Quality Commission – ‘Crying wolf’ on lack of reform?

Denmark’s Quality Commission, which is scheduled to deliver its final report in October, has published a ‘mid-term’ report addressing arguments raised against its recommendations for structural reform of higher education.

The 17-page report, published at the same time as the government budget for 2015 – which announced the highest intake of new students ever of 64,000, up from 41,000 in 2009 – says there is an urgent need to redirect students from university courses aimed at work in the public sector, to studies recruiting for the private sector.

It said 12,000 such replacements not effected in the 2015 budget, were needed.

The main argument of the Quality Commission is for a better match between degrees in higher education institutions and the needs of the workforce, and that there should be significant change in ‘academic’ degrees in line with degrees for ‘professional vocations’.

In particular, the commission said, the ‘academic’ bachelor degree had to be seen as a completed academic degree and not as preparation for a masters.

All agree on need for change?

Having gone through comments on its first report, the commission said it could not see that any of the responses disagreed that fundamental change was needed in Denmark’s higher education system.

The recruitment of more students into post-secondary education would mean that 75% of the increased proportion of graduates would from now on have to find work in the private sector, said the commission.

Up to 2030 that would mean an increase of 350,000 people with a post-secondary degree, and of these 260,000 would have to find work in the private sector. From 2002-12, 8,000 new graduates a year were employed by the private sector, meaning that there was a need for further employment in the private sector of almost double that level, each year until 2030.

The newspaper Forskerforum, interpreting these figures, concluded: “The commission states that at least 10,000 out of 30,000 students now starting their studies at universities should have changed their studies [towards more professional degrees] if the present direction towards unemployment is to be stemmed.”

It said the commission was again “crying wolf” regarding an unemployment ghost in a future workforce.

In its report the commission argues against Copenhagen University Rector Ralf Hemmingsen, who said it was “playing hazard with the future of the young”, counter-arguing that “there is more hazard not to engage in structural reforms”.

Other developments

In its 2015 budget, the government stated that it had almost reached a “target of 95% of the cohort taking a secondary education and 60% a university degree”. As a result of increasing numbers of students, the government is allocating DKK21.7 billion (US$3.8 billion) for student financial support – up 27% since 2011.

After a public call for people to apply, Minister for Higher Education and Science Sofie Carsten Nielsen appointed a ‘corps’ of 10 people to work for increased social mobility in higher education recruitment.

The ‘corps’ – in Danish called the ‘pattern breaking corps’ – comprises experts working in recruitment and some ‘pattern breakers’ who have broken out of a family tradition of little education to obtain a university degree.

The corps is to work on untraditional ways of getting in contact with potential students, and will use social media to gather ideas from the public, with a twitter page.

The ministry also reported a 10% increase in Danish students studying abroad in 2012-13 through Europe’s Erasmus programme, against a 6% average rise among participating countries. The government’s ambition is for at least half of all students to have a study abroad period by 2020.