Now you can learn the Nordic approach to planning ‘liveable’ cities

A new Nordic Urban Planning master’s programme gives students a Scandinavian perspective on shaping the environments in which we live.

Now you can learn the Nordic approach to planning 'liveable' cities
Photo: Josefin/unsplash

For years urbanists have been paying close attention to how Scandinavia has been an urban planning trendsetter. Cities such as Copenhagen have been tweaked to become more bike friendly, while in Stockholm you are never more than 300 meters away from a park.

It all boils down to good (Nordic) planning.

“Nordic urban planning has come to be associated with concerns with urban life, with human scale design and with sustainability. Copenhagen, for example, is often ranked as one of the world’s most ‘liveable’ cities as well as one of the most ‘green’,” David Pinder, Professor of Urban Studies, Roskilde University, tells The Local.

Professor Pinder is one of the coordinators of the two-year master’s programme in Nordic Urban Planning Studies. The new programme, which is taught in English and launches in September, is a collaboration involving universities in three Nordic countries: Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Find out more about the Nordic Urban Planning Master’s programme

Students will get the opportunity to move between the universities in Malmö, Roskilde and Tromsø and cover modules such as Critical Urban Studies, Planning and Democracy and Arctic Cities.

Pinder says that the international nature of Nordic planning has been fundamental in shaping the new programme.

“Nordic urban planning is diverse and changing, yet it clearly has a strong international reputation. This has roots that go back to its emphasis on welfare and the public realm,” says the professor.

But just what is it that sets Nordic planning apart? Tina Saaby was the city architect for Copenhagen for eight and a half years, until January 2019, and tells The Local that good city planning is about much more than just bricks and cement.

Tina Saaby. Photo: Agnes Saaby Thomsen

“The most important part in the Nordics is that we have a big understanding for human beings. It is not just about the buildings themselves; we place an emphasis on liveability, lifequality and community in developing a city,” says Saaby. For example, daylight is very important in the Nordics and catching the daylight goes into the planning process.”

She adds: “The way we plan our cities is also done in a democratic way where dialogue is vital; it is in our DNA. So we are good in seing the processes as a part of the planning system as well.

Professor Pinder supports this perspective but adds that “among current concerns are those around inequality and segregation, especially in relation to housing. It’s vital that we ask questions such as, for whom are cities being made liveable and sustainable? How can we build a good urban life for all citizens and not only the more privileged?”

While Scandinavian cities have enjoyed a reputation for urban planning designed to cater for social and environmental needs as part of the welfare state, this ethos has been challenged in recent years as a result of political and economic changes.

“We are interested in analysing these changing natures of urban development and the roles of planning within them, both existing and potential,” says Professor Pinder about the new Nordic Urban Planning programme. “Our students will also explore how citizens may be more empowered to shape their own environments.”  

Photo: Alicia Steels/ unsplash

The two-year programme, which is supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, will give students the chance to get hands-on experience in their chosen field. Internships can be coordinated with Roskilde University and projects conducted with external partners are key components of the education.

Back on campus, students will get an international outlook on their studies with lectures taking place in Sweden’s Malmö University, Tromsø (The Arctic University of Norway) as well as Roskilde University in Denmark.

“Students will have a great opportunity to work with prominent researchers in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and to engage with real-world cases in diverse settings, from the streets of Copenhagen to the urban landscapes of the Arctic,” says Pinder.

Find out more about the Nordic Urban Planning Master’s programme

The programme promises to engage students as they will work both individually and in groups to develop their skills and knowledge on urban planning and development. Organisers of the new programme are keen to stress that it isn’t about simply celebrating the Nordic approach, but about studying the Scandinavian methods to solving urban problems in a global context where cities have become central to many social and environmental challenges of our times.

Practicing urban planning is a skill that requires many different disciplines: geography, sociology, politics, design, architecture, anthropology, engineering, just to name a few. Students coming to the Nordic Urban Planning Studies are expected to be drawn to this interdisciplinary programme from a variety of backgrounds in the social sciences or other relevant fields. While there is a strong cross pollination involving the three universities, students can choose to specialise at the campus of their choice.

With a joint degree awarded by all three universities, graduates will be qualified for careers such as project leaders in urban consultancies, coordinators of city development, urban planners as well as research positions for those keen to embark on a PhD.

Photo: Roskilde University

“The international and interdisciplinary dimensions of the programme, along with its strong analytical training, will make graduates attractive to a wide range of organisations, companies and agencies concerned with cities and urban environments.,” says Professor David Pinder.

He continues, “In Denmark, urban planning students often find work in municipalities or governmental institutions. Yet this programme is additionally oriented to working with private companies and consultancies, including international companies that have become major actors in urban development.”

International firms such as Siemens have welcomed the approach of the new programme says Pinder, which has a strong focus on critical analytical skills. Graduates will naturally be suited to working for companies in Scandinavia but, equally, taking their new Nordic perspectives further afield will appeal to many organisations.

Having worked as Copenhagen’s city architect for eight and a half years, Tina Saaby offers the following advice for prospective students.

“In the Nordics, we insist on knowing what a planning project gives back to the city and its people. Urban planners need to understand political leadership but fundamentally you need to have site specific knowledge and understand the character of the city and the region.”

The Nordic Urban Planning programme will have its first semester this September at Roskilde University in Denmark. Deadline for applications is March 1st 2019. Click here to find out more about the programme and how to apply.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Roskilde University.

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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.