What are the new government’s ambitions in relation to research and higher education?

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After the new higher education and science minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen puts down her champagne glass and rolls up her sleeves, one of the first things on her to-do list is a reckoning with the reallocation contribution and the degree programme cap. The new government also intends to strengthen research and protect freedom of research.

2019.07.02 | Marie Groth Andersen

The agreement 'A fair direction for Denmark' (Retfærdig retning for Danmark). Photo: Marie Groth Andersen

The new higher education and science minister Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen (Social Democrats). Photo: Steen Brogaard

On Tuesday evening, the four parties behind the Social Democratic government coalition headed by Mette Frederiksen as prime minister agreed on a so-called ‘political understanding’ under the heading ‘A fair direction for Denmark’. An agreement under which the new government has pledged to launch a number of initiatives.  

In relation to higher education and research, the four parties have most to say about the latter. And this is also where the ‘understanding’ is most concrete. On the very first page, the parties to the agreement make their intentions loud and clear: “We will invest in education.” 

READ MORE: Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen is the new higher education and science minister

Rolling back the two-percent cutbacks on education 

In the agreement, the government has pledged to introduce a bill to drop the so-called reallocation contribution, which would put an end to the annual two-percent cutbacks on education.

READ MORE: Say hello to the sixth minister in five years

In 2015, former primer minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s government decided to extend the reallocation contribution to include educational institutions. This meant that educational institutions had to reduce their budgets by two percent each year, which has been putting wrinkles on the foreheads of the executive management teams of the country’s university ever since. During the election campaign, however, Løkke’s own Danish Liberal Party also promised to end the reallocation contribution cutbacks on educational institutions.

No more degree programme cap

The parties to the agreement will also work to give post-secondary students more flexibility during their studies by taking the initiative to reform of transfer credit. However, the agreement contains no concrete details about what the reform will entail.  

The government also intends to abolish the degree programme cap – despite the fact that the Social Democrats helped pass it in Parliament in 2016. The degree programme cap means that graduates are not allowed to take a new advanced degree programme at the same or a lower level than the degree they already have. The degree programme agreement was adjusted in 2017 to allow students to take a new degree at the same or a lower level after six years. But the degree programme cap still limits students’ opportunities to change course and and act on second thoughts about their choice of degree programme. And in 2018, Mette Frederiksen announced that she intended to abolish the degree programme cap.

A revolt against ’the culture of (over)achievement’

Removing the degree programme cap is one of the levers the government will pull in order to improve the well-being of children and young people and take a stand against the culture of (over)achievement. The government also intends to review the educational system to determine whether there are other levers that need pulling, for example adjusting the grading scale and forms of examination. Finally, the evaluation of the admissions system will be completed. 

The new government also intends to give young people with handicaps or disabilities better opportunities for getting an education. Another priority is retention of international students who earn their degree in Denmark, as well as removing the cap on degree programmes taught in English which has forced universities to reduce the size of these programmes. A measure which Universities Denmark criticized last year. 

The new government will strengthen research

The parties to the ‘political understanding’ are less specific about their intentions when it comes to research.  

However, the agreement does contain this formulation: “It is through our degree programmes and research institutions that we will gain new ideas and find solutions to the problems our society faces. For this reason, we must strengthen research, protect freedom of research and aim to reach the Barcelona target for public expenditure on R&D of at least 1% of GDP.”  

The Barcelona target referred to here requires EU member countries to spend a total of 3% of GDP on research and development, a third of which is to be performed in the public sector. 

The new government also intends to adopt a climate action plan, and will increase funding for green research in that connection.

Translated by Lenore Messick

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