Over 600 AU students couldn’t get the help they needed in the autumn semester because of unusually slow case processing at the agency that approves applications for special educational support (SPS). Case processing times won’t be back to normal until April, says Minister for Higher Education and Science Christina Egelund.

Jens Bundgaard, the head of the office that manages SU grants and loans, SPS and the Dual Career programme at AU. Photo: Roar Lava Paaske

This article is translated by Lenore Messick

AU students with functional impairments may have been forced to do without the support they need for months, because the National Agency for Quality and Supervision (STUK), which processes applications for special educational support (SPS) has been struggling with a backlog of cases since last autumn.

In December, students at all Danish universities who applied for SPS had to wait between 9 and 15 weeks for a decision on their application. This was the conclusion of a joint survey investigating delays in case processing carried out by the Danish universities last December, including AU, Jens Bundgaard told Omnibus. He’s the head of the office that manages SU grants and loans, SPS and the Dual Career programme at AU.

At AU alone, 648 students were still waiting for a response from the agency on 27 November last year; in fact one of these applications had been submitted on 26 September –two months earlier.

On 6 December, STUK began processing applications for the autumn semester with a view to granting support for the spring semester 2024 instead, because time had run out. What this means is that AU students who applied for support in September last year for help in the autumn semester may not receive support until sometime this spring.

Beyond a doubt, these delays impacted AU students during the exam period, Bundgaard confirmed:

“We’ve had a huge number of students who’ve been waiting for a response on their applications for a really long time. It’s absolutely clear that there are numerous students who applied last semester – and early last semester to boot – who didn’t receive any academic support before their exams started.”

“And a lot of these student apply for support in the form of counselling, which of course is a process. Another large group of students apply for an IT package, which of course you need to be introduced to and learn how to use. So it’s not the case that once support has been granted, it takes effect immediately. There’s always a start-up phase. So students who need SPS have really been dealt a tough hand this autumn.”

And according to Bundgaard, the delays hit new students who started studying at AU last summer particularly hard; they may have gotten off to a rocky start due to the lack of support.

He said: “It’s an unfortunately situation. In our experience, when there’s a delay in the academic support students need to compensate for the challenges caused by their functional impairment, what happens is that their disability baggage gets too heavy, as they put it. They put all of their energy into dealing with their functional impairment instead of the academic and social activities that ought to be the focus of their first year of university study.”

“The case processing times have been particularly slow for academic support applications this autumn. It’s incredibly delayed. And as the ministers said at the consultation, STUK estimates that we will have to wait until the end of April before they get through the backlog,” Bundgaard said.

What is SPS?

SPS stands for ‘special educational support’. This kind of support is provided to make it possible for students with functional impairments to study at university on an equal footing with their peers. To be eligible for SPS at university, you must have a functional impairment that would prevent you from being able to study at university level without support.

You can read more about SPS at AUhere, and you can you can book an interview with an SPS counsellor here if you’re interested in applying for SPS. And you can read more about what kinds of support are available here.

Source: SPSU


The consultation referred to above was held on 16 January, when Minister for Higher Education and Science Christina Egelund and Minister for Children and Education Mattias Tesfaye were summoned to answer questions about delays in granting SPS. At the consultation, Egelund said that the agency expected that case-processing times would be back to normal by April this year.

Tesfaye announced that both their ministries would “provides funds to bring down case-processing times”. He also said that since 2014, when there were 17,000 SPS applications from post-secondary students in 2014, the number has risen dramatically to 65,000, and that many of the students applying for support today have dyslexia.  

In December and January, STUK issued several statements to the effect that the agency "is currently experiencing extended case-processing time". One cause of the backlog is the implementation of a new application system.

"We regret that the implementation of SPSA and especially the problems with resubmission have created extra work for educational institutions. We are doing everything we can to get support to pupils and students as soon as possible," the agency wrote on 24 January.

The agency has a quality target for case-processing: applications must be processed within 30 working days. A target the agency hasn’t been able to meet – at the moment, case-processing is currently taking an average of 40 working days, the ministers said at the consultation.


The long waiting times have been harshly criticised on several fronts. Sofie Lippert, education spokesperson for SF, wrote on 16 January on X (formerly Twitter):

"In December, around 1,500 students - at university alone - had still not received an answer as to whether they could receive SPS support. Insane pressure to put students with functional impairments before exams. We called the minister in for a consultation today about this far too poor case management!”

The chair of the Danish Association of Young People with Disabilities (SUMH), William Korte, watched the consultation, and is far from satisfied with the situation, he wrote on X on 16 January:

"Thanks Charlotte Broman (MP for SF, ed.) and Sofie Lippert for taking responsibility for students with disabilities. Even though students are being offered band-aid solutions, this time without support has consequences. There’s still a huge backlog, and we can’t wait until April.”


Bundgaard is certain that there are students at AU who haven’t been getting the support they need, though he also emphasised that we don’t current know for sure how this is affecting them and what the consequences will be. He is particularly concerned about students who are new to the university, he said:

"It’s really problematic when a student with a documented need for SPS doesn’t receive it for the entire first semester. It goes without saying that this is a critical time in a student’s academic career, and so there’s no way this isn’t going to be a hindrance for them.”

In the event that a student has been unable to get through the semester at all due to the lack of support, help is also available. Students can apply for additional SU grants if they’ve been unable to finish their courses due to external circumstances.

This may be the case for AU students with functional disabilities who – worst-case scenario – may have had to take their exams without the support they need. The SU office at AU has not yet received applications for extra SU grants. But since the applications can only be processed when students can document they couldn’t complete their coursework – in other words, after the semester is over – this doesn’t mean applications won’t be coming in. Down the line, AU will also be able to determine whether the lack of support caused students to drop out of their programme.


SPS is not the only kind of support that’s delayed. There are also delays in processing applications for the SU disability allowance. In a parliamentary response, Christina Egelund writes that 49 per cent of the students who applied for disability allowance between August and September last year are still waiting for a response.

9.5 per cent of the 1,796 applicants have dropped out of their studies in the meantime. However, this figure is not much higher than the number of students who receive standard SU grants who have dropped out, which is 8.4 per cent.

Not getting the SU disability allowance, like not getting SPS, can have a severe impact on students, explained Bundgaard:

"The disability supplement is part of the student's income. For far too long, students have had to wait far too long for it come through. As a result, these students struggle financially, and that affects their ability to focus on their studies," he said.


Although everything indicates that in THE current situation, the delays are due to a backlog at STUK, there are actually three steps in the SPS process where delays can occur.

First, the student has to contact and book an interview with AU's SPS unit. During or immediately after the interview, the AU caseworker sends an application to STUK for SPS on behalf of the student.

"But in this case, the wait arises more or less from the student’s own schedule, because with very few exceptions throughout the year, we have appointments available all the time, and we send the application the same day or the next day at the latest. There is almost no wait to get an appointment with us," Bundgaard said.

Next, STUK processes the application, and if it’s approved, the SPS unit at AU is responsible for ordering support, which is then delivered. Fortunately, AU has an internal solution, so according to Bundgaard, there’s almost no wait at this stage either.

He said: “Sometimes you may have to wait for a product to be delivered or to get an appointment with a counsellor. Especially if you need an appointment with a counsellor and we suddenly have a lot of grants to process at the same time, bottlenecks can happen sometimes. However, in our experience, our supplier typically offers students an appointment within a week. So it’s the processing of the support applications that’s been responsible for most of the delay.”