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KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?

Denmark’s government on Monday proposed a new reform package which could see major changes introduced at universities and public sector workplaces.

KEY POINTS: What is Denmark proposing to change in its latest reform package?
Denmark's government on Monday presented the latest in a series of social reform proposals. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

A new proposal for reforms in Denmark, presented by the government on Monday, could see a significant number of Master’s degree programmes shortened from two years to one and red tape in public services trimmed back.

The proposal is titles Danmark kan mere III (“Denmark can do more part III). It follows earlier reform packages tabled in September 2021 and April 2022, which focused on social welfare and energy, among other areas, respectively.

Higher education 

The headline element of Monday’s proposal is arguably the plan to shorten a large number of Master’s degrees at Danish universities from two years to one.

The proposal was first reported in Danish media last week and has now been formalised with Monday’s announcement.

READ ALSO: Denmark plans to shorten university courses to save money 

Currently, it takes two years to complete any Master’s degree in Denmark (after completing the three-year Bachelor’s degree).

While it is common in some countries – including the United States and United Kingdom – to enter the labour market after completing a Bachelor’s degree, this is not the case in Denmark, where most university students go on to do a Master’s programme.

The government is proposing to shorten around half of all Master’s degrees by a year. This means that the Master’s programme will take one year, rather than two, and that the total time these students spend at university will be around four years, not five.

Under the proposal, around 35 percent of existing MA or MSc degrees will become one-year programmes. 15 percent will become so-called erhvervskandidater “professional Master’s degrees”. These can be structured over anything from one to four years but will require students to work at least 25 hours per week while studying. The total hours of studying add up to a one-year course.

The remaining 50 percent of Master’s degrees will continue as two-year courses.

The government has not specified which programmes will be shortened but has confirmed that humanities and social science subjects will be the primary targets. Scientific degrees are less likely to be cut back.

“The educations in which you need an actual authorisation, for example in the health sector, or where you need to take a specialisation early, these need to remain at two years,” the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Jesper Petersen, said at Monday’s briefing.

The move will release two billion kroner of funding that can be reinvested in education, the government said.

Universities have shown opposition to the proposal. The rector of Aarhus University, Brian Bech Nielsen, told broadcaster DR that the changes would degrade the quality of university educations.

“This is very, very drastic because it is a very, very large proportion of university degrees that would be shortened. How do we know that this helps? [University] requires immersion in study, and that takes time. You can’t learn everything in half the time,” he said.

“It would mean that some Master’s graduates would have a lower level of qualification. That would damage Danish businesses our society and the students,” he said.

Public sector

The government wants to save money by cutting back on bureaucracy, particularly at the municipal level.

Around 2.5 billion kroner of spending will be diverted to other areas under the reform plan by cutting back on administrative labour and spending additional resources on “core welfare” (kernevelfærd), the government said.

“The human side of welfare has been given less time and documentation and cold numbers have been given more time,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at the briefing.

One example of reduced administration is a plan to scrap half of all daily registration tasks in the elderly care sector, DR reports.

According to the government, the plan does not mean fewer public sector workers, but a higher proportion in sectors such as childcare and elderly care.

As such, the plan does not mean people will lose jobs, Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen argues at the briefing.

“Some people will have to be re-trained. Others will spend less time in front of the computer and more in front of the public. It’s not something that can be done with a snap of the fingers but we want to set a very clear direction here,” Wammen said.

The government also wants to apply a “rule stop” (regelstop) meaning that every time a new rule is introduced in the public sector which could divert time from into administration, an existing rule must be scrapped. As such, the total number of rules does not increase.

The national organisation for municipalities, KL (Kommunernes Landsforening) expressed skepticism over the plan in comments to DR.

”There are no shortcut solutions in relation to reducing administration and releasing resources for welfare,” KL’s chairperson Martin Damm told the broadcaster.

The proposal would need backing from a majority of parties to be passed in parliament and implemented.

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POLITICS

Faroe Islands renew fishing quota deal with Russia

Denmark's autonomous Faroe Islands have renewed a fishing quota deal with Russia for one year despite Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a local minister said on Saturday.

Faroe Islands renew fishing quota deal with Russia

“The Faroe Islands are totally right to extend their existing fishing agreement with Russia,” the North Atlantic archipelago’s minister of fisheries Arni Skaale told the Jyllands-Posten daily.

He added however that the islands, which are not part of the European Union, condemned “all form of war – also the war in Ukraine” after Russian forces invaded in February.

The agreement has been in place since 1977 and is renewable each year.

It lays out catch quotas for cod, haddock, whiting and herring in the Barents Sea north of Russia for Faroese fishermen, and in waters off the coast of the Faroe Islands for Russian fishing boats.

Dependent on fishing

The autonomous territory is highly dependent on fishing for its income, and the fisheries ministry says the deal with Russia covers 5 percent of its GDP.

Russia has become a key commercial partner of the Faroe Islands since they and neighbouring Iceland fell out with the European Union – including Denmark – between 2010 and 2014 over mackerel and herring quotas.

An EU embargo on Faroese fish harmed the economy of the territory, which then turned to other markets.

“Today we only have free trade agreements with six countries – and not with the European Union,” said Skaale.

“If we cut ourselves off from one of these markets, it could be problematic for the whole of the next generation.”

Alternatives to be considered

Authorities on the archipelago have however said they would think about alternatives to the deal with Russia after local parliamentary polls on December 8.

Last month, neighbouring Norway – a NATO member – and Russia also agreed on catch quotas in the Barents Sea for next year.

Home to some 54,000 inhabitants, the Faroe Islands have been largely autonomous from Denmark since 1948.

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