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University of Copenhagen
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Applications to humanities subjects in sharp decline

The Faculty of Humanities has received 16.2 per cent fewer applications than last year. Several major humanities programmes now have the lowest number of applications since 2008. Student Council and the Associate Dean reckon it is due to government reforms and humanities-bashing in the press.

Friday, 28th July at 00.01 and thousands of hopefuls got a response to their applications for higher education. This is like every year at the end of July, but this year, the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen sent 1,410 fewer responses. The number of applications has fallen from 8,723 to 7,313, corresponding to a 16.2 per cent decrease.

The change from 2015 to 2016 was a flat 0.0 per cent.

Drop / Increase in applications

Humanities: -16.2 pct.

Law: -4.9 pct.

Science: + 2.3 pct.

Soc. Science: -8.6 pct.

Health: + 3.9 pct.

Theology: -9.0 pct.

(Source: Education Services, University of Copenhagen).

The sudden decrease is due to a mix of many factors, says Laura Bech Hansen from the Student Council:

“There are some things right now that enhance the effect. There are the government dimensioning reforms that have tightened the screws quite a bit. Then there’s the cap on the number of education programmes [a student can take, ed.] that puts an extra strain on people because they cannot choose, along with limits to how many years you can get SU study grants,” she says, continuing:

“At the same time, there have been some really heavy cuts to the humanities that people have heard about in the media or from their friends who study, with programme closures and libraries closing and so on. So I think there are some things that make it particularly bad right now.”

Associate Dean: No worries

The University of Copenhagen has in general received fewer applications than last year, but for the entire university the decline is only 5.9 per cent. On a national basis, 3.7 per cent fewer have applied for higher education.
The drop in applications to the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen is therefore prominent when you skim the list of application numbers.

If we can still fill up places with good students who do not drop out, I’m not worried about it.

Jens Erik Mogensen, Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Humanities

Associate Dean for Education at the Faculty of Humanities Jens Erik Mogensen calls for calm and does not think there is cause for concern until we know who is being admitted:

“For me, the admissions figures are the most interesting. There are always far more applications than there are places. If we can still fill up places with good students who do not drop out, I’m not worried about it.
It’s the admitted students’ motivation and grade average that are the interesting points for me,” he says.

Even with the big drop in applications, the Faculty of Humanities has still received four times as many applications as the number of places.

Large, traditionally popular, subjects decline also

In recent years, the small language and cultural programmes have been under intense pressure with closures and mergers. But now, major and otherwise popular subjects such as Film and Media Studies, English and History are also seeing major declines in application rates. Laura Bech Hansen studies French language and culture and has therefore followed the recent years of debate on the humanities through her studies and in her work in the Student Council:

BIG / POPULAR subjects WITH OVER 20 per cent drop IN APPLICATIONS

English: -23.0 pct.
Film and Media: -24.0 pct.
Philosophy: -25.9 pct.
History: -21.6 pct.
Religious Studies: -31.9 pct.
Rhetoric: -30.2 pct.

“I see it as an expression of the humanities bashing that has taken place in recent years, when you want people to start studying health and science subjects, which is what they are looking for. They talk about the humanities as not serious, as something you choose with the heart, as something that if you think about it a little more, you know you should be doing something else to get a job and get money. This is a dilemma that does not reflect reality. You can easily study the humanities. It’s actually really sensible,” she says.

Film and Media Studies and History got the lowest number of applications since 2008. Laura Bech Hansen believes it may be due to pressure from society, which says that you should specialize and avoid more general education programmes.

Consultant at Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA) Bjarke Tarpgaard Hartkopf, says in a press release that the turn away from the humanities could also be due to the fact that “both in primary and secondary school there has been a stronger focus on mathematics and science” and that the trend can therefore be expected to continue in the coming years.

Dimensioning cuts to humanities in the media

Many of the subjects that have been hit by government dimensioning reforms have had 5-10 per cent of their seats removed, a much lower drop than the drop in applications. But the dimensioning can have a symbolic knock-on effect:

“When an education programme is dimensioned downwards, it negatively focuses on employment opportunities, and in the public sphere it is especially the humanities education programmes that are mentioned in connection with dimensioning,” says Pernille Kindtler, Head of Department of Educational Services, in a press release.

“This is why it may have a greater impact on applications to the humanities programmes, despite the fact that the dimensioning has been widely applied at university.”


There is always a campaign going on that the humanities graduates have higher unemployment rates, even though this is not in accordance with the facts.
Associate Dean Jens Erik Mogensen

Associate Dean Jens Erik Mogensen does not believe that humanities bashing in the media is new, and that it has turned up in connection with the dimensioning reforms.

“I do not think the media campaign against the humanities has taken on in intensity. It’s like it always is. There is always a campaign going on that the humanities graduates have higher unemployment rates, even though this is not in accordance with the facts. This year, however, the Ministry released incorrect unemployment rates for Assyriology that the media covered intensely. This may have hurt the applications to the humanities, but I do not think that this alone is enough to explain the decline in applications.”

According to the Ministry of Higher Education, unemployment for humanities graduates is only four per cent.

Laura Bech Hansen from the Student Council fears that more young people will give up on their dreams and go for study programmes, which they are told are more reasonable instead. She believes that the dimensioning reforms and the cap on education programmes have combined to reduce young people’s courage in trying things out.

“I think we have a generation of young people who are trying to be very realistic and sensible when they apply, who hear that there are fewer places, which makes them think that it’s harder to get in, but also that people want them to study something else. And then you follow the trend that you are asked to follow,” she says.