equipped. Partly because I had student jobs that dovetailed with the programme. Most students do, which is a really good thing. A lot of things are different in the labour market to at university. Deadlines are often tighter, and there’s less time for contemplation.
The programme in Agricultural Economics offers elective subjects in law, such as EU legislation, which can be very useful, so you are better prepared for a workplace like the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority, where legislation is major element. However, we leave the major legal issues to the lawyers. Throughout the degree programme it is also possible to do courses on other programmes, such as economics.
What is the job situation?
It’s excellent. There were around 6-7 of us in my year, and I don’t think any of my fellow students are unemployed.
What job opportunities exist?
Many are employed in the financial sector and in mortgage credit institutions. Others work for the Ministry of Environment and Food or the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs. The programme targets the public sector and domestic and international organisations, so there are many opportunities.
Would you recommend the programme to others?
Yes, definitely. If you think the mix of economics and politics is interesting, then definitely. There’s a good study environment, because the degree programme has a small intake, and everyone knows each other. The downside is that there may be years where the range of courses offered is not completely matched to your interests. But in general, it’s an advantage.
The programme works really well socially. You have practical exercises and a relatively large number of hours of classroom instruction. So, there’s a sense of togetherness – both within and between year groups.
Mikael now works at Danish Agriculture and Food Council as a Senior Consultant.
A pound of minced beef for one pound. When supermarkets make specials like that, something has had to give. It could be the profit of the supermarket, but often it is animal welfare. Many consumers know this, but that does not stop them from buying this week’s special. Agricultural Economics is about understanding such mechanisms and creating economic analysis’ which can be the basis of alternative policies on such issues.
Four wheel drives or starving children in developing countries? Dilemmas like this should not exist, but they do. Should industrialised countries produce biofuels based on crops to ensure that people can continue to drive four wheel drives or should the crop production be focused on feeding the starving children in developing countries instead?
Often economic considerations and incentives can give you the answer and these perspectives on her studies in Agricultural Economics are strong motivating factors for Juliet. But on a scientific level, Juliet is fascinated by studies in crop biotechnology:
“For instance, crop biotechnology can positively influence the production of food in the developing countries which again influence food prices on the world market", Juliet says.
Her example illustrates the complexity of a globalised world. If farmers in developing countries can produce longer crops which can produce more food, then developing countries will not have to buy food produced in industrialised countries. Naturally, the more self-sufficient developing countries can become, the lower the prices on food products will be on the world market. The economic, social and political consequences of this are significant – for the developing as well as industrialised countries.
After half a year of studies at University of Copenhagen, Juliet feels that her expectations to the programme have been meet. She finds that the research based teaching is of high quality and that the programme offers hands-on experience through excursions and real life cases.
An extraordinary feature of the university is group work in which students from all over the world collaborates on real life cases. Juliet believes that this way of solving problems result in intercultural understanding and great collaboration skills, which can be applied in your future professional career. Sure, Juliet says, group work can also be challenging, frustrating and a lot of hard work, but generally, it is a great study method.
Another great thing is the close student-professor relationship which is informal and allows students to participate in discussions with the professor.
Many International Students
Many of the students in Juliet’s classes are from countries around the world. Mostly, she is doing group work or socialising with fellow international students – but this is only natural, as all international degree students at the Faculty have met for the International Graduate Orientation programme for a whole month in August prior to semester start.
The introductory course makes it possible to make friends with other international students, get settled at the university, in Copenhagen, and in Denmark, so you get to know your way around – physically as well as in the Danish culture and language.
“I’ve experienced that, at first, Danes can seem a bit reserved, but once you get to know them, they are very nice and helpful”, Juliet says.
Juliet feels confident that the hands-on experience she gets through the Agricultural Economics programme will make it possible for her to work on a farm upon graduation, but she is also considering pursuing a PhD at University of Copenhagen.
She is still undecided, but she knows that she would definitely like to stay in Denmark.
Juliet stayed in Denmark, did a PhD in Agricultural Economics, and now works as a Project Portfolio Lead at Novozymes.