This is an article from University World News, an online publication that covers global higher education. It is presented here under an agreement with The Chronicle.
Some 9,000 students took to the streets last month to protest against Copenhagen University’s plans to adopt ‘student progress’ measures. The government passed reforms last April that will financially punish universities if students take too long to graduate.
There were also student protests at universities in Roskilde in southern Denmark and in Aarhus.
In Copenhagen, several auditoriums were blocked by student activists, who refused other students and professors access. According to Politiken, a “wilder” protest had not been seen since the global student protests in 1968.
University eases stance
The action came even after Rector Ralf Hemmingsen invited student representatives to negotiations about the way the reforms will be implemented at the university. Later he said the measures would be postponed until 2015.
Minister for Science, Innovation and Higher Education Morten Østergaard said in the major Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende that Copenhagen University had “sharpened the reform requirement beyond what is proposed by the new law”.
The institution, he explained, was demanding that in order to fulfil degree requirements, students needed to pass at least 45 ECTS – European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System – credits a year.
Chair of Copenhagen University’s student council Mie Sofie Andersen said in a press release after Rector Hemmingsen’s announcment that students would still demonstrate and work against other damaging actions proposed by politicians.
Students would also ask Hemmingsen to pressure the minister “so that these reforms can be taken off the table”.
Some 31,000 people have reportedly signed a protest declaration against the reform, and professors and student councillors have sided with the students in an intense debate over the past few weeks.
In parliament, Rosa Lund, representing one opposition party, posed a question to Østergaard, asking how the minister would handle the increased risk of creating more university drop-outs.
The Fremdriftsreformen – study progress reform – aims to reduce study time for a bachelor degree by an average of 7.6 months by 2020, and by an average of 12.2 months for students in the humanities at Copenhagen University.
The background to the reform, as reported by University World News, is the aim to reduce study time – Danish students are among the slowest to graduate in Europe – in order to cut DKK2.2 billion (US$410 million) from the student loan budget, and to get Danes into the workforce earlier.
On 18 April this year parliament endorsed several reforms, although the final laws must be enacted by parliament this autumn. If degree completion time targets are not achieved, universities will be punished with budgetary cuts.
While universities must implement the reform by January 2015, they have not received directives from government on how to do so.
Copenhagen University took matters into its own hand and, in order to prepare for the administrative changes required, arranged a top-level seminar with deans and study programme directors – but with no representation from students – and produced a 14-page memo on administrative adaptations needed.
The memo was leaked to Universitetsavisen – and infuriated students.
The memo made it clear that study flexibility would be significantly reduced, that an extensive regime of monitoring student progression would have to be developed, and that 45 credits a year would be required.
Currently, Danish undergraduates can take a year and masters students six months of leave from their studies without having to apply and without losing access to student loans. The reform cuts this to six months for undergraduates and to no leave at all for masters students, without providing a reason why.
Student leader Andersen wrote on the union website: “The rules will have major consequences for our education and for future students. The expectations to take foreign exchanges, internships and study jobs require that our education is flexible.
“Removing the right to take leave, and the risk of being kicked out if you fail an exam, are both proposals that are out of sync with the real world.”
The student protests are about the way the reforms have been decided at Copenhagen but also in particular against an automatic mechanism of registration for course exams after 2014. Students will be automatically registered for 60 ECTS credits each year, and will have to pass at least 45 to be able to continue into the next year.
Jens Oddershede, head of the Danish Rectors' Conference, has warned that the reforms might increase the need for control and hence bureaucracy at Danish universities – at a time when institutions have been instructed to cut administration by 10%.