Unions voice opposition to humanities cuts at Copenhagen

Union representatives at Denmark’s Copenhagen University have written an open letter to the rector, Henrik C Wegener, opposing the concentration of planned cuts in humanities places.

In the letter dated 19 October, the representatives say the planned cut of 640 study places in the faculty of humanities, equal to 24% of the yearly admission of students, amounts to 40% of all study places being cut at Copenhagen University.

And coming on top of a dramatic cut in admissions since 2015 related to use of the so-called dimensioning, a model based on employability, this will leave the faculty 25% smaller than in 2015, they say.

“There are other ways to effectuate the announced reductions, for instance by an equal cut at all faculties. Such a model Copenhagen University also can choose,” they argue.

Dorthe Duncker, professor at the department of Nordic studies and linguistics at Copenhagen University and union representative of the scientific staff, who also signed the letter, told Akademikerbladet that they do not agree with the statement that the humanities are the main problem when it comes to securing employment.

She refers to a 2019 survey, ‘Humanities is a good investment for society’, undertaken by the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), that found that since 2007 an additional 17,000 humanities graduates had been employed in the Danish workforce, while only 1,600 were registered as unemployed.

The investigation also revealed that the humanities graduates did not have a higher rate of unemployment than graduates in other fields.

“This demonstrates in black and white that the workforce is in need of humanities graduates, Otherwise, we would not have seen this development,” Duncker said. “It is depressing that the humanities are always listed as a problem.”

Slaughtering the humanities?

The top leadership of Copenhagen University argues that what they have proposed is for a solidarity model to be used in the criteria for reducing study places.

Professor Bente Merete Stallknecht, pro-rector for education at Copenhagen University, said: “We have tried to find a solidarity model where we have to live up to the political demands and ambitions [that we are confronted with], but we also have to take into consideration the statistics on how the faculties’ graduates [fare] in the workforce and the overall studies at Copenhagen University.”

“If we had only used the levels of unemployment in our criteria, the humanities would have had a reduction of 58% of the total reductions at Copenhagen University,” she said.

She said Copenhagen University holds humanities research in high esteem and is “not in the process of slaughtering the humanities” in carrying out government instructions to cut the admissions of students.

The humanities enable the country to ensure that it gains the knowledge and competence needed to understand issues and participate in a global world, whether via the study of languages, communication, culture or history, she said.

“But a central point is that there should be a demand for the graduates. Even if many of the graduates are getting work quickly upon graduation, there is a lower level of employment compared to the other studies at the university,” she added.

“We are confronted with a very complicated task,” Stallknecht told Uniavisen. “But if we do not [do it], the politicians will do it for us. We prefer to do it ourselves with the knowledge we have of the studies and research milieus.”

Downscaling education

Camilla Gregersen, chair of DM and deputy chair of Akademikerne, the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations, which has approximately 450,000 members, told University World News she is “deeply concerned” about the cuts.

“Society relies on our capability to develop new knowledge and find solutions on the many challenges ahead of us, such as climate changes and health crises. We cannot know what the future brings or what scientific solutions will be needed – but we must be prepared.

“Downscaling education and research communities to an absolute minimum is the wrong way to go. We need strong knowledge from both humanities and science to face the challenges.”

Moving studies too expensive

She told the Danish newsletter that DM is asking for more dialogue: “What we experience is that this infamous plan for moving university studies [out of the greater cities] is coming without any form of dialogue around the issue. This is doomed to failure.

“It is going to be a bloodletting since it is not possible just to move university studies out [of the cities]. That means that this only will be a massive reduction.”

But the chair of higher education and research of the Social Democratic Party, Ida Auken, refuted this critique, arguing: “If you look at how it has been in the US, where all highly educated people are living in the bigger cities and ‘Middle America’ is just something you are flying over when going from one coast to another, I think that this is not something that benefits anyone. We have to have highly educated people all over the country. This issue is not open for discussion.”

The final plan for moving students and the study places that are moved shall be decided upon in December by the board of Copenhagen University.