Eight Danish parties resist government’s university reform

Eight of parliament’s twelve political parties have urged the government to stop plans to reform higher education, which would see around half of all Master’s degrees shortened to one-year programmes.

Eight Danish parties resist government’s university reform
Opposition Danish parties have asked the Minister for Higher Education Christina Egelund to scrap a plan to shorten MA degrees. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

A joint letter sent by the parties to the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Christina Egelund, sets out the concerns the parties have over the plan.

Only one opposition party – the national conservative Denmark Democrats – is not signatory to the letter.

Presented at the beginning of March, the government’s higher education proposal is to create new Master’s degrees lasting one and a quarter academic years.

The degrees would be organised over two semesters followed by a major final assignment which would be written over the summer.

As many as half of the two-year Master’s degrees currently offered at Danish universities will be given the new, shorter structure should the proposal be adopted.

Another feature of the proposal is to increase the number of places on English-language Master’s degrees by 1,100 between 2024 and 2028, and by an overall 2,500 from 2029.

READ ALSO: What do proposed university reforms mean for students in Denmark?

The eight parties urged the government to come up with an alternative plan at an initial meeting last week, news wire Ritzau reports.

Egelund meanwhile told newspaper Politiken that “nothing here is ultimate” with regard to the proposal.

Nevertheless, the plan to make Master’s degrees shorter is a fundamental element of the government’s intentions for higher education, she said.

“I’m not standing at the entry to the negotiating room and asking them to take an oath to be faithful to the government proposal one-to-one,” she said.

“This is the reason why we invite to political negotiations. It is actually to negotiate. And that’s why I will be open-minded in looking at what concrete proposals [other parties] have when we meet for talks later today,” she said.

Mayors in Denmark’s four largest cities – Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg – have each expressed criticism of the proposal. All of the mayors are members of the governing Social Democratic party and each of the cities is home to a university.

Academics and students have also been critical of the plan, arguing it will reduce the quality of higher education.

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Why are fewer young Danes studying trades?

Danish business organisations have called for a fresh approach after new statistics revealed a decline in the number of people who study trades or vocational qualifications.

Why are fewer young Danes studying trades?

The number of people who have applied for vocational training programmes, erhvervsuddannelser in Danish, has fallen to 19.4 percent this year, down from 20 percent in 2022 according to figures from the Ministry of Children and Education.

The increasingly low number of applicants is concerning and measures must be taken to better inform young students about their education and career options according to the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri, DI).

The vocational programmes themselves should also be reformed if they are to become more attractive to young people and help fill gaps in the Danish labour market, the organisation argues.

DI vice director Signe Tychsen Philip said that young people often reject the chance to study a trade because they are not well informed about the opportunities such an education can provide them with.

“We have to recognise that there is still too much lacking among young people, their parents and adults in relation to what vocational educations are and what kind of working life they offer,” Philip said.

“There’s a lot that must be corrected if more people are going to see what our vocational programmes can give,” she said.

A reversal of the trend would need more case-based teaching at schools, more visits to workplaces and better cooperation with businesses, DI says.

“That would give the opportunity to see which ways you can go afterwards. Both after elementary school, and after upper secondary school. In other words, it would give children and young people better tools to make choices with,” Philip said.

Organisation SMV Danmark, which represents 18,000 small and medium-sized businesses across the country, went a step further calling the latest figures “catastrophic”.

“Good luck finding a builder in future when you need to have your house insulated or a carport constructed,” senior consultant Kasper Munk Rasmussen said in a written comment.

Rasmussen also backed the call for education reforms to improve enrolment numbers.

“As these figures demonstrate, elementary school today is just a motorway towards upper secondary school [gymnasiet in Danish, ed.]. We have to change this,” he said.

Such reforms would cost billions of kroner according to SMV Danmark.

“We are looking at a falling number of tradespeople because there are more now retiring than there are young people choosing to take these educations,” Philip said.

The Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd) joined the chorus of organisations to express concern over the trend.

“It is a problem for both welfare and green energy transition if we don’t get more skilled trades labour,” head of analysis Emilie Agner Damm said in a written comment.