DENMARK's rectors and students fear that a planned comprehensive reform of 195 institutions that includes giving them powers to award much-criticised bachelor degrees, will "dilute academic education".
The plan requires design schools, nursing schools, engineering colleges, teacher training colleges and other institutions offering short and medium-length courses either to collaborate closely with universities or form separate regional, cross-disciplinary centres of education.
Among the reform's objectives is diverting the 38,000 school-leavers entering higher education each year away from six- or seven-year university courses to shorter courses at the other institutions which have spare capacity.
Ole Vig Jensen, the minister of education, will give the courses, typically lasting four years, bachelor status "so the graduates can get access to certain university courses above bachelor level".
Henrik Toft Jensen, rector of Roskilde University Centre, said: "The bachelor title goes with education based on research. If you are educated outside the universities, you won't have easier access to our postgraduate courses just because you've been awarded a bachelor's degree."
Gyrd Foss, a student member of the senate of the University of Copenhagen, said: "Giving medium-length courses bachelor status depreciates the professional quality of the universities."
Bachelor degree courses are considered a direct path to unemployment. A report issued by Roskilde University Centre concludes that one in three holders of bachelor degrees is unemployed, and many with jobs were recruited for reasons other than their qualification. Graduates with bachelor degrees only are too expensive for ordinary office jobs and not sufficiently well trained for other posts. Many employers think that bachelors are either too lazy or unqualified to study two extra years for a master's degree.
Mr Jensen's advisers, the chairmen of the ministry's educational councils for further and higher education, agree that there should be fewer institutions. But they disagree with him on two points. In his introduction to the plan, Mr Jensen calls regionalisation outside the universities "an obvious possibility", adding: "A future solution including both structural models can't be excluded."
The advisers say that the universities should be the centres of the new structure. "The main strategy cannot involve going in both directions at the same time", they say.
One of them, Steffen Moeller, said: "It's difficult to see how teachers, engineers, social counsellors, nurses and therapists will be able to enrich each other just because they are under the same roof in a regional centre." The advisers advocate the university model.
"Having two competing systems will never work," he said. "If regional educational centres are established they will demand academic status - with research and degrees - immediately. Denmark is too small for eight or ten new 'business-related' universities in addition to the 12 we have now."
Even the present higher education structure is causing problems. Plans to create a new university in southern Jutland are blocked by a feud between the ministries of education and finance about who should pay.
The universities of lborg and rhus say that research minister Jytte Hilden "is deliberately ignoring the Danish provinces" in deciding where the country's future information technology college is to be located: only four institutions, all from the Copenhagen area, were invited to discuss it. Ove Poulsen, the ministerial director of research, refutes the charge.