Say hello to the sixth minister in five years

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Mette Frederiksen (Social Democrats) is Denmark’s new prime minister, and tomorrow she’ll announce her new government, including the new higher higher education and science minister – the sixth one in five years.

2019.07.02 | Lotte Bilberg & Marie Groth Andersen

From left: Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Social Liberal Party), photo: Kim Vadskær, Esben Lunde Larsen (Danish Liberal Party), photo: Claus Bjørn, Ulla Tørnæs (Danish Liberal Party), Søren Pind (Danish Liberal Party), photo: Lars Svanekjær, Tommy Ahlers (Danish Liberal Party), photo: Kim Vadskær.

Recent higher education and science ministers

  • XX (Social Democrats): 27.06.19 - 
  • Tommy Ahlers (Danish Liberal Party): 02.05.18 - 27.06.19 (14 months)
  • Søren Pind (Danish Liberal Party): 28.11.16 - 02.05.18 (17 months)
  • Ulla Tørnæs (Danish Liberal Party): 29.02.16 - 28.11.16 (9 months)
  • Esben Lunde Larsen (Danish Liberal Party): 28.06.15 - 29.02.16 (8 months)
  • Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Social Liberal Party): 03.02.14 - 28.06.15 (15 months)
  • Morten Østergaard (Social Liberal Party): 03.10.11 - 03.02.14 (28 months)
  • Charlotte Sahl-Madsen 23.02.10 – 03.10.11 (19 months)
  • Helge Sander 27.11.01 – 23.02.10 (118 months – 10 years)

New higher education and science spokespersons

In the wake of the parliamentary elections in June 2019, the new higher education and science spokespersons for the Danish political parties are as follows:

  • Jakob Sølvhøj, Red-Green Alliance
  • Jacob Mark, Socialist People’s Party
  • Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, Danish People's Party
  • Marcus Knuth, Danish Liberal Party
  • Katarina Ammitzbøll, Conservative People’s Party
  • Sofie Carsten Nielsen, Danish Social Liberal Party

Today the Queen will approve Mette Frederiksen’s new government. And tomorrow we’ll all be introduced to the members of Denmark’s new government, including the new higher education and science minister. 

The new minister will be taking a seat none of the preceding five ministers had a chance to keep warm for very long. Since Morten Østergaard (Social Liberal Party) was replaced by Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Social Liberal Party) in February 2014 after 28 months as minister, succeeding minsters have only lasted for about a year. Some a little more, some a little less. 

In fact, there have been five different higher education and science ministers in the five years since Sofie Carsten Nielsen took over in February 2014.

Higher education and science are low on the national political agenda

Political science professor Rune Stubager believes that the high level of churn at the Ministry of Higher Education and Science suggests that higher education and research policy are not top political priorities.

“You get the impression that this office is considered a springboard to climbing higher up in the system – in other words, that you serve as higher education and science minister until something better opens up. If this were not the case, then presumably more of them would want to keep the job.”

More is left to ministry officials  

The ministers’ game of musical chairs at the Ministry of Higher Education and Science has consequences for government policy. Stubager singles out two conditions in particular:

“Naturally, the high level of turnover for this office makes it difficult to set a course for the area [of higher science and education, ed.] And in turn, this means that more is left to ministry officials.”

A herd of hobbyhorses

But this doesn’t mean that the various higher education and science ministers haven’t promoted various pet issues in an attempt to demonstrate their political clout. For example, Søren Pind (Danish Liberal Party) with his ‘educating the whole person’ agenda and Tommy Ahlers (Danish Liberal Party) with entrepreneurship. And because there’s less focus on these ministers from on high, this has been easier for them than for their colleagues at the heavyweight ministries. But Stubager characterises the initiatives these ministers have launched as ‘like icing’.

“As a ministers for a low-priority area, they have more scope for riding their own hobbyhorses, for expressing ambitions and making proposals – but only as long as it doesn’t cost anything, that is.

When asked what he would like to see when yet another new minister takes office, he replies:

“Everyone in our business wants more stability, for our area to moves higher up in the political hierarchy and for it to receive more funding. But we’ll have to wait and see whether the new government thinks that’s a wise policy.”  

Where’s the passion?

Katja Brøgger, associate professor of educational management, policy and administration at the Department of Education Studies at the Danish School of Education, also views the high level of turnover as an indication that the area is low on the political agenda, and as a consequence not particularly attractive. 

“This means that we’ve had ministers who haven’t expressed much of a passion for the area. Last time a minister had serious ambitions for the area was probably when Helge Sander held the post, and his ‘from research to invoice’ programme [In brief, a range of policies aimed at making research application-oriented in close contact with industry, ed.] which set a completely new and considerably more instrumental course for the university sector.”

Ahlers loosened the ministry’s grip

However, she also points out that the ‘more flexible university degree programmes’ initiative launched by the latest minister Tommy Ahlers (Danish Liberal Party) has contributed to loosening some of the restrictions on higher education introduced by his predecessors. 

“But for higher education, the many changing agendas – they’ve virtually changed once a year or every other year – make it very difficult to navigate, and the educational institutions have been reactive rather than active.”

Look upwards and outwards

Brøgger hopes that the new minister will continue to loosen the ministry’s grip on the education sector. 

“And I also hope that the new minister has ambitions for something more and different than the labour-market oriented course that has pushed the social sciences and humanities degree programmes into the background in recent years.”

In addition, she hopes that new minister will look upwards and outwards – beyond the country’s borders – and encourage increased international collaboration.

“In previous years, international collaboration in higher education has to a high degree focussed on creating infrastructure and mobility across national borders. Now that’s in place, it’s a question of focussing on content. Hopefully that can be achieved through things like the European Commission’s new European Universities Initiative.

Translated by Lenore Messick


LÆS OGSÅ: 

Tommy Ahlers:

Søren Pind:

Ulla Tørnæs:

Esben Lunde Larsen: 

Recent higher education and science ministers

  • XX (Social Democrats): 27.06.19 - 
  • Tommy Ahlers (Danish Liberal Party): 02.05.18 - 27.06.19 (14 months)
  • Søren Pind (Danish Liberal Party): 28.11.16 - 02.05.18 (17 months)
  • Ulla Tørnæs (Danish Liberal Party): 29.02.16 - 28.11.16 (9 months)
  • Esben Lunde Larsen (Danish Liberal Party): 28.06.15 - 29.02.16 (8 months)
  • Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Social Liberal Party): 03.02.14 - 28.06.15 (15 months)
  • Morten Østergaard (Social Liberal Party): 03.10.11 - 03.02.14 (28 months)
  • Charlotte Sahl-Madsen 23.02.10 – 03.10.11 (19 months)
  • Helge Sander 27.11.01 – 23.02.10 (118 months – 10 years)

New higher education and science spokespersons

In the wake of the parliamentary elections in June 2019, the new higher education and science spokespersons for the Danish political parties are as follows:

  • Jakob Sølvhøj, Red-Green Alliance
  • Jacob Mark, Socialist People’s Party
  • Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, Danish People's Party
  • Marcus Knuth, Danish Liberal Party
  • Katarina Ammitzbøll, Conservative People’s Party
  • Sofie Carsten Nielsen, Danish Social Liberal Party
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