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A new government initiative obstructs Aarhus University’s business initiative

The government’s adjustment of degree programmes in English will have serious consequences for Danish business and industry.

2018.08.28 | Anders Correll

This Thursday, the government published its announced initiative Adjustment of degree programmes in English. The initiative, as it stands, will have consequences for key strategic initiatives at Aarhus University – and will make it more difficult for the university to support growth and employment in the private sector both locally and nationally in the long term.

“We acknowledge the need to retain more international students in Denmark, but we are disappointed by the failure to understand that a thriving international environment contributes to strengthening the quality of degree programmes and gives value in abroader educational perspective. We would have liked for the politicians to support the efforts that we are already making to improve the transition to the labour market for the international students, instead of introducing another barrier,” says Rector Brian Bech Nielsen.

The feedback that Aarhus University gets from businesses shows that there is a strong demand for computer scientists and engineers within almost all specialisations in the field.

Aarhus University has set itself the goal of increasing the number of graduating engineers, for example. Today, the university has approximately 190 graduating engineers per year – the plan is to increase this number to 650 over the coming years. 

“If we are to succeed with this plan, we quite simply need talent from abroad – there are not enough hands and heads in Denmark. Specifically, we have estimated that within engineering at Aarhus University alone we will need to increase the number of international engineering students by around 200 students to meet corporate demand,” says the rector.

If the government’s initiative is implemented, Aarhus University will not be able to admit more foreign engineering and computer science students, despite the fact that they have a high employment rate in Denmark – a fact the government also documents. This will mean for example, that businesses  will miss out on many highly qualified STEM graduates from Aarhus University each year.

“We don’t understand why the government has chosen a solution that obstructs Aarhus University’s extensive engineering and digitisation initiative. The recruitment of more international students plays a crucial role in our efforts to counter bottlenecks in the labour market – especially in the light of the shrinking youth population in the coming years,” says Rector Brian Bech Nielsen.

Direct consequences for the social sciences and the humanities

Once again, it is the degree programmes within the humanities and social sciences at Aarhus University that are under attack with the degree programme resizing of international students. The government initiative means that Aarhus University will have to cut 170 study places in these two areas alone – corresponding to a decrease of 340 students across Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes.

One of the degree programmes that is now in the danger zone is the Erasmus Mundus professional Master’s degree programme in Journalism, Media and Globalization with 78 students, which is fully funded by the EU. The degree programme is offered in Aarhus, but is a collaboration between the universities in Aarhus, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Swansea and London City. It is a textbook example of how universities can work together to offer a degree programme for the common good with the purpose of strengthening freedom of press, democracy and pluralism in a global perspective.

“Degree programmes within the humanities have already been cut to the bone as a consequence of the previous round of degree programme resizing, and for the business programmes, it will pose a challenge to Aarhus University’s initiative to increase the number of students who find employment in the private sector. In these areas, the number of foreign students also helps increase the quality of the degree programmes and thus the supply of potential graduates for the Danish labour market,” says Brian Bech Nielsen.

At Aarhus University, the experience is that foreign students help create international academic environments. This strengthens the quality of the degree programmes as well as the students’ global perspectives and the university’s network.

“We cannot expect all foreign students to want to or be able to apply for jobs in Denmark – just as we would like Danish students to return home enriched after completing their studies abroad,” says rector and continues:

“We have a common task to increase employment among foreign graduates, but we should also be pleased that foreign students, according to the government’s own numbers, contribute financial gain for Denmark of between DKK 100,000-350,000 per student. That is why it is such a shame that the government now has chosen to decrease investment instead of focusing on how to increase what we gain from it.”

Policy and strategy, Administration (Academic), All groups, All AU units, Rector’s Office