Students oppose bill to limit funding of second degrees

Members of Parliament are expected to vote on Monday 19 December in favour of a measure that will make it impossible to obtain student financing for a second degree at a Danish higher education institution if you have already completed a degree at the same or higher level.

The proposal for a ‘higher education ceiling’, which has already been agreed upon by the three major political parties in the parliament, would come into effect next summer. It is strongly opposed by students.

The National Union of Students in Denmark, DSF, representing 170,000 Danish students, has called for a major protest demonstration in central Copenhagen on 18 December, and is actively mobilising support on social media against the law.

Some 2,200 students in 2014 started a second full-time degree, after having completed a higher education degree at the same level or on a higher level. It is estimated that 30% of students affected by the proposed law would be eligible for exemption from the law on grounds that have yet to be agreed by the ministry of higher education and science.

According to a background document for the proposal, it is expected to result in a saving of DKK342.3 million (US$49 million) in 2020 when the initiative is fully phased in, although this figure has subsequently been revised to DKK 701 million (US$94.3 million) for 2017-19 and DKK 401 million (US$56.7 million) per year from 2020.

Every other year, the ministry of higher education and science will work out a list of higher education fields where there is a special need for candidates and these will be eligible study programmes for students who have already completed a degree, according to the proposal.

Media reports in Denmark have suggested that Søren Pind, the minister for higher education, is prepared to accept an exemption from the law until the summer of 2019 to allow those admitted to a bachelor degree in 2016 to be accepted for a Master degree. He also said it could be possible for candidates to be admitted to a second degree if they pay for it themselves, if there are study places available.

The draft law was discussed in parliament in the spring in conjunction with discussions on another law regarding the revision of payment for daily welfare provisions when unemployed or ill, and at that time it was clear that the majority in parliament would endorse the new law on an education ceiling, but the Social Democrats would opt for a longer phasing-in period.

The new law would come into effect by the summer of 2017.

Student petition

A petition placed on the DSF website urging the government to drop the planned law – originally drawn up by students at Regensen, one of the oldest residential colleges for students studying at the University of Copenhagen – has gathered 57,455 signatories.

The petition says: “If the law is enacted, thousands of students will be ‘locked’ into a higher education where they see no future and they are hindered from obtaining an academic profile they want. The workforce will be lacking qualified applicants, notably where multidisciplinarity is needed for innovation and progress; and the most qualified students will go abroad to get the higher education they want and they will not return to Denmark with the knowledge achieved.

“The Danish ideal of academic innovation is now being substituted for short-sighted ‘excel-sheet logic’.”

Since the law was drafted, there have been a large number of responses in the Danish media and on social media by students reporting that the planning of their studies has now become difficult.

The petition says a clear signal has to be sent that students want a flexible higher education system in which they will have the right to decide if they want to educate themselves all through life.

For instance, Berlingske reported the view of a student of biochemistry called Mette, who has been begging her teachers at Copenhagen University to flunk her in the exam so that she has a chance to study medicine, since she will not have fulfilled the biochemistry degree.

Copenhagen and Aarhus universities report that they have been contacted by a large number of worried students who are wondering whether their present study goals now have to be altered.

The students in Regensen who started the petition wrote in a commentary article in Berlingske: “Some of the best universities in the world like Cambridge, Oxford and London are now investing heavily in larger multidisciplinary research projects, where humanities, social sciences and natural sciences are collaborating, bringing forward and analysing very large amounts of data – so-called ‘big data’.

“These universities have understood that the major challenges facing us today, like migration, climate and food, cannot be addressed by working in silos.”