Minister compromises on slashing the student intake

A compromise agreement on reducing the student intake to Danish universities was signed last week by the Minister of Higher Education and Science Sofie Carsten Nielsen and the organisation Universities Denmark. The compromise has given universities more say and has watered down the ministry’s proposal that aimed to slash enrolments, especially in the humanities.

Hours before the press conference called by the minister and Professor Ralf Hemmingsen, chair of Universities Denmark and rector of Copenhagen University, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt told parliament that the ‘dimensioning plan’ would be delayed by a year to provide “a better opportunity to discuss the proposal with higher education institutions”.

The Ministry of Higher Education and Science announced that cutbacks to university places – especially at the masters level – would be delayed until 2018-20, instead of having to be effected before 2018 as had originally been planned.

Under the resizing model, 2,400 postgraduate student places in programmes with high graduate unemployment will be cut, primarily affecting the humanities. Also, 3,500 undergraduate places will be cut over four years until 2018.

The education minister said last week that universities would be granted “a little more freedom” to implement the education reforms, than under the original plan, reported University Post.

The compromise is described in five bullet points for the bachelor level and 12 for the masters level.

The level of cuts to bachelor places is now 880 a year and 2,400 at the masters level – but universities will have significant influence over which subjects to cut.

The basic principle of binding the cuts to statistics on unemployment will be kept, and the agreement stipulates that this model will be evaluated after three years.


The original proposal led to an intense debate in Denmark, with numerous articles in the press and social media – often with harsh wording and strong polarisation between different social stakeholders on the role of the humanities in modern societies.

More than 7,000 signatures were gathered on the internet protesting against the cutbacks, and more than 1,000 were academics abroad.

Students arranged a sit-in protest at the faculty of humanities in Copenhagen, sending thousands of balloons up in the air, each symbolising one study place that would be lost.

Forskerforum accused the ministry of trying to settle the disagreement by “horsetrading behind closed doors”. Politiken, the major Danish newspaper, wrote: “The radical minister who forgot to listen: Sofie Carsten Nielsen’s first grand challenge as a minister of education ended in a battlefield”.

Presenting the compromise together with Ralf Hemmingsen last week, the minister said: “It has been a long process to reach this agreement. We have had many meetings and been drinking much coffee. Which is something one should remember to do.”