Uproar over heavy cuts in university research

The research world has reacted angrily to the government’s 2016 budget proposal to cut DKK1.4 billion (US$210 million) off the DKK22 billion research budget. Universities and institute research will be hit the hardest.

This is in addition to a 2% cut in spending on universities per year from 2016-19, as previously reported by University World News.

The government will allocate DKK20.6 billion to research in 2016, which is 1.01% of gross national product, or GNP.

The Danish Council for Independent Research under the Ministry for Higher Education and Science will lose 30% of its allocation, which is being reduced from DKK1.2 billion to DKK800 million, and the Innovation Fund Denmark will lose DKK650 million or 41% of its 2015 allocation.

Copenhagen University, in a press release, said that when these cutbacks have full effect in 2018, the university will have suffered a DKK300 million cut which is 5% of the total budget.

“In reality, this will mean mass lay-offs in Danish project funded research, in particular hitting postdocs and others in temporary positions,” according to FORSKERforum, an independent magazine for Danish researchers.

The Danish Academy of Technical Sciences, or ATV, in a statement, said: “The budget for 2016 is unmasking ‘research minister’ Esben Lunde Larsen as a very weak minister who has not managed to ring-fence his area.”

The cuts are a “ticking bomb” for Danish research, ATV said.

Finn R Larsen, chair of the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations, or Akademikerne, said in a press release that the “quality agenda” of Danish research has effectively been suspended and substituted by an “irresponsible cut policy”.

“Such a short-sighted ambition we have not seen in a decade, and not since Denmark adopted the Barcelona ambition [of realising the European Research Area],” he said. “Denmark is now at risk of losing its position as a frontier research nation.”

Larsen said it was getting more difficult to sustain ground-breaking research in cooperation with major global enterprises, and public research “cannot to the same degree serve as an important driver for the stagnating research in the private sector”.

Professor Anders Bjarklev, spokesman for the Danish Rectors’ Conference, said: “That the government will cut knowledge – both in education and research – so drastically is very surprising. We know that knowledge is the basis for future growth.”

Jacob Fuglsang, education editor of the Danish major newspaper Politiken, told University World News that the 2016 budget is a “severe setback for Lunde Larsen and the country” given that the globalisation package of 2006-13 allocated 0.5%, extraordinarily, to Danish research, worth a total of DKK40 billion.

Fuglsang said the minister had lost credibility “because he and his ministry have been forced by the Ministry of Finance to make the cuts”.