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Comment: ´Dimensioning´ – an attack on the open society

The Danish government's attack on the humanities, even with the new compromise, shows a centrally planned economy at its worst. Like the German Democratic Republic, writes Werner Schäfke in this featured comment

Recently, the Danish government made their plans public that they want to decide how many of their citizens are allowed to take up studying a certain program at a university in Denmark per year, instead of the universities themselves. This initiative is argued with statistics prepared by the Ministry of Education, which assert that certain study programs lead to unemployment.

The statistics, however, are found not to be sound. Nonetheless, the joint rectors of the Danish universities, organized in the lobby group Danske Universiteter, agreed to this plan in a sort of compromise, postponing the so-called “dimensioning” to 2018 instead of having this process end at that date, and gaining some minimal power over how many places in their programs will be cut.

One further result of this regulation is that universities will be forced to close some programs completely. In effect, the Danish government gains the power to decide what kinds of studies Denmark’s universities are allowed to offer, and thus what kind of studies Denmark’s citizens are allowed to study. This is a degree of centrally planned economy in education and control over education rather known from socialist states like the German Democratic Republic, and even darker comparisons spring to one’s mind.

Target those who ‘reflect critically’

One could now reduce this to a problem of the humanities and social sciences, which are again a target in this initiative. The implications of this new power for the government are more far-reaching, however. The implications go beyond the Danish government effectively deciding to what extent their adult and accountable citizens have access to education, and to what kinds of education.

This would imply that only citizens with a degree from a program in the humanities or social sciences would be able to reflect critically what happens in a society, and this would be a horribly elitist and misled opinion. Still, one can interpret what message such an initiative sends to all citizens, and not only to those directly affected by the “dimensioning”-plans. Being critical and reflective is rather a question of personality and not of education. Being critical is not a competence only certain types of academics acquire. Every citizen is/can be critical.

The message the Danish government sends is, however, easily understood when keeping the prejudice in mind that especially graduates with degrees in the humanities or social sciences are ascribed the ability to think critically, and reflect what the government is doing. The Danish government’s message then is: We do not want our citizens to be critical and reflective. We do the thinking, and we shape your opinions for you. We do not want citizens who know how societies work, that is our business, not yours.

Enemies of an open society

The true message the “dimensioning”-plan sends is easily misunderstood as yet another economically motivated plan to reduce costs for education, and the uproar it causes is easily discarded as the usual whining of scholars from the humanities who fear for their cozy university jobs.

The true message is: Your government does not want you to reflect upon its decisions. It wants well-behaved citizens who dutifully follow the way they show. This is most easily demonstrated by targeting groups of citizens who are commonly ascribed as the ones most likely to critically reflect what happens in society.

But the message is directed to all citizens. And the message comes from enemies of an open society.

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