A major task awaits us – but not as major as we feared

Read the senior management team's response to the higher education reform, which was presented yesterday 27 June.

After months of political discussion and intense negotiations, seven political parties in the Danish Parliament have signed an agreement that reforms Master’s degree programmes in Denmark. There have been several reforms in the university sector in recent years, but few have been as extensive and far-reaching as this one. This reform will significantly change many of our Master’s degree programmes.

This is not a reform that the universities wanted. We are proud of the degree programmes we offer today. However, it’s clear that there is a political majority in favour of a new educational model, and we have seen it as our job to attempt to mitigate the government’s original proposal. Over the last few months, we have done everything we can to share our knowledge with politicians and to offer alternative proposals that involve less radical changes to our degree programme structure. We’ve made our voice heard in the media, and we’ve been in direct dialogue with politicians. As has been announced, the main aim of the reform is to increase labour supply and to free up funding that can be invested in the education sector as a whole. This aim has been met, but our arguments have also been listened to. The reform is less radical than originally feared, and its scope is manageable.

One of the main elements in the agreement is to increase the amount of contact students have with the labour market whilst studying for their degree. This is something we have been working on for quite some time at Aarhus University. In recent years, the focus on employability has increased significantly on a number of our degree programmes.

This is where we are now: The framework is in place

The framework agreement has turned out to be very different from the original proposal, which recommended shortening up to 50 per cent of Master’s degree programmes. 

In the final agreement, only 10 per cent of Master’s degree programmes will be reduced from 2 years to 1¼ years – with effect from 2028. This is a positive development, because we believe that by designing a new type of programme in selected subjects areas we can achieve this figure without compromising quality.

Universities also need to offer more career-oriented Master’s degree programmes that focus on employability. The government’s target is that 20 per cent of all Master’s students will be admitted to such programmes once they are fully phased in. There will be two types of career-oriented Master’s programmes, each corresponding to up to 120 ECTS: A more flexible version of the Master's degree programme for working professionals that we currently have, whereby students work part-time in a company/organisation; and a programme on which students complete a compulsory work placement financed by the company/organisation in question. These Master’s programmes will be phased in gradually, so that the first 10 per cent of students are admitted in 2028, a further five per cent are admitted in 2030, and the remaining five per cent in 2032.

Reducing admission to Bachelor’s degree programmes is also part of the agreement. It was necessary to use this instrument in order to reduce the number of degree programmes that needed to be shortened and to meet the government’s goal of increasing labour supply and freeing up funding. We have supported these reductions because we recognise that there is an imbalance in the number of students applying for the different types of post-secondary degree programme. By managing these reductions wisely, we can help to achieve a better balance. According to the final agreement, Bachelor’s degree programmes will be scaled back by eight per cent compared with average admissions between 2018 and 2022. It is not yet clear how this will be implemented in practice, but any such cuts that have already been imposed will be integrated into this new process. In our opinion, we have now reached the limit of how much we can scale back – otherwise we run the risk of educating too few university graduates in Denmark.

In the agreement, it states that any savings made by the reform will be reinvested in the education sector. We don’t yet have any details on this, but we are pleased that the politicians are also keen to invest in university degree programmes. Another encouraging part of the agreement is that the taximeter increase on social science and humanities programmes has finally been made permanent, having been the object of repeated temporary extensions.

The political process is not over yet

It states in the framework agreement that a supplementary agreement will be concluded after the summer holidays. It will certainly be interesting to hear more about this – especially with regard to the level of detail the politicians wish to go into. It is possible that they will entrust much of the decision-making to the Master’s committee, which will be appointed after the summer break. The committee will represent all the universities in Denmark, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, and students from across the country. Among other things, the committee will implement the political agreement by drawing up a sector plan for university programmes in Denmark.

We must and can make this work

Like all other universities in Denmark, Aarhus University now faces a very large and complicated task of designing new, high-quality degree programmes. How we will do this in practice is something we’ll look at more closely once the political process is over and as the Master’s committee completes its work. What we currently know is that the first new Master’s degree programmes must be ready in 2028. We must and we can come up with good solutions for this – if nothing else, we owe this to our future students.

With kind regards and best wishes for your summer holiday.

Rector, Brian Bech Nielsen
Pro-rector, Berit Eika
University Director, Kristian Thorn
Director of Enterprise and Innovation, Lone Ryg
Dean, Aarhus BSS, Thomas Pallesen
Dean, Faculty of Arts, Maja Horst
Dean, Faculty of Health, Anne-Mette Hvas
Dean, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Kristian Pedersen
Dean, Faculty of Technical Sciences, Eskild Holm Nielsen