Humanities 'massacre' causes widespread protests

Government plans to slash 4,000 student enrolments from faculties of humanities in Danish universities have created uproar among academics and the general population.

Dean of humanities at Copenhagen University, Ulf Hedtoft, described the government intervention as a “massacre of the humanities”. When the government accused him of over-stating the impacts of the cuts, Hedtoft said: ”Our repeated budgeting demonstrates that the model [imposed by the Education Ministry as a “dimensioning model”] will force Copenhagen University in the foreign languages department alone to reduce the student intake from 750 at the bachelor level this year to 250 next year.”

Hedtoft said he did not understand Higher Education and Science Minister Sofie Carsten Nielsen’s claim that she intended to ”defuse the situation” and said he looked forward to seeing the figures she presented.

As a result of the outcry, the ministry has appointed a 're-calculation' group that has already produced a 30-page memo drowning the universities in technical details. A spokesman said that before the cuts were imposed, the re-calculating group would “quality-secure” the measures taken.

“The universities are dramatising the consequences of my model for dimensioning,” Nielsen told Danish media. “The effects of the model are much less dramatic than the numbers from different sides that have been reported in the press.”

Meanwhile, a petition calling for a “stop to the shortsighted intervention in Danish universities”, with a critical questioning of the government’s strategy, attracted almost 4,000 signatures in the first two days after being launched on the web.

“There is a manipulation with the numbers, facts and intentions behind the Ministry’s decision to intervene in the universities' existence and hence force the universities to enforce massive reductions,” the petition states.

”One is arguing that the intention is to 'dimension' students away from studies that 'do not lead to earning one’s bread'. But the reality is another – the intervention has not been thought through, is overhasty, shortsighted and an undemocratic face-saving operation.”

The petition is collecting hundreds of signatories each day and carries arguments it says show where the government is wrong. Danish citizens held in high regard have also spoken out.

Mikkel Rasmussen and Christian Madsbjerg, senior partners in ReD Associates in New York and Copenhagen wrote: “Danish industry and a confused government without backbone are on the brink of destroying what exists of humanities sciences in Denmark. But what is more serious is the lack of focus on the deep knowledge that has to be the foundation of future welfare and growth.”

The petition calls for an immediate end to the negotiation with the universities on how to implement the cuts and for the universities themselves to present their own model for a re-organisation of higher education in Denmark.

The nation’s Quality Commission, however, had declared that it is not satisfied with the cuts already announced and called for a reduction of at least 10,000 students in the coming years. The commission is scheduled to deliver its next report next month.

That seems certain to add even more fuel to the heated debate in Denmark.