Economic reforms offer ‘good news’ to higher education

Higher education stakeholders in Denmark have welcomed a recent economic reform package that includes, among a raft of measures, several hundred million krone for welfare-related higher education programmes, and allows international graduates more time to remain in the country to look for jobs.

With its title loosely translated as “Faster into work, a stronger labour market, investment in the future and innovative businesses”, the new agreement between the government and the majority in parliament published on 21 January is over 21 pages long and contains several sub-agreements, one of which focuses on strengthening international recruitment and contains elements that will make it easier for international students graduating in Denmark to stay longer in the country to seek work.

The package also contains an increase in funding for humanities, social science and welfare-related education of DKK200 million (US$30 million) each year from 2024.

In 2030 the agreement will have seen an increased total spend of DKK1.3 billion (US$196 million) on higher education and strengthened those higher education institutions focused on welfare-related professions (applied educational sciences, social work, teaching, and nursing) by DKK300 million a year.

The reform package includes several components that will strengthen “structural employment” (matching skills to jobs) in Denmark for approximately 12,000 people and increase the GNP of Denmark by 0.7%, equating to DKK17,5 billion (US$2.6 billion).

The agreement will have an explicit impact on higher education, boosting efforts to strengthen teacher education with DKK65 million invested in 2022 and DKK125 million in 2023. In this agreement another DKK60 million in 2024 and DKK200 million a year from 2025 has been earmarked for higher education focused on areas such as social work, nursing, pedagogy and teaching.

An ‘excellent’ agreement

Minister of Higher Education and Science Jesper Petersen described the deal via Twitter as “an excellent agreement for Denmark” which involved prioritising higher education and research, a permanent lifting of the humanities and the social sciences and DKK200 million each year to strengthen welfare education. He also praised the package for the introduction of “higher tax deductions for businesses’ investment in science and innovations”.

Camilla Gregersen, chair of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), described the agreement as a “huge victory”.

“It is a huge victory that now rather than being temporary and up to re-evaluation every third year, the humanities and social sciences have been granted the annual amount of DKK0.3 billion on a permanent basis. No longer will the educational economy suffer while facing uncertainties of whether they will get the last 10% of their grant. It has been an important issue for us to achieve,” she told University World News.

“I really appreciate that the teacher education as well as the early childhood and social education will get a much-needed financial boost, because they need it to make some of the necessary improvements."

Stefan Hermann, president of University Colleges in Denmark, an association of eight professional colleges awarding professional bachelor degrees in health sciences, engineering, business, arts and technology, welcomed the move.

“It is really positive that there is a political will to invest in those welfare higher education fields that are so important for our common welfare society … Great and goal-oriented changes are needed in higher education to secure the welfare ambitions that society is calling for. We are more than ready to start this work to strengthen our education systems and match the ambition for more qualified pedagogues [early childhood development practitioners, applied educational practitioners], social workers, teachers, and nurses,” he said in a press release.

Still more funding needed

However, he said even more funding is needed. “The funding support is going to make a difference, but together with our staff and students we have calculated that we need DKK600 million [US$90.5 million] each year to secure the necessary quality in these four higher education fields,” Hermann said.

Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark, told University World News that the Danish university sector could breathe a sigh of relief with the introduction of the reforms.

“Education at the Danish universities has been a target for budget cuts for many years … If the humanities and social sciences had to take even further budget cuts from 2023, I’m not sure we could have managed. So, this is indeed good news.”

Echoing Hermann, he said there was still a need for more funding for universities. “We need to develop our courses continually, so that they match the needs of today and tomorrow in terms of new technology, big data, and the transition to a more sustainable society. This is hard to do from the level of funding we are at now.”

Boosting international recruitment

In addition to funds for higher education, the government has agreed with the three political parties – the Socialist Left Party, the Radical Left Party, and the Christian Democrats – to prepare new legislation, to be endorsed later in the spring, aimed at strengthening international recruitment to support sectors in need of specific or high-level skills.

Up until now, international experts have been required to show evidence of an offer of an annual salary of DKK448,000 (US$67,500) in order to qualify for residence and a work permit. The present agreement is proposing to lower that amount to DKK375,000 (US$56,500) which will make it easier for Danish companies to recruit international experts, including newly graduated international students in Denmark.

In terms of the agreement, steps will be taken to expand the so-called “positive list” [skills of interest with options for regions to specify skills relevant to their region], improve the existing fast-track arrangement for skilled workers, strengthen recruitment centres abroad, and improve efforts to retain international graduates.

International graduates at Danish higher education institutions will have their residence permits extended from six to 12 months after graduation to give them more opportunity to seek employment.

Langergaard described the move as “another good piece of news”.

“Today, about a third [of international students] are staying and working in Denmark after their studies. We want more to stay, and having more time to find the suitable job is a very important part of that equation,” he said.