Why does Denmark want to move higher education out of main cities?

Why does Denmark want to move higher education out of main cities?
The Danish government presents its proposal for geographical redistribution of higher education. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix
The Danish government on Thursday proposed introducing 25 new higher education programmes in smaller towns across the country while cutting university admissions in the largest cities by 10 percent.

At least 10 new programmes related to welfare sector qualifications will be introduced in smaller towns as part of the plan, which was formally presented on Thursday.

In total, 25 new programmes will be introduced by 2025, according to the proposal.

The specific welfare sector qualifications are in teacher, nursing, social worker and education assistant (pædagog in Danish) training.

In order to achieve that goal, places on similar programmes in the four main cities [Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg, ed.] will be cut. Additional places will also be created in other locations.

The government wants to reduce university admissions at campuses in the main cities by up to 10 percent, with a small number of exceptions.

Five new university degrees are also to be offered in smaller towns, according to the proposal.

The overarching aim of the plan is to reduce the number of students in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg by increasing the number who choose to study in provincial areas.

It would be phased in gradually from 2022, if passed by parliament.

One of the arguments behind the government proposal is that it would give a more even distribution of education programmes between larger cities and smaller towns, boosting local communities.

The University of Copenhagen’s rector Henrik C. Wegener expressed concern that the plan could “damage the quality of education and research environments we’ve sought to build for decades” and that the university could be forced to close some of its programmes.

The Danish union for students, DSF, told news wire Ritzau that moving students away from big cities would require more than relocation of degrees and other qualifications.

Cultural attractions, good study environments and suitable accommodation were among factors vital in making smaller towns attractive to students, DSF deputy chair for political issues Mick Scholtka said.

Forcing degrees out of cities could damage the quality of education and research, Scholtka also argued.

“Moving would put a distance between research and students and some researchers would not move with them, which would be a loss of knowledge,” he said.

The Social Liberal party, one of the smaller left wing parties which helps the minority government to pass much of its legislation, earlier expressed opposition to the plan.

“I think it’s deeply concerning that just after we have revoked [a legal limitation on taking a second degree or similar qualification, uddannelsesloft in Danish, ed.], the government is about to put up another barrier to young people’s education opportunities,” said the party’s education spokesperson Katrine Robsøe.

Robsøe’s comments were given to Ritzau based on media reports of the proposal prior to its official announcement on Thursday.

“Cutting places at universities in the four largest cities would deny a lot of young people the opportunity to study what they dream of studying, where they dream of studying it,” Robsøe said.

The Social Liberal party said it does support the other part of the plan, which would see 25 new courses available in provincial towns.

“We would very much like to look at introducing strong education options in more parts of Denmark because we know we need a lot of talented people, especially in the welfare sector, Robsøe said.

The Social Liberal spokesperson added that the introduction of new courses in smaller towns did not have to necessitate a cut at universities.

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