Rising demand for HE places in large cities adds to problem

Despite government plans to move thousands of study places out of the country’s bigger cities to towns in regional districts, demand is increasing for places in the four largest cities, continuing the trend that the government is trying to reverse.

The number of study places at the four larger university cities Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg rose from 48,298 in 2019 to 50,100 in 2021, or by 3.2%.

In total, 67,425 study places will be funded in 2021-22, meaning that three-quarters of these will be found at the four larger cities, as in 2019.

Minister of Higher Education and Research Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen said getting a better geographical balance in higher education is high on the governmental agenda, including how to secure “more attractive study places” outside the main cities.

She said the fact that so many young still seek places in the big cities is “precisely the reason why, just before the summer holidays, we made a broad agreement in the parliament to strengthen higher education outside the bigger cities”.

“It should be possible to take a high-quality higher education wherever you are living in the country.”

Second-highest intake

The 2021 intake of almost 67,500 students is the second-highest ever and expectedly lower than the 2020 intake that was influenced by the COVID-19 applications and the increased number of 4,000 study places funded by parliament in 2020 and another 2,000 in 2021.

The total number of applicants was 93,388, of whom 67,425 were offered a study place on 28 July, with 80% of the admitted students gaining their first priority place.

Some 38,259 (56.7%) were accepted at a business academy or for a professional bachelor degree course at a university college and 29,166 (43.3%) were accepted for a bachelor degree course at university. Only 15,569 (23%) of those admitted are below 21 years of age.

Welfare education dominates

The four greater ‘welfare-educations’ of pedagogy, nursing, teacher training and social work together account for 20% of those admitted. Pedagogy is offered at 23 study places with 4,781 students admitted in total (down 174 places), followed by nursing with 4,112 students admitted (down 147 places), teacher training 2,556 (down 141) and social work 2,226 (down 144 places).

The government in a statement said that the 4,000 extra study places funded in 2020 due to the pandemic were targeted at STEM-fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

However, there has been a fall in the total number of young people offered a STEM study place, from 16,828 in 2020 to 16,040 in 2021 and the proportion of STEM students has fallen 0.4%, from 24.2% to 23.8% in the same period, according to the Danish Association of Managers and Executives – Lederne.

But, compared with 2019, the last year before the coronavirus crisis, the number of STEM students admitted is higher, the government stated.

On the plus side, the government said the data shows that the proportion of women accepted for STEM education has increased significantly. In 2021, 34% of those accepted at STEM education centres are women compared to 24% in 2019, meaning that 473 more women have been accepted in STEM fields.

The higher education policy head of Lederne, Christina Laugesen, said the data showed that last year’s positive development of increased STEM students has not continued.

“This is a bothering development, we now see. We need the sharpest heads for the green shift in the economy and, here, it is, to a large degree, STEM competences that are in demand in the business and in the society at large,” she said.

There has been a 5% fall in students – 1,412 – admitted to bachelor degree programmes compared with 2020. Notably nursing education, teacher training and social work have experienced a significant fall, with 580 fewer students admitted.

Nanna Højlund, deputy president of the Danish Trade Union Confederation, which has 1.3 million members, said that this change is worrying.

“In the longer run, we are going to lack thousands [of candidates] with a shorter and medium-long duration [ie ,three- to four-year] degrees. We are confronting an ambitious green change of our society and, at the same time, we know that we are going to lack capacity within the welfare professions,” she said.

“Therefore, I would have liked to see more young people choose shorter and medium-long higher education. As I see it, we will have to look into how we can have a more reasonable match between higher education and the future need for work.”

Concern over IT stagnation

Mads Eriksen, Education and Research policy head at the Danish Chamber of Commerce, said that the most worrying trend is the fall in IT education, where there has been a reduction in admissions to the most popular IT-studies, of 8% in relation to 2020.

“We are confronting a major digital transformation that is affecting the whole society and all major businesses. It is highly worrying that we now are seeing a fall in these [fields],” he said.

Camilla Gregersen, president of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), told University World News: “It is positive that many young people have been accepted to a higher education in 2021. Thus, it is now important to ensure high quality, so students admitted on educational programmes do not drop out.

She said there are some fields in which Denmark will face a shortage of qualified employees in the future, such as, IT and welfare services.

“There is a need for a political focus on making it attractive for young people to apply for an education, rather than primarily focusing on how to move students around in Denmark. I also hope we will welcome more international students and improve the opportunities for them to stay in Denmark after graduation.”