‘Worst idea ever’ to end English education

The suggestion by the Danish People's Party that Denmark's universities should stop offering courses in English was roundly criticized by political opponents and The Local's readers, who said that the real losers would be Danish students.

'Worst idea ever' to end English education
DF's suggestion is akin to asking Aarhus University and other institutions to turn their backs on the world, critics said. Photo: Lise Balsby/Aarhus University
Offering university courses in English “makes no sense” according to the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), which has once again called for Danish universities to abandon teaching in a second language. 
“The rule of thumb should be that the teaching in Danish educations should be in Danish. Of course there should be foreign language studies and the opportunity for English-speaking guest professors, but having educations that have nothing to do with language taught in English makes no sense,” DF’s education spokesman, Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, told Metroxpress
He said that eliminating English-language courses would put an end to foreign students coming to Denmark and receiving a student stipend from the government. 
Thulesen Dahl’s statement comes at a time when English-language education in Denmark has exploded. According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Science, the number of students enrolled in English-language courses at the nation’s institutions of higher learning has gone from 4,653 in 2009 to 7,376 in 2014 – an increase of 58 percent. 
DF’s suggestion was roundly criticized by the governing Social Democrats and Social Liberals (Radikale) as well as the left-wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten). 
Niels Egelund, the head of the Danish association for business academies Danske Erhvervsakademier, also said it would be a terrible idea to stop English-language education.
“To the best of my belief, it would be like shooting yourself in the foot. We’ve had English-language education since 1992 and it is something that many young Danes want because it gives them the opportunity to study abroad,” he told Metroxpress. 
“Worst idea ever”
DF’s proposal was also roundly criticized by readers of The Local over on our Facebook page. Despite Thulesen Dahl’s suggestion that it would cut down on the number of foreigners receiving student stipends, many said that eliminating English-language options would deal a harder blow to Danish students than foreigners. 
“This is not a problem for international students as they will always have plenty of other places in the world where they can get a great education in English. This would be a real problem for Denmark – since when is isolating universities from the world an advantage?” wrote Sérgio Matos Dias. 
Adnan Baranbo agreed that it would be Danish students who would get the short end of the stick. 
“I am an Arabic speaker who speaks English and now living in Denmark. The universities in Syria used to offer all education in Arabic. The outcome: the majority of Syrians speak English at very low level. Danish people are well known as the best non-native English speakers in the world. Change the higher education into Danish and you will lose a lot,” he wrote. 
“In my opinion it is a short sighted idea that in the long run would give Danes fewer opportunities in a global world,” reader Betty Chatterjee added. 
Many comments were direct and to the point with several variations of “worst idea ever”, “bad idea” and “terrible idea”. 
Others pointed out that Thulesen Dahl’s comment is merely a ploy in an election year. 
While that may most certainly be true, DF has been riding a wave of voter support that has seen it grow significantly since the 2011 election. In November, for the first time ever, an opinion poll showed DF to be the nation's largest party. Although DF’s leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl (Jens Henrik’s younger brother) has said that he’d prefer his party not be part of a government coalition, that scenario may be unavoidable if DF’s support holds. An election must be called no later than September. 

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English-language programmes at Danish universities face cuts

Denmark's government has agreed on a plan to significantly reduce the number of courses offered in English in the country's universities.

English-language programmes at Danish universities face cuts
Life sciences faculty hold an open house at Copenhagen University. The university is now expected to reduce admissions as part of a plan to decentralise higher education in Denmark. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt / Ritzau Scanpix

At the end of June, the plan aims to reduce the number of English-language higher education programmes while also expanding educational opportunities outside of Denmark’s major cities.

The exact number of courses to be cut – and where they will be cut – depends on the future employment of graduates.

Cuts to English-language programmes

The reduction of English-language programmes at institutions of higher education is rooted in an effort to reduce rising costs of state educational grants (SU) in Denmark. Despite attempts to reduce SU expenses, the cost is expected to rise to 570 million kroner by 2025, far above the cap of 449 million kroner set in 2013. 

There are a number of cases in which non-Danish citizens are entitled to SU, from moving to Denmark with one’s parents, marrying a Danish citizen, residing in Denmark for more than 5 years, status as a worker in Denmark, and more.

The reduction is targeted at English-language programmes where few English-speaking students find employment in Denmark after graduation, according to Denmark’s Ministry of Education and Research. 

Among the targeted programmes are business academies and professional bachelor programmes, where 72 percent of students are English-speaking and only 21 percent find work in Denmark after completing their education. 

However, programmes where higher proportions of English students enter the Danish workforce, and those that have a unique significance on the regional labour market, will be exempt from the reduction. This amounts to 650 education institutions around the country. 

In 2016, students demonstrated against cuts in SU. Photo: Emil Hougaard / Ritzau Scanpix

The agreement also establishes a financial incentive for institutions that graduate English-speaking students who remain to work in Denmark.

According to a June 10 analysis from consulting firm Deloitte, EU students who receive higher education in Denmark contribute an average of nearly 650,000 kroner to Denmark’s public coffers over a lifetime. 

However, the report notes, a student’s positive or negative contribution depends on how long they stay in Denmark. Although students who leave Denmark shortly after graduating constitute a cost to the Danish state, the analysis found that the contribution of students who stay in Denmark to work offsets the cost of those who leave.

The analysis expressed concern that reducing opportunities for English-language higher education could “have a number of unintended negative consequences,” including deterring students who might stay in Denmark to work from moving in the first place. There’s also the risk that it will become more difficult to recruit foreign researchers to Danish universities, which could impact education quality, the analysis claims.

The UCN professional school in Thisted is expected to open one new training program as a result of the decentralisation plan. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Decentralisation of Danish education

The plan to decentralise higher education in Denmark not only expands educational opportunities outside of Denmark’s major cities, but it also aims to reduce enrollment in higher education within major cities by 10 percent by 2030 (but not more than 20 percent).

For example, a law programme will be established in Esbjerg, a medical programme in Køge and a veterinary programme in Foulum.

Minister of Education and Research Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen said the goal was to offer students educational opportunities regardless of where they live within Denmark and strengthen the economy outside of major cities. 

However, the Danish Chamber of Commerce, Dansk Erhverv, expressed concern that the decentralisation plan doesn’t factor in labour demands within Denmark’s major cities.

Mads Eriksen, head of education and research policy at Dansk Erhverv, said it was “unwise” for programmes to reduce acceptance rates to in-demand fields in that particular city. 

“They are trying to solve a problem with labour in the countryside, but at the same time they are creating labour problems in the cities,” Eriksen said. “The English-language programme cuts are far more aligned with the demands of the labour market.”

Denmark has utilised unemployment-based admission for higher education since 2015. Programmes whose graduates experience unemployment consistently 2 percent higher than average are subject to a 30 percent admission cut.

Eriksen thinks it shouldn’t be a matter of reducing admissions across several universities by

“For example, we have five philosophy education programmes in Denmark, each of which have high unemployment rates among graduates,” Eriksen said, referencing a recent Dansk Erhverv analysis

He would prefer to see resources concentrated into making a couple of those programmes the best they can be and closing the rest, versus reducing admissions in all five programmes. “We have to be ready to close programmes that continue to have high unemployment, not just reduce them.”

In 2018, the University of Southern Denmark closed one English-language program and converted two from English to Danish. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen / Ritzau Scanpix

Opposite impacts on provincial institutions

Gitte Sommer Harrits, vice chancellor at VIA University College, shared concern that although the decentralised education aspect of the plan aims to increase the number of students at provincial universities, the reduction of English-language programmes is likely to have the opposite effect.

A report from the organisation Akademikerne in early June found that international students have played a significant role filling educational institutions outside of Danish cities. Nine of the 10 educational institutions with the largest proportion of English-speaking students are outside the country’s largest cities. 

The University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg has the highest proportion of international students; 40 percent of its 628 students are not affiliated with Denmark or other Nordic countries. 

While significantly larger with nearly 37,000 students, Copenhagen University has 5.2 percent international students.

Already in 2018, the University of Southern Denmark closed one English-language programme and converted two others from English to Danish after the Danish government ordered universities to reduce the number of international students.

Harrits said she found the possible closure of English-language programmes drawing international students to provincial areas to be puzzling when paired with the intention to decentralise education.