Studies at Uni Mannheim – my courses

To get studies abroad included in the master’s degree, Aalto University expects the exchange students to take courses worth of 24 ETC:s. I mentioned earlier that I chose Uni Mannheim partly because of their course selection. Here, I try to touch on everything related to the courses, from registration to grade composition.

Uni Mannheim provides courses in the faculties of business administration, social sciences, humanities, economics, law as well as business informatics and mathematics. Not all of the courses welcome exchange students: for example, some core modules are restricted to program students only. Another catch is that you have to select half of the courses from the department you were admitted in (business administration in my case). Any deviation from this will have to be approved separately, as I did, because I was not sure how the Summer Academy would affect the calculations. I was allowed to take two business administration courses and two economics courses in addition to the the language course.

There are three types of courses: lectures with or without exercise sessions, seminars and intensive seminars. Seminars are supposed to be more interactive and participatory than the more traditional “lecturer teaches” lectures. Intensive seminars are courses completed in only a few but long days. The fourth type of courses would be language courses, but they are organised by a distinct body, so they have their own protocols.

I actually ended up with all the courses I had written down to my learning agreement before the final course selection even was available. This is not self-evident since there are a limited number of seats in some of the courses, and the admission depends on the priority you have given the course in the registration form as well as other features (study program, progress in studies, prerequisites…) that the algorithm takes into account when allocating the seats. As an exchange student, I could not register for master’s economics seminars but had to send emails instead. Then again, there were mass lectures that did not require registration at all. In this jungle, I managed to secure my seat in Behavioural perspectives on e-business, Digital marketing strategy, Experimental public choice and History of modern economicsAll these courses are taught in English. I stressed most about getting to the economics seminars, but there are so few students doing their master’s degree in economics in Uni Mannheim that I probably worried for nothing. 

Another special quirk in the course system here is that the course registration does not include exam registration. While some of the courses do not require registration at all, one has to register to the exams even on the courses without an exam. A course is graded only if this second registration is done.

Finally to the courses I selected.

Behavioural perspectives on e-business, 4 ETC

This lecture organised by the department of Information systems examines the adoption and use of technologies and human behaviour related to e-businesses. The lectures are traditional in that apart from occasional in-class group exercises and somewhat fruitless attempts to engage students in discussion, the lecturer mostly reads through his slides. There is one 90-minute class a week. Since the slides are comprehensive and the lectures do not provide that much added value, I have not felt remorse in skipping quite a few classes. The course will be fully graded based on a 60-minute written exam.

Digital marketing strategy, 4 ETC

This marketing course is also classified as a lecture, but is far more interactive than the former. A big part of the course is going through case studies in groups and presenting particular questions allocated to the groups in front of the class. In the beginning of the lectures, there are often mobile quizzes about the content of the previous lecture. Participation is encouraged by giving chocolate for answering questions. There are also a couple of guest lecturers to spice up the classes. As before, the classes are 90 minutes once a week, but these ones should not be skipped, since not all of the important discussion is written down to the slides. 40% of the grade comes from the case pitch and 60% from a 60-minute written exam. A special feature of the course is that the compulsory case material costs 10 euros (because of license fees).

Experimental public choice, 5 ETC

Experimental public choice is a small scale economics seminar that has very few attendees, very few meetings and a lot of independent work. Basically, the 10 or so attendees are allocated each a topic in the area of political behaviour and experimental economics. There are four tasks that compose the final grade: writing summaries of two assigned papers, conducting independent research and writing a 10-page literature review based on that, presenting one of the papers to the class and finally, preparing questions of one other student’s paper and participating to the discussion. Needless to say, attendance on the few meetings is compulsory.

History of modern economics, 5 ETC

This economics seminar is similar to the previous one, but the topic is different. Students participating to the seminar prepare a 30-minute presentation and write a 10-page term paper of an economics Nobel laureate. Once again, the presentation, discussion activity and the term paper form the final grade, and attendance is compulsory.

Summer Academy, 6 ETC

Summer Academy is an intensive language and culture course that takes place in August, before the start of the other courses (and a Winter Academy in January, respectively). I discuss the pros and cons of the pricey course in an earlier blog post.

I am quite pleased with the selection and amount of courses I took. It leaves me with time to travel and procrastinate over my master’s thesis. What I should have done differently is to take a language course on top of the Summer Academy, although I wouldn’t get the credits for it. Unless actively taking initiative, which I do not, the progress in learning the local language quickly comes to a halt.

Moving around in (and from) Mannheim

One of the nice things about Mannheim is that the connections inside and to and from the city are good. What about a trip to Heidelberg? 20 minutes by local train. Paris? Three hours by train. Strasbourg? Two hours in a car. Frankfurt? Half an hour by train or an hour by bus. Berlin? From Frankfurt, a 1,5-hour flight. Many things can be said about the punctuality of Deutsche Bahn or Flixbus, but the local public transport VRN runs mostly on time. 

In Quadrat, the city center, everything is within a walking distance. You get your daily steps and have a chance to come across a new restaurant. To make it interesting, there are signs telling about the history of the buildings and people who lived and worked in Mannheim sprinkled all over the city.

Cycling is quite popular in Mannheim. It is a quick (and fit) way to get around if you live just outside the city center. Mannheim has a good amount of city bikes (“Nextbike”) scattered in key locations at an affordable price for the first half an hour. Bikers are generally well considered in the road network, the separate bike lanes are extensive and clearly marked.

For public transport, there are several options. For short distances, trams are convenient. Less traffic lights, no getting stuck in the rush hour traffic jam. In my experience, the trams are generally in time. My line runs through the night, but that is not the case for all of them. If there is no tram line available, there will be buses. And for commuting to further away, S-Bahn, the local train, might be the fastest option. If you are going to use public transport every day, I’d highly recommend buying the Rhein-Neckar area semester ticket that costs 170 euros. It ends up being so much cheaper than buying single tickets for 2,60 euros. And if you stay for two semester, you can get the semester ticker for free!

Some technical notes:

  • Download the VRN app (or similar). Timetables, nearest stops, transport options, even alarms to step off always on hand. No chance of getting lost in an unfamiliar city.
  • Trams and buses have signs telling the name of the next stop, which helps keeping track on when to get off.
  • Tram tickets have to be bought before stepping in. Most of the stops have a ticket machine that accepts both cash and card payments. Inside the tram, the ticket has to be validated by sticking it in another machine. If you have a semester ticket, it only has to be shown by request. Ticket inspectors are seen rarely, but they definitely do exist.
  • The semester ticket can be bought on the ecUM student card so that you only have to carry one card around.
  • With the semester ticket, you are entitled to ride all the buses, trams and S-Bahns inside the Rhein-Neckar area which covers much more than only the city of Mannheim.

For trips outside the VRN area, a new ticket has to be bought. You might want to check which is cheaper, buying one ticket for the entire trip or only for the part that is not covered by the local ticket. For longer trips, the faster and more expensive ICE-trains are the most comfortable choice. Because of the salty prices, I often turned to Flixbus which costs only a fraction of the train tickets but correspondingly also takes a longer time to reach the destination. I found out that it was actually way cheaper to fly from Frankfurt to Berlin than to take the train, which is a shame from environmental perspective.

+ Mannheim has its own airport, but judging on the prices, it is targeted to rich and busy business people. Frankfurt airport(s) are close by and offer a wider and a more affordable selection for more price sensitive travelers.