Denmark’s new Social Democrat government has ended a five-year budget squeeze on universities, but academics fear that proposed cuts to humanities and social science funding could lead to course closures. The new government, which set out its budget on October 2, will scrap annual 2 percent cuts to university allocations.
Birgit Bangskjær, chief executive of the Akademikerne, a body that represents Denmark’s graduates, described universities as having been cut “really into the bone” by five years of financial pressure. Likewise, Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark, welcomes the end of the annual cuts. “There have been some significant and positive changes with the new government,” he says. Langergaard also welcomes “huge” new grants for green research, amounting to DKr1 billion (Rs.1,083 crore).
But the government hasn’t supported extension of a long-standing subsidy for humanities and social sciences teaching costs, which was introduced to address concerns that the disciplines were underfunded. Removing this, says Bangskjær, would amount to a 10 percent cut in teaching funding across these fields. “This is really, really grave, and we are quite disappointed, because we feel they haven’t lived up to their promises,” she says. “It can very well mean that courses will close down, or they will have to fire academic staff.”
Removing support for humanities and social sciences teaching would continue Denmark’s utilitarian approach to higher education, although it could still be traded away in negotiations over the budget with other parties. In 2018, a group of rectors, government officials and business leaders recommended in a report that student places be funded on the basis of labour market need, leading to fears of cuts in the humanities.
There is also hope that Denmark will overturn a reduction of over 1,000 places on courses taught in English, which was announced in 2018 by the previous government. That administration had argued that too many foreign students left Denmark after graduation, meaning that the state did not recoup its investment. The concern was particularly acute regarding European Union students, who, like Danes, pay no tuition fees and receive student grants.
And complicating the matter is the new governing party’s broader hostility towards immigration, says Bangskjær. “It’s not an area that has warm political feelings in the Social Democrats, but it’s what they have promised to do,” she says.