Higher education application numbers show sharp decline

A steep drop in the number of new applications to higher education institutions in Denmark is being attributed by the government to a number of factors, including the opening up of the world post-COVID, the economic boom and a decline in English-taught courses.

In total, 79,737 applications to higher education institutions were filed in 2022, which represents a reduction of 15% from the year before. The figure roughly matches the number of applicants received in 2012, which stood at 80,766. Among the applicants, 177 were Ukrainians.

This year, 27% fewer students applied directly from school for a higher education place, suggesting that many students are postponing their applications to higher education.

A reduction in the numbers for 2022 was anticipated due to the high number of students applying during the COVID years. Parliament allocated 6,000 new study places in 2021 to meet the historically high number of applicants.

In a press release, the ministry of education and research attributed the fall in numbers to the country’s current economic boom.

Another factor is that there are approximately 4,000 fewer study places in higher education being conducted in English as a result of a broad political agreement made in 2021 which aimed to bring the Danish State Education Support (SU) grant expenditure under control by reducing grants to migratory workers.

‘Generation Lockdown’

In a statement, the Minister for Higher Education and Science, Jesper Petersen, said a large proportion of the young people eligible to apply this year had completed their secondary education “under difficult circumstances in the middle of a pandemic shutdown”.

“This is ‘Generation Lockdown’, who are now able to get out and experience the world,” he said.

“That said, I can fully understand if you find this year’s application figures a bit surprising. I know I did. The figures are significantly lower than in recent years. But, fortunately, when you analyse the figures, there are several good explanations.”

Deputy Director of the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Science Mikkel Leihardt described the drop in numbers as a “kind of COVID-19 effect” that would last a number of years.

“As expected, the number of applicants is lower overall than in recent years. The explanation for this is partly to be found in the fact that, last year and the year before, many people brought forward their applications for a place in higher education because the COVID-19 lockdown meant that their opportunities to travel abroad, for example, or to seek employment, were severely limited.

“This contributed to record admissions in 2020 and 2021 which, conversely, means that those applicants are not to be found in the application figures this year,” he said.

According to official figures, applicant numbers in 2020 and 2021 were 94,604 and 93,388, respectively.

“Now, however, we have employment, and better opportunities to travel, attend a folk high school and the like. In addition, this year there are fewer higher education courses conducted in English, which, as expected, has led to fewer applications from abroad.”

However, Leihardt said there were some “underlying tendencies” in application patterns across the different sectors of education.

“Moreover, it is not unlikely that the numbers will be further reduced in the coming years, as the effect of the declining numbers of potential applicants kicks in,” he said.

Nursing and social education

Once again, social education, with 4,608 applicants, tops the list as the most sought-after degree programme. Nursing is third with 3,373 applicants. These programmes have received 23% and 32% fewer applications respectively, compared with 2019.

Teacher education, which is the eighth-most sought-after programme, and social work, which is 10th on the list, have received 14% and 20% fewer applicants respectively than in 2019.

Petersen said, although there are good reasons for lower numbers, he was concerned about the fact that significantly fewer young people were applying for nursing and social education programmes.

“We have to take this seriously. These are the people who have to go out and improve the lives of children, young people, hospital patients, the socially disadvantaged – indeed, all of us, in the end.

“There is a current tendency to think that the more academic an educational programme is, the more prestigious it is. This poses a series of challenges for us, so I intend to invite representatives of the educational programmes and the professional organisations for a serious discussion of these challenges.

“We have a shared responsibility; these educational programmes play a key role in the Danish welfare society,” he said.

Petersen’s comments come in the wake of a report, Numbers on Danish universities 2021, published on 15 June, that found that the number of applicants accepted in the humanities in 2021 was the lowest in 15 years.

STEM and IT programmes

Two STEM programmes that are among the top 10 of the most sought-after courses – graduate engineering and civil engineering – this year respectively saw 8% and 5% fewer applicants than in 2019.

The total number of applicants for non-regulated STEM programmes has fallen less than the overall decrease. Applications for these programmes are 6% lower than in 2019.

On 28 July, all applicants will receive a response to their applications and, on 1 October, the total admission figures, including post-admissions, will be announced.