New government focuses on HE quality and employability

Higher education and research will have a prominent place in the programme of the new three-party coalition government, endorsed by the Queen of Denmark last Monday, and an early talking point is the replacement of Minister of Higher Education and Science Ulla Tørnæs with Søren Pind, the outgoing minister of justice.

Søren Pind is a well-known and popular figure in Denmark. He was educated in law at Copenhagen University and has been a member of parliament and has held three ministerial posts – justice, migration and development cooperation. He described his new role as being “minister for the future”.

Pind said that technology is developing so fast, and the future young people face is changing with it, yet teaching is still carried out in the same way, which is something he is “really engaged in”.

This will be the third government led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen, and will comprise his centre-right liberal party Venstre, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party.

In order to improve the quality of higher education a committee will be appointed to investigate the length, content and structure of higher education courses and in particular find out how a greater flexibility between higher education and the workforce can be achieved.

This committee will look into the possibility of introducing more work-relevant elements into university courses and find out how one can get more graduates to target working in the private sector and, in particular, work out part-time arrangements between higher education and business and industry.

The budget allocation model will also be overhauled and reformed, with the aim of enhancing quality and securing a better transfer to work after graduation all over Denmark. The student financing system will also be overhauled, as was already started by Tørnæs.

The boards of higher education institutions will be strengthened and the societal importance and impact of higher education will be explicitly worked into the new legislation.

“With a specific frame of reference for the universities there is now an opportunity space for increased autonomy and thereby a downsizing of the bureaucracy in higher education,” the government foundation document says.

The new higher education minister is known for well-formulated and often provocative contributions in the media, for participating in popular radio programmes and being active on social media.

On the night before the new government was announced, he wrote on his Twitter page: “The Lord takes. The Lord gives. Blessed be the Lord!”, which some observers interpreted as an indication of a move downward in the governmental hierarchy, since the minister of justice is a member of all five committees in the government.

The three-party government is seen as a kind of gambit by Prime Minister Rasmussen to avoid a governmental crisis. The Liberal Alliance will have six ministers and the Conservatives three out of 22 ministers in total.

The foundation agreement of the government is an extensive 86-page document outlining the priorities.

The new government wants to reduce taxes and stimulate an DKK80 billion (US$11.5 billion) growth in the economy and thereby create more employment.

The student financing system, SU, will be revised transferring parts of the grants of today into loans, but the resources saved will be channelled into quality improvement measures for higher education for the period 2019-25.

Major survey

Just before she left office, Minister Tørnæs announced a nation-wide survey in which 350,000 current and former students are to receive a questionnaire asking about their education – past and present – and how they look upon the relevance of their education for the work they are doing or targeting.

The questionnaire is being distributed by email and e-box and is the largest survey of Danish higher education ever. The objective is to support the choices young people make when selecting higher education by presenting information on the quality and relevance of higher education courses as judged by previous students.

Previously, the government established a digital tool called Uddannelseszoom to assist young people in their educational choices, making it possible to compare three higher education degrees at the same time across several parameters.

On departing from office, Tørnæs said: “We must create a better balance between education and jobs. We must encourage young people to follow both their hearts, but also their minds: to choose a study programme they love to ensure a good period of study, but to also choose one that will lead to good future employment.”

Gifts are traditionally exchanged between the outgoing and incoming ministers. Pind received a Buzz Lightyear figurine from Toy Story, while he gave Tørnæs a hat she will need for warm weather, since she is switching to the development cooperation ministry.