Minister to shake up criteria for university funding

The Ministry of Education and Science is proposing a new funding system to replace the existing 'taximeter' model, which awards higher education institutions in proportion to the number of students they graduate.

The new system, Minister of Higher Education and Science Esben Lunde Larsen said, is going to be based on three parameters – quality instead of quantity, the number of students who find work after graduation and a mechanism for supporting regionalisation, ensuring that graduates are produced throughout the country.

“We need a new system,” Lunde Larsen said. “I have earlier as a joke compared the taximeter system to the DDR car ‘the Trabant’ which was a solid friend for years. But I do believe that few would claim that this car has the quality and complexity that 2016 is demanding.”

The ministry arranged a consultation meeting with universities on 4 February, having previously sent notification of the proposed changes to universities for comment last autumn.

"The task of finding a new budgetary system we will solve together with the higher education institutions,” Lunde Larsen said.

The majority of institutions commenting on this said that the model should not just be another step to reduce funding for universities even more.

But Lunde Larsen stressed that the new system is “not a cutback exercise in disguise” and “exactly the same amount of money” will be available in the new system as there is today.

The majority of Danish higher education institutions sent comments expressing concern that the new budgetary model would be used to cut funding even further.

Regionalisation strategy

Copenhagen University, the country’s largest, felt that this could be another blow to them in particular because of the emphasis on regionalisation. Being situated in the capital, they would not have access to regional funding.

Copenhagen University warned the ministry that there was already a satisfactory supply of advanced research-based training nationally. Basing university funding on regionalisation would “water down research intensity” and give rise to a “fall in the quality of higher education”.

Further, Ralf Hemmingsen, rector of Copenhagen University, challenged the minister’s view that the budget would not lead to cuts. His own university is reeling from its recent announcement that more than 500 staff members are being laid off, as reported by University World News.

He told FORSKERforum, the researchers’ magazine: "In the leadership group in Copenhagen University we see a clear correspondence between resources allocated and the quality of higher education. Quality – that is with regard to teaching hours, research-based education, feedback to the students etc – costs money. If the minister can explain how education is exempted from the precondition that you get what you pay for, we would like to hear from him.”

According to Jacob Fuglsang, education editor at Politiken, universities are having to get used to the thought that shorter, working related higher education at the professional and technical colleges will now be prioritised.

University of Copenhagen staff at the faculty of health and medical sciences protested against the cuts on 10 February and humanities academics released a joint statement, "A manifesto for small subjects", only to learn that the only Tibetan scholarship in the Nordic countries, at Copenhagen University, was to be discontinued.

Last month the university announced that it would not admit students in 2016 in a raft of smaller subjects including Finnish, Polish and Eskimology, due to the austerity measures.

Yasmin Davali, chair of the National Union of Students in Denmark or DSF, called for student representation in the working groups. She said the union does not support a precondition that resource allocations to universities shall be based on the demand in the workforce and the proportion of graduates finding work upon graduation.

Djøf, the professional association representing graduates and students in law, business, economics, and political and social sciences, published a survey of 1,220 student members. Some 68% of the masters students and 37% of the bachelor students said that they had 10 hours or less of instruction per week.

The Danish newspaper Information published Djøf’s concerns and warned that present cutbacks at Danish universities could lead to further cuts in the number of hours of instructions for the students.