Reform Commission recommends converting SU into a loan for Master’s students and shortening Master’s degree programmes

SU should no longer be something the state gives to Master’s students, and half the country’s Master’s programmes should be reduced from two years to one year. These are two of the proposals from the Reform Commission, which also recommends imposing a grade point average cut-off of 9.0.

Photo: Colourbox/P. Qvist

Members of the Reform Commission (Reformkommissionen):

- Nina Smith, professor at Aarhus University (chair)

- David Dreyer Lassen, pro-rector and professor at the University of Copenhagen

- Philipp Schröder, professor at Aarhus University

- Per B. Christensen, chair of Danske SOSU-skoler

- Jørgen Søndergaard, research director (emeritus) at VIVE

- Jon Kvist, professor at Roskilde University

- Agnete Raaschou-Nielsen, chair of the board at Arkil Holding A/S and Danske Invest

Main recommendations in the report:

- Convert SU grants into loans for Master’s students

-  Increase SU loans for Master’s students so that they can borrow up to DKK 12,500 a month.

- Reduce almost half of Master’s degree programmes from two years to one year.

- Introduce a new admissions system for higher education programmes, which sets a grade point average cut-off of 9.0.

- Increase taximeter funding by 30% for the new one-year Master’s degree programmes and by 50% for Master’s degree programmes for working professionals.

Source: Reform Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education and Science

Convert the SU grant into a loan for Master’s students in Denmark and cut half the Master’s degree programmes down from two years to one.

These were two of the proposals in a new report (“Nye Reformveje 1”) from the Reform Commission, which was set up by the government in 2020.

The commission is headed by professor of economics at AU, Nina Smith, who presented the report at a press conference in Copenhagen on Wednesday morning. 

The main idea is to increase the quality of university education, and our proposed changes are not intended to save money but to invest in education, explained Nina Smith at the press conference.

In the report, emphasis is placed on graduates getting out onto the labour market rather than staying at university to specialise for longer.

The commission suggests increasing the amount that Master’s students can receive in SU but converting the SU grant into a loan for Master’s programmes. It is suggested that Master’s students should be able to borrow up to DKK 12,500 a month.

Nina Smith does not believe that social mobility will suffer as a result of removing the SU grant from Master’s programmes. She refers to it as a “reverse Robin Hood effect” that students taking long-cycle degree programmes – who stand to earn more once they graduate – receive money from the state.

“My view – based on my knowledge of the subject – is that social mobility is created in the kindergarten and the primary/lower secondary school, not at the university finishing line,” she says.

According to the report, 7 out of 10 degree programmes in the humanities and social sciences should be converted into one-year Master’s degree programmes, but only 3 out of 10 programmes in the technical and natural sciences. Even fewer Master’s programmes should be shortened in healthcare education, the report claims.

The commission suggests that, in the future, there should be four possible ways to obtain a Master’s degree after a Bachelor’s degree. There should be two types of Master’s degree programme – a one-year programme and a two-year programme – and there should also be two Master’s degree programmes  for working professionals.

The commission also recommends capping the grade-point average (GPA) required to study at university at 9.0. Today, popular degree programmes can have a grade-point average cut-off of almost 12, and, according to the commission, setting a cap of 9.0 would “remove an unhealthy 12-point culture”.

The savings made by converting the SU state grant into a loan should go back into the universities, which, as a result, would receive extra funding, explains economics professor Nina Smith. So the universities would not lose but would gain money.

According to the report, reducing the length of the Master’s programmes would entail a loss of DKK 400 million for the universities, but, to compensate for this, the commission proposes increasing taximeter funding and allocating more money to universities in order to increase the quality of degree programmes. DKK 750 million should be spent on further quality development, explains Nina Smith.

“Overall, if we look at the whole calculation, the universities are set to gain DKK 1,450 million. We believe this will be positive for social mobility. There is nothing to indicate that the SU grant has any influence on social mobility once a person has made it as far as the Master’s,” says Nina Smith.

If the recommendations of the Reform Commission are implemented in full, the overall plan will increase GDP by DKK 25 billion.

At the press conference, members of the commission remarked that 27% of all school-leavers today graduate from university with a Master’s degree. This is a completely different picture than 30 years ago, when the figure was around 10%.

In 1990, 32% of all 20-24-year-olds were in education, but, in 2018, this figure had risen to 51%.

“We are becoming much, much more specialised much earlier in our lives,” says Nina Smith.

Whether the proposals are realistic in practice is more uncertain. On Wednesday afternoon, the Danish Social Liberal Party’s spokesperson for education, Katrine Robsøe, said she considered the SU grant proposal unfeasible.

“It is the completely wrong way to go. Students don’t deserve to start their working lives with a huge debt”, she told TV2 News.

As recently as 28 March, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Omnibus that there were “no plans to cut the SU grant or to convert it into a loan”.

“I have never been very fond of this idea, and I think this is mainly because I come from a background where it was not so common to study at university”, she said during her visit to AU.

The Socialist People’s Party also claim that converting SU into a loan is not the right way forward.

Minister for Higher Education and Science Jesper Petersen underlined in a press conference that the proposals did not come from the government itself.

“This is not a proposal from the government, and the proposal to convert the AU grant into a loan is not something we’re committed to. But the report provides several recommendations and highlights many relevant issues, and a great deal of thorough work has gone into it. I am looking forward to exploring it in more detail and taking part in the debate that will hopefully follow up on the commission’s work”, says Jesper Petersen.