Jobs at risk as Danes force big-city universities to downsize

Deadline arrives for universities to choose between shifting student places out of major urban centres or cutting them altogether 

January 18, 2022
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Academics working in Denmark’s biggest urban centres fear widespread job cuts as a government drive to redistribute student places to smaller cities and towns reaches its endgame.

Universities have been forced to draw up plans to cut their enrolments in Aalborg, Aarhus, Copenhagen and Odense by 10 per cent by 2030 under a decentralisation plan unveiled by ministers in May 2021. Institutions were left with the choice of relocating courses or shutting them down altogether.

Last week the final proposal was submitted by Aalborg University, which announced that it would end admissions for 18 courses to hit the target, including all social science and humanities programmes at its satellite campus in Copenhagen.

“It is a task we have not wanted, and a task that, no matter how it is solved, significantly affects our university,” said Aalborg’s rector, Per Michael Johansen. Vice-chancellor Anne Marie Kanstrup said the cuts had been made strategically rather than uniformly across all programmes, which would have left Aalborg “a smaller and a bit shabby version of itself”. 

“We’re shocked and rattled; we didn’t see this coming at all,” said Stine Ejsing-Duun, an associate professor in the department of communication and psychology, who is based at Aalborg’s Copenhagen outpost. The loss of enrolments meant that her department would face a DKr16 million (£1.8 million) annual shortfall, so potential redundancies were a “huge concern for a lot of people”. 

“Traditionally, we rely on a lot of teaching. Most of us don’t get big external grants, so we are dependent on being able to deliver teaching for our programmes,” said Hanne Tange, an associate professor of English and global studies at Aalborg.

The university said it was “still unclear” what the plan will mean for finances and jobs since, like other institutions’ proposals, Aalborg’s will now form the basis of negotiations between the government and other political parties. 

“We have tried our best and hope that the political parties behind the plan will be satisfied with that,” said Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark.  

He said most universities had proposed cuts of between 5 per cent and 6 per cent to student places in big cities, below the 10 per cent target, with about half as many new places being created elsewhere.  

“We are looking at a general scale-down of college graduates in Denmark,” Mr Langergaard said. “We still aren’t certain that future students will be interested in studying in the smaller cities, and this could cause the amount of university-educated workforce to take a further drop than the scale-down.” 

The cuts are being finalised amid continuing concern about attacks by politicians on disciplines such as gender and migration studies. Last year the Danish parliament, including the ruling Social Democratic Party, passed a resolution against “excessive activism” in some academic fields, while funding for the humanities in general has been severely squeezed in recent years.

Olav Bertelsen, an associate professor in Aarhus University’s department of computer science, said a lack of funding for building up education in small towns and the dislocation of academics from their urban research bases would lead to “second rate” courses.

He argued that the government could have offered funding incentives to create extra student places outside major cities rather than ultimatums.

“They are using the stick instead of the carrot and that’s the problem,” Dr Bertelsen said.


Print headline: Jobs in jeopardy as Danes force big-city universities to downsize

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Reader's comments (1)

Part of the attraction of universities is that they are usually based in the Big City and therefore attractive to young people. This policy of regionalism is short-sighted, populist, and invariably leads to unforeseen consequences. Norway's Centre Party and the right-wing Progress Party pursue this sort of vote-grabbing policy and while the Centre Party are in government here in Norway I have shelved my plans for a shift to the public sector - in case they suddenly decide to relocate me to the sticks. All that happens is that talented people who don't want to leave the Big City change employer, whilst not-so-employable employees move out to the sticks unhappy and demotivated.