Copenhagen University set to cut humanities places by 24%

Denmark’s University of Copenhagen is to cut humanities places by 24% to meet a new government requirement for the four universities based in large cities – the universities of Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg – to cut overall student intake by 5% to 10% by 2030.

A meeting of the board of Copenhagen University (KU) on 5 October was told that the institution would have to choose between reducing the intake of new students, moving students out of Copenhagen to other campuses or merging study programmes.

“In the letter from the Ministry [of Higher Education and Science] of 31 August 2021 to the university, it is stated that KU has to reduce the intake by 1,273 full-time students including to both bachelor and masters degrees, seen in relation to the intake in 2019,” a document presented to the board stated.

A reduction of 5% is estimated to put at risk DKK100 million (US$16 million) in revenue, increasing to DKK200 million with a reduction of 10% in the intake if KU does not transfer study places.

In a press release issued on 14 October, KU announced that a total of 1,590 study places would be cut in the admissions intake between now and 2030 and that 40% of these would be taken from the faculty of humanities.

“This is due to the political agreement ‘More and better higher education in the whole of Denmark’ that was decided upon in parliament by a majority on 25 June. The agreement aims to increase the number of study places outside the largest cities,” KU said.

Moving study places is expensive

KU is planning to move around 200 study places in medicine to Køge, a seaport 39km southwest of Copenhagen in the region Sjælland. Here the university is collaborating with Region Sjælland on a medical education linked to the new university hospital. KU is also looking to transfer other study programmes out of Copenhagen. But, of primary concern is that some study programmes will have to be closed down.

“It is expensive and difficult to move university studies to the provinces and to have the academic staff moving along. We cannot escape having to close down some study programmes,” Rector of KU Henrik C Wegener said.

“That will unfortunately also mean that some research milieus will have to be closed down. But if there are research milieus that are strong in international standing, we will try to keep them.”

Drastic cut to humanities

The KU faculty of humanities is going to reduce its intake by 640 study places, which is 24% of the yearly intake of new students. This is due to the academic fields in the humanities having on average the highest degree of unemployment among the graduates.

The humanities have previously had to face reductions in intake several times since 2014 following decisions taken in parliament.

The cuts to the humanities and the sciences make up 40% plus 30% respectively, totalling 70% of all KU places that are to be cut.

The social sciences, theology and health faculties also face cuts, with only the faculty of law exempted. The 100 masters student places and 100 bachelor degree student places from the medical degree programme that are being moved to Køge are likely to be deducted from the 1,590 total.

Coordination between universities

Also, the KU faculty of theology and the science faculty will have to reduce a number of study places due to the higher unemployment among graduates in these fields.

“We are taking into consideration the political will that universities should better match the receiving institutions’ need for academic workforce. But we know, for instance, that the candidates from the humanities have much to offer businesses. And in due course there will be a need for more candidates in the sciences to work in the green [economy] change,” Wegener said.

“Now we are making a national action plan for higher education. We are ready to close down or swop programmes with the other universities so that supply is coordinated.”

Fear of layoffs

The final decision on which study programmes will be closed will be made by the KU board in December. Students who are already registered at KU will have the right to complete their education. The changes in student admission will be effectuated stepwise until 2030.

Brian Arly Jacobsen, who is an associate professor and representative for staff in the humanities faculty, said the message from the rector was “worse than expected”.

“This will have grave consequences for our studies and research. Reducing our intake by 24% will influence our taximeter support [the budget allocation based on every student registered]. And in the end, this will also decide how many staff we shall be,” he told Forskerforum, the Danish researchers’ magazine.

“Our people are afraid of being laid off and that research milieus will be closed down.”

He and other staff representatives at the faculty of the humanities will protest against the rector’s decision on how to address the message from the politicians. He thinks that once more the humanities are being made a scapegoat.

Mick Scholtka, vice president of academic affairs of the National Union of Students in Denmark or DSF, told University World News that the union knew the cuts were inevitable “because moving study places would be too expensive and have a negative effect on educational quality".

“We were against the government decision in June [to move thousands of study places out of the big cities]. Now we are witnessing the consequences of a too fast and bad political decision. The political process of this decision should have happened with the involvement of students, lecturers, labour unions, business and industry in a longer and structured way.”

‘One-dimensional approach’

Even though the political parties behind the agreement are looking at the demand in the workforce, Jacobsen accuses KU of choosing a one-dimensional and divisive model.

“This is becoming much too biased and the humanities and the natural sciences are being hit,” Jacobsen said. He feared it would lead to a dog fight between departments and that they also would see solidarity between departments disappear.

In an article in University Post at KU on 6 October, KU Rector Wegener and pro rectors Bente Merete Stallknecht and David Dreyer Lassen accepted, however, that there was a need to have as a goal that students at KU could use their education for the kind of job they have been trained for.

“We owe this not only to society, but especially to the students. We trust that those faculties where unemployment is a particular concern will now tackle this major task. Dialogue and analyses will be needed in order to reach well-founded decisions that can create more sustainable degree programmes for the benefit of students and society as a whole.”

When the faculties have reported back, the board will discuss and adopt the university’s overall plan in December. The reduction of student places will be phased in between now and 2030. This may seem like a long time, but the ministry expects a linear trend.

“It’s not going to be easy. But we can also use a precarious situation to rethink the university’s degree programmes so that students do not have to worry about whether their education is an entry card to an appropriate job,” they said.