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Rector and the two prorectors at UCPH release a joint featured comment on the University Post
When looking back on 2015, one almost has to resort to the phrase annus horribilis.
The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) was in excellent shape, and yet we experienced a change of policy with wide consequences for its framework conditions. Gone is the common sense that has characterised successive governments since the noughties: “When the Chinese are cheaper, we must be better” – and that requires investments in knowledge.
The government has reduced funds for research and development from 1.09 to 1.01 percent of GDP and it hits the universities as a series of punches.
First, the cutbacks in the Budget, the reduction of the Danish Council for Independent Research which UCPH usually collects good money from and the 70 million kroners in rent subsidies for the South Campus building on Amager that disappeared overnight – without explanation.
Next, the government’s refusal to let UCPH become the owner of its own buildings – without giving further reasons. And finally: the string of reforms of the educational sector which drains the economy and student administration. The bureaucratic straitjacket of the study progress reform was loosened a bit, but the threat of millions of kroners in fines for delays endures. Add to this the adjustment of student intake (“dimensioneringen”) which generates even more bureaucracy.
2016 did not begin well either, as cutbacks struck the already fragile finances of the small research fields and study programmes at the Faculty of Humanities.
The government’s cuts also meet significant opposition from The Confederation of Danish Industry and the corporate sector.
Right now we are in the middle of the cutbacks that we are working to implement as reasonably as possible. We are aware that it will have consequences in many places, and that it is a hard process to go through for the people who lose their jobs or colleagues. At the political level we also have a lot of of repair work in front of us in order to reverse the development – perhaps as part of the government’s 2025 plan.
The plan was announced by the Prime Minister at a government seminar and is supposed to be finished this summer. It will contain the government’s vision of how to create leeway for new investments as well as which reforms are to be implemented in order to achieve the government’s goals. The plan can hence be seen as a corrective to the government’s current policy providing the opportunity to address the areas that are important to Denmark’s long-term development – and here, research and education should be included for at least three reasons.
First of all, research and education are investments with high returns. This is not only claimed by university economists. The government’s cuts also meet significant opposition from The Confederation of Danish Industry and the corporate sector. Novo Nordisk has for example announced that the cuts “simply are not in order,” because Novo is “heavily dependent” on talented graduates and public research in order to stay in Denmark.
“… a strong metropolitan university is of great importance for everyone in a small country.”
Secondly, the government is planning a taximeter funding reform. The current system is not perfect, but it provides funding stability. We would like to discuss models that reward quality, but it is an illusion that quality can only be created through wily incentives. What is equally important is that a reform should not merely be cutbacks in disguise, because we cannot get more quality for less money.
Thirdly, the political winds are blowing away from Copenhagen. This does not only apply to the relocation of jobs. ‘Regionalisation’ has also crept into the University’s development contract with the Minister. To strengthen the rural areas is fine as long as it does not weaken the Minister’s goal of ‘quality’. And everyone ought to keep in mind that a strong metropolitan university is of great importance for everyone in a small country.
If the government includes these arguments in its cost-benefit analysis, it will also heed Churchill’s prophecy: “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”
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