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The Danish School of Education is merging departments and pausing degree programmes after last year’s layoffs: smallest programmes affected

Two degree programmes will be paused at the Danish School of Education (DPU), which will also merge the two smallest departments with other departments. This means that the school will go from six departments to four departments. The changes are being made to adjust the school’s workload after 18 employees were laid off last year in connection with budget cutbacks. The employees are nervous, says a union representative.

"No one will be laid off," says Head of School Claus Holm. Photo: Lise Balsby Photo: Lise Balsby

Translated by Global Denmark

Once again, staff and students at DPU have received bad news. DPU is changing its organisation and several degree programmes to adjust the workload after 18 employees left the school last year as a result of budget cutbacks.  

The two smallest departments at DPU, the Department of Educational Anthropology and the Department of Educational Philosophy and General Education, will be merged with the Department of Educational Psychology and the Department of Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies, respectively. This means that DPU will go from six departments to four departments from February next year. The changes are stated in the DPU’s recommendations for adjustments to Dean of Arts Maja Horst.

The Master's degree programmes in educational philosophy in Aarhus and in educational anthropology and globalisation in Copenhagen will be paused, and the Master's degree programme in educational anthropology will be revised. The reason for pausing educational philosophy in Aarhus is that the degree programme has a relatively high drop-out rate and lower employment than other programmes at DPU.

In addition, the number of hours utilised on the degree programmes in educational theory and curriculum studies will be reduced through co-teaching on Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies (Danish) and by merging the programmes Music Education and Material Culture. Co-teaching means that several different classes will be taught together.

Head of School Claus Holm says that the smallest programmes and departments were chosen because Arts has decided that the aim of the programme adjustments is to make the programmes financially sustainable.

"No one will be laid off. Our task is to create a balance between the workload and fewer staff resources."

"I’ve discussed this in various bodies and departments at DPU. The purpose has been to figure out where we could find these hours, so we can come up with the least unsatisfactory solutions for the organisation. Making financially sustainable adjustments to degree programmes will affect the smallest programmes," says Claus Holm, who stresses that the adjustments are a natural consequence of last year’s cutbacks.

"No one will be laid off. Our task is to create a balance between the workload and fewer staff resources,” he says.

Staff members most affected have been contacted

In December last year, DPU had to make cutbacks to find DKK 15 million in the budget. Eight employees were laid off, while 11 accepted a voluntary redundancy package. This has reduced the number of staff by 16 members of academic staff FTEs and 3 technical/administrative staff FTEs, corresponding to 16.5 per cent of the total numbers of hours utilised at DPU, and the school is now adapting to this.


The adjustments, which will take effect from February 2024, also mean that DPU will go from eight to seven degree programme boards.

Claus Holm stresses that all subject areas will continue, but that some will be affected more than others when degree programmes are paused, merged or taught together.

Staff members most affected have been contacted, says the head of school. This concerns a total of 15 employees whose work processes seem to be changing the most. Some employees will now be travelling to Emdrup to teach, while others will be teaching more on other degree programmes in Aarhus within their subject area. Now there is a transfer window open where employees can move to another department if it makes more sense for them.

"We need to make sure that employees at DPU have relevant tasks within their subject areas. Merging departments and making adjustments to degree programmes can cause people to want to move from one department to another. The transfer window is not a new practice, but it may be relevant to some members of academic staff given the adjustments," says Claus Holm.

Head of school: We don't know when paused programmes will reopen

The head of school cannot say anything about when the paused degree programmes may reopen and the risks of programmes never reopening. The only thing that is certain is that the pauses are not actual shut downs.

"When we pause something, we don't know when it will reopen"

“When we pause something, we don't know when it will reopen. This is also what we’ve communicated to the staff. It’s also about the political framework conditions, and as we all know, we don’t have a good grip on them at the moment. My impression is that our staff understands this," says Claus Holm.

He is referring to the Master's reform currently being negotiated in the Danish Parliament, and which is expected to cause major changes at the universities. The fact that the consequences of the reform are not known creates uncertainty for the school, explains the head of school.

At a meeting in the school forum on 26 April, a comment was made as to whether the timing of the adjustments is right seeing that the reform of the Master's degree programmes is just around the corner.

Claus Holm replied that this has been discussed in detail, but that the objective is to balance the situation at the school before a possible reform.

"Finding a balance between staff resources and workload is absolutely necessary, and that's what we've been working on for the past six months. Naturally, we’re considering all possible scenarios at Arts, depending on what the politicians decide, but we don't know anything yet. The reform of the Master’s degree programmes will hardly give us more funding, so being in balance is crucial in order to become as robust as possible if and when we’re affected by a reform," says Claus Holm.

Fewer elective courses and less internal co-examination

The head of school states that students who are already studying on one of the programmes affected will be able to complete the programme on the terms they have today. However, from February next year, it will no longer be possible to study educational philosophy in Aarhus – only in Copenhagen.

Another thing that will change is that students will have fewer elective courses to choose from, and the internal co-examination will not be as comprehensive as previously. This means that student exams will be assessed by fewer people.

"We’ve also been in dialogue with the students on the board of studies, and, as mentioned, we’ve tried hard to make cutbacks in the places that hurt the least," says Claus Holm.

Students: Taking elective courses elsewhere

One of the people who has taken part in this dialogue is Rune Bak, who is an education science student and a member of the degree programme board. He is also a member of the student council (DSR), which safeguards the interests of students at DPU. He is particularly concerned about the reduced internal co-examination, e.g. because co-examination helps ensure the quality of the examiner's assessment. 

"It’s worrying only to be assessed by one person. I'm not afraid that the examiner will be subjective, but science is broad, and our teachers cannot be specialists on everything we work with. This will of course reduce quality. The examiner may become uncertain because there’s no one to discuss the assignment with," says Rune Bak. 

The fewer elective courses at DPU have already made him act. 

"I myself have taken elective courses at the University of Copenhagen, and I’ve encouraged my class to do the same. This will further drain DPU's resources, and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Of course the students want the best possible education, and if this is not offered at their own department, they’ll have to look elsewhere – you can't blame them for that," says Rune Bak.

However, he also emphasises that there is a general understanding for DPU's current situation, which is considered to be caused by politicians.

Joint union representative: People are super nervous

The joint union representative for the academic staff at DPU, Bjørg Kjær, explains that the restructuring is happening at a time when the atmosphere at the school is already negative due to the layoffs in autumn 2022.

"You start to think what bad news will come next?"

"It's reactivated past traumas. We thought we were done after the round of layoffs, but now we're thinking what bad news will come next? And you worry about whether there will be more layoffs now that several degree programmes are being paused. Therefore, we’ve put in a lot of work to make it clear and repeat that this isn’t more bad news, just the consequences of the staff reduction last autumn," says Bjørg Kjær.

The joint union representative stresses that management denies the need for more layoffs.

"But people are super nervous anyway. Because if a degree programme is closed, and I can't teach any lessons, what should I do? People are very concerned – and that’s completely understandable," says Bjørg Kjær.

She notes that areas at DPU are affected differently. Therefore, the announcement has affected employees differently. However, many employees find it difficult to see the positive aspects and ultimately consider this yet another cost-cutting exercise, Bjørg Kjær assesses.

"If most of your teaching has been in one city, and now you have to drive across the country to a different campus, it's a big change in your working life. I know there are colleagues who think: Should I be retrained to do something else? Should I work towards a different academic field, or should I change my empirical focus? As union representatives, we’re trying to focus on this. You can't expect the same from colleagues whose working life is being turned upside down," she says.

For a school that has recently been through a round of layoffs and which is now facing extensive restructuring, it would only be natural to expect that some employees will look for other opportunities. This is also the case, says Bjørg Kjær.

"People share all sorts of thoughts with me, and I'm worried whether people consider this an attractive place to work. Not because of DPU, but because of the university sector. It’s being slagged off, and working conditions are bad. This is the vibe I’m getting. People are considering their situation, and some are considering leaving," she says and continues:

"You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having been through a tough round of layoffs. This makes everything else more real to us, because we know that this isn’t only hypothetical. Knowing that the sector will very likely change just adds to this insecurity," says Bjørg Kjær. 

Claus Holm: It's been a tough period – but financial balance awaits

The adjustments now have to be planned and implemented in practice. A committee to plan the mergers will be set up, and new heads of department will be found for the newly established departments. In addition, DPU will reduce its resources for academic and social activities in connection with the mergers.

Claus Holm is not blind to the idea that some employees may have considered their future at the school.

"We've been through a tough period, and of course some employees may have considered their situation. But the fact is that DPU is on its way to becoming financially balanced, and my impression is that, despite everything, many employees still consider DPU as a great place to work," says Claus Holm.