Expert Committee recommends yet another university reform

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Final Expert Committee report recommends major reform of higher education. Our rector disagrees.

Formanden for Kvalitetsudvalget, Jørgen Søndergaard, mener man må gå drastisk til værks, hvis universiteterne skal sikres til det moderne arbejdsmarked.

Jørgen Søndergaard, Chairman of the Expert Committee, believes that drastic measures are required to align our universities with the modern labour market.

At a press conference held this Thursday morning, the Expert Committee on Quality in Higher Education in Denmark, commonly referred to as the Expert Committee, presented its final recommendations for strengthening our universities.

“We have come to the conclusion that carrying on without making any changes is not an option. We need to introduce different types of reforms or we risk ‘miseducating’ people and losing out on important social potential,” said committee chairman Jørgen Søndergaard at yesterday’s press conference announcing the new report.

Not only the Danish educational system in general, but also the allocation of study places, admission of students and the structuring of programmes must be reformed, according to the committee’s third and final report Nye Veje og Høje Mål (“New pathways aiming high”). The full report is available in Danish here.

Expert Committee: At least 10,000 students ought to switch programmes

According to the Expert Committee, the clear need for reform is particularly due to the sharp rise in the number of university students in recent years, which is out of proportion with the increase in the number of knowledge-intensive jobs. The committee believes that this imbalance calls for a re-design of bachelor degree programmes in a more job-oriented direction and abolishing the legal right for students to also study towards a master’s degree.

Rector: A good structure

The new recommendations strike no chord with RUC Rector Hanne Leth Andersen:

“I believe that our current structure is a good one. We put a lot of effort into implementing it in all of our universities, and we should simply not be wasting our time with this same thing again. Instead, we should discuss what we want the structure to contain,” she said.

Four-year bachelor’s programmes and restricted admission to master’s programmes.

Rektor Hanne Leth Andersen er ikke begejstret for Kvalitetsudvalgets forslag. Foto: Uffe weng.

Rector Hanne Leth Andersen is not enthusiastic about the Expert Committee’s recommendation. Photo: Uffe Weng.

Andersen believes that the current undergraduate programmes can easily be adapted to the labour market within the framework of the existing university structure. The project model used at Roskilde University is particularly suitable for this purpose, as projects can be designed in collaboration with businesses which can later hire the students as assistants or trainees, she explained.

“Also, I don’t agree that we should deny two-thirds of our students the right to study towards a master’s degree. In my view, that would simply be unwise,” said Andersen.

Along these same lines, Andersen also disagrees with the recommendation to abolish this legal right as proposed by the Expert Committee. She does, however, acknowledge that the legal right should be reviewed and that we ought to have a more flexible and qualitative-based admissions system.

Replacing the study progress reform

The last university reform was introduced only a few years back. Most of us probably remember the much-discussed “study progress reform”, which has not yet been fully implemented. Now, it seems, a new reform is underway, if the committee’s recommendations get political backing: recommendations that point in a somewhat different direction:

“Historically, our universities have been characterised by a high level of micro-management. The study progress reform is a good example of this: highly detailed rules transmitted all the way down to the individual programme level,” stated Expert Committee chairman Jørgen Søndergaard at the press conference.

“We should simply not be wasting our time with this same thing again. Instead, we should discuss what we want the structure to contain.”

– Rector Hanne Leth Andersen

Instead, he and the committee take the view that higher education should be strengthened through more top-down management at a framework level.

Reform expected

Not unexpectedly, Minister for Higher Education and Science Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Social Liberal Party) welcomed the committee’s recommendations. At the press conference, she said:

“I’m really pleased with the Expert Committee’s work. There is no doubt that you have highlighted a number of challenges, and that we cannot simply continue ignoring these issues.”

First and foremost, the Minister intends to focus on improvement in four areas, including enhanced teaching and an improved planning of programme content to ensure that the average time spent on studies actually corresponds to a full-time programme. Moreover, she intends to scrutinise the admissions system and ensure a stronger linkage between education and labour market through dialogue.

Nielsen closed with a promise to present a proposal within the next few months.

Despite her slightly weak declarations of intent, the Minister has now opened the door to what could be the Government’s final political footprint on the universities of its government term, considering the upcoming parliamentary election.

The facts

About the Expert Committee

  • Appointed by the Government in October 2013
  • Consists of seven independent members with professional insight into the university system
  • Asked to provide recommendations on how to improve higher education in Denmark
  • Issued the last of three reports with recommendations for a future university structure on 29 January 2015

 The committee’s ten recommendations

  1. A new higher education degree structure
  2. Dimensioning and consolidation of educational programmes
  3. A new admissions system
  4. Clearly defined areas of responsibility for programme quality and relevance
  5. Universities made responsible for a high level of study activity
  6. Instructors with a high degree of competence and well-rounded teaching skills
  7. Deregulation of programme content and planning
  8. Incentive-based grants
  9. Comparable data across programmes
  10. New external examiner scheme

Source: Nye Veje og Høje Mål by the Expert Committee on Quality in Higher Education in Denmark, 2015 (report available in Danish only).

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