New budget in Denmark – what does the dean think?

The Danish government and the parties that support it have finalised the country’s annual budget. What will this mean for the faculty in the year ahead? Dean Johnny Laursen gives us his views.

2019.12.03 | Knud Holt Nielsen

Dear staff,
Dear students,

As any faithful reader of the dean’s newsletters will know, my tendency to favour good order and stick to a firmly defined timetable means that these newsletters are published with unfailing predictability at certain times of the year such as the summer and Christmas holidays – plus a brief newsletter about the faculty’s budget in the autumn. Unfortunately, this strict timetable has been put out of joint by the recent late-night budget negotiations between the new Danish government and the parties that support it. These negotiations have taken so long that they were not concluded until the start of the magical month of Christmas. As a result, my customary autumnal newsletter about the faculty’s budget has been delayed until advent. I only hope that I can live up to any expectations to which this fact may give rise.

At least I come bringing good tidings. The so-called taximeter increase for the social sciences and humanities has finally been confirmed for the next three years, following a good deal of unnecessary tension during the government’s budget negotiations. This has poured some much-needed oil on some relatively troubled waters, giving us the time to strengthen the rewarding dialogue that we already enjoy with the ministry, the politicians and other stakeholders such as the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations, the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs, the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Chamber of Commerce, who have been important sources of support in the task of ensuring the taximeter increase. Naturally, our goal now must be to make the taximeter increase permanent at the earliest opportunity. This shouldn’t be impossible. After all, the increase was only made temporary pending an increase in the number of hours of teaching provided by the universities. And it is now some time since we managed this. More good news: the so-called reallocation contribution, which has led to 2% cuts in our degree programme income each year, will be discontinued starting in 2020. And finally, it’s worth mentioning that earlier this autumn the government and the parties that support it reached agreement on the allocation of research reserve funds, focusing among other things on the contribution of the social sciences and humanities to sustainability, the encouragement of young researchers and free, independent research.

The new government budget means that the faculty can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel – the end of a long period since 2014 during which we have been working hard to cope with the challenges of the degree programme resizing initiative, the reallocation contribution and the study progress reform. The degree programme resizing initiative is now up and running. And the first major reduction in the number of Master’s graduates will occur in 2020. The faculty has also made a good deal of progress in coping with the issue of degree completion time. And maintained a healthy financial situation, as well as continuing to recruit new colleagues in vacant positions. Our budgets allow for the latest losses in income caused by the degree programme resizing initiative. We have invested considerable resources in achieving these goals, and the faculty management team is still working to ensure that the time spent on teaching, supervision and assessment is in balance with our staff resources. We’ll get there in the end, although our different schools may cross the finishing line at slightly different speeds. The faculty now has 4,000 fewer students than we had in 2014 when the degree programme resizing initiative was adopted, but we still have the same number of tenured academic staff. This would not have been possible without the hard work that has been done in terms of our degree programmes, improvements in external research funding and ongoing cuts in the cost of our administration and buildings.

The government’s budget means that we can maintain our current position and systematically bring to an end what I would describe as the age of degree programme resizing. We can start looking forward to the future development of our faculty. Not a moment too soon: the new AU strategy is now ready for the board meeting on 13 December, and our faculty and schools have already started thinking about strategic discussions regarding our goals for the future. The faculty’s consultation response has underlined the importance of sustainability, a good work environment, and what we have described as “… ongoing efforts to protect the fertile environment provided for new research ideas and a broad knowledge structure as the foundation of original research projects and academic innovation in the future, instead of focusing on winner-takes-all initiatives”. You can read the consultation responses here. The faculty management team wants to lift our gaze from the stormy waters of the past few years and forget all the generalisations that have been made about our degree programmes. Let us now navigate a new course as we look towards a brighter future in the light of our new and more stable financial situation. I also believe that people’s understanding of and respect for the faculty’s knowledge environments and degree programmes is on the increase. This belief is based on the agreement for allocating the research reserve funds, and the latest signals issued by the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Chamber of Commerce. Here too, we can now focus our attention on a future which is no longer subject to degree programme resizing. The old era is over, and a new one can begin.

One of the other challenges facing us during the upcoming period involves strengthening our efforts relating to sound academic practice and the freedom of research. Anyone who has been reading the Danish newspapers in 2019 must surely be aware of the complexities of this issue. The agenda on the table was actually introduced following an independent inquiry carried out last year by the academic councils – leading to renewed focus on the need to revise the university’s rules and guidelines in this area. It was during this period that the unfortunate cases reported in the press came floating to the surface. This is a reminder to the staff and management at the Faculty of Arts: partnerships with external stakeholders must always be carefully considered and thoroughly assessed. During the upcoming period, we will be trying even harder to ensure the integrity and freedom of our research.

Advent in Denmark is a time for giving and receiving presents. But this newsletter couldn’t really be described as my gift to you in the runup to Christmas. I freely acknowledge this fact. But even so: after what seems like endless grey drizzle throughout the month of November, at least December has started with a couple of clear, frosty days. The sun is certainly shining as I write these words. The future looks brighter than it has looked for a long time. And although this newsletter is an exception to my normally rigorous adherence to a strict timetable, I should now be able to return to normal service. So don’t be surprised if I send you a brief Christmas message of goodwill. And it will be sent on time!

I hope the month of December brings you health and happiness.

With the very best wishes,
Johnny Laursen