Industry experts object to proposed masters degree reforms

More than 250 members of different university work panels have signed a petition, published in the media, objecting to the Danish government’s plans to reduce the masters degree from two years to one for up to half of the country’s graduates.

The petition, authored by PROSA, a union of IT professionals, and signatories from over 100 work panels (‘aftagerpanel’ in Danish), was published in Politiken on 23 February.

University work panels are mandatory in terms of the University Act and are made up of industry representatives, who advise universities, among other things, on the needs of the labour market.

Noting that the government has indicated its wish to involve experts “who understand higher education and the needs of the workforce” in the reforms expected to be discussed in parliament, the petition states: “Thank you. We are glad for this, and we want to be heard. Therefore, we are involving ourselves now”.

The petition goes on to argue that it is “no use” for the government to argue that a shorter masters degree will represent a “quality leap forward” for higher education.

“Even if the money is used for a better (and shortened) education, it is of course important how long the education lasts. That means: how many subjects you can take, how many assignments you can manage and how many exams you can manage to take.”

The petition argues that the first year after the bachelor degree is “of great importance for university students because this is when learning and knowledge are lifted [to a new level]”.

Workforce needs

The petitioners argue that as members of the working panels they know the students, the universities and “most of all we know the workforce needs of those businesses and organisations we represent”.

“It is we who are employing those graduates that are hatched out from the universities. We know precisely what we are in need of: well-educated graduates to help solve the complex tasks in a society characterised by a growing complexity.”

The petition states that there is no real market for three-year bachelor graduates in Denmark. Instead, business, organisations and governmental institutions prefer the five-year masters degree candidates.

“And this is obvious because they are better educated, their analyses are sharper, and they can solve tasks at a higher level. If we now are starting to educate four-year masters degree graduates, we can only be sure that we are getting poorly educated graduates. Nobody knows if there will be a market for them,” the petition states.

“I am tired of Minister Christina Egelund’s argument for cutting the masters degree ‘for the benefit of the students’,” Esben Bjørn Salomonsen, chairperson of the National Union of Students (DSF), wrote via Twitter on 16 February. He was referring to a recent article in Politiken in which ‘four myths’ about the proposed reform are propagated, among these that there is a “contradiction between research-based education and the needs in the workforce”.

Damage to academic skills

Speaking to University World News, Salomonsen said: “In the DSF we believe that the proposal of one-year masters will be very harmful for our education. The proposal will harm our options to specialise and damage our academic skills. Furthermore, we fear that it will be impossible to get real-world experience such as academic internships during our studies.”

Salomonsen also said there were concerns for student well-being since they will need to learn more in a shorter time. “In Denmark, we have a system where you are assured a place in a masters programme. That system will vanish if the one-year masters programmes are put through. We need to have a system that puts student well-being at the top, not a system that harms it.”

Referring to the ‘aftagerpanel’ petition, Salomonsen said the government “should take notice of the petition, since these are the people who employ us when we have finished our studies. These organs are specifically made to advise on how to improve our studies. They know if they want to employ us or not after our studies.”

Architect Jan Vinther Fritsdal, a senior project manager and a Green Building Council Denmark consultant at the Nordic Office of Architecture in Aarhus, as well as a member of the working panel in architecture and design at Aalborg University and a signatory to the petition, told University World News architecture and design was “very complicated today”.

“If you look back maybe just 10 or 20 years there [was] hardly any focus [on] LCA (Life-cycle assessment) calculations, sunlight analysis, knowledge of sustainability certifications, cradle to cradle focus and/or circular economics and sustainability, building regulations and local planning, user involvement, etc. Most of these are specialist topics during the masters degree,” he said.

Time and hard work

He said the ability to also design a functional and beautiful building in relation to its surroundings and users, takes time to master and is only done through hard work at the universities.

“Through different [semester] projects you learn to implement specific skills and specialties supported by teaching teams and classes. By shortening the masters significantly there will be no time to be thorough in each project and thereby you will be degrading the masters student.

“When I look back on my masters degree, the semester projects have been the biggest contributor to a deeper understanding of architecture and design, specialisation and knowledge-sharing etc. It created my identity and the basis for my jobs. And my education has continued ever since.”

Lise Schubart, CEO and communications advisor at Helium Communication in Copenhagen, and a member of the graduate panel at the Department of Communication, University of Copenhagen, said it did not make any sense to reduce university education from five to four years.

“Denmark is a small nation with no minerals at all. Therefore, education and know-how are our most important assets. If our country shall continue to be among the best in the world in whatever we are developing and producing, we require highly educated young people. Therefore, to save money by reducing the length of their education is definitely not the way forward. This is simply too costly a way to save money.”