Rectors oppose luring students with income data

University leaders and student unions have criticised the government for publishing graduate salary levels in its new online universities guide, arguing that it could misinform applicants and push them to base their choices on “where the money is”.

The president of University Colleges Denmark, Harald Mikkelsen, said: “The new instrument will rather misinform than guide the educational choices of the young.”

Professor Ralf Hemmingsen, chair of the Danish Rectors’ Conference and chair and spokesperson for Universities Denmark, remarked: “Neither the students nor the universities have asked for such a comparative instrument, and it is unclear with the public what the instrument is targeting.”

The Danish Ministry for Education and Research in March launched its digital higher education website Uddannelseszoom (in Danish only), as a part of the guide for higher education in Denmark (In English).

Uddannelseszoom is planned as an instrument for guiding potential students through the complex Danish higher education system and providing them with the information needed to choose among the many courses and degrees. Notably, its aim is to provide data on the quality of higher education and the relevance in relation to the job market.

Uddannelseszoom allows comparison of three different institutions at a time, focusing on the sector previous graduates are working in, what salaries they earn, how much unemployment is registered, how many within the chosen field have started their own companies, the level of drop-out and how many students graduate within the given timeframe for the degree.

From 2016, Uddannelseszoom will also contain reports from selected students on the relevance and quality of their education, including the relevance to their job and the number of teaching hours that are given by a researcher in those fields that are providing research-based teaching.

Salary information

The Danish newspaper Information reported that the information on salaries of newly graduated candidates showed that graduates in archaeology, art history and literary studies earned less than DKK20,000 (US$3,000) per month on average, increasing to DKK31,000 (US$4,700) after 10 years.

By contrast, candidates in actuarial sciences earned DKK50,000 (US$7,600) per month a short time after graduation – or 2.5 times more – rising to DKK84,000 (US$12,800) on average per month after 10 years.

This led to an intense discussion on the usefulness of the web-page, with some claiming that the database is incomplete and that there is a lack of transparency, and that an overly strong focus on money could change students’ behaviour when choosing an education.

Yasmin Davali, chair of the National Union of Students in Denmark or DSF, an umbrella organisation for all student councils in Denmark representing 170,000 students, said in a press release that the information on the monthly salaries could push students in the direction of “where the money is”.

“This looks like an attempt to push students towards an education where they will earn much money rather than helping them find a study that fits their interest and gives them more joy,” she stated.

Criticism from university leaders

Hemmingsen of the Danish Rectors’ Conference said: “Danish universities are in doubt that potential students will benefit from an instrument containing the very large amount of data of divergent character that has been collected.”

University leaders are critical of the collection of data on graduate employment, a task that until now has been undertaken by the universities themselves in accordance with legislation on accreditation, and which requires a great deal of follow up between universities and graduates in order to get sufficient numbers of respondents.

“If the ambition is to build a comprehensive instrument that can compare all tertiary education in the country, it is premature to launch this instrument with a content that has only been piloted on a couple of hundred students,” Hemmingsen said.

Mikkelsen wrote to the ministry saying that University Colleges Denmark is “very critical of the new instrument”.

“The parameters of the instrument are selected in a way that does not give a correct picture of the activities at the university colleges. And the instrument will give the public and the press a misinformed picture of the one-third part of post-secondary education that is performed by the university colleges,” Mikkelsen said.

Minister’s response

But the Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science Sofie Carsten Nielsen told University World News that Uddannelseszoom had been developed to make it easier for prospective students to find information about education in Denmark.

“Students are not pushed in any direction. We have created a digital instrument that allows all interested to look at the indicators that are available.

“Let me be very clear. My aim has all along been to establish new comparative indicators of the quality and student environments in higher education programmes. As soon as this information is available it will be published.

She said the ministry had published all the data that it already had, such as unemployment figures, average income and completion rates.

“This is information prospective students and student counsellors have said that they find important but very hard to find. Any individual prospective student can, of course, choose whether or not to look at average incomes related to their areas of interest,” she said.

In the spring of 2014, the Danish government and all but one political party in the parliament agreed to expand Uddannelseszoom.

“In 2016 you will therefore be able to find information such as student-lecturer interaction and survey information from students and former students about the quality of their education,” she added.