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OECD report: Tuition fees would be good for Denmark

New report by the international organisation argues for the introduction of tuition fees, and praises recent reforms that cut back on Denmark's generous SU grant system

While the Danish economy is gradually recovering – the Danish higher education system is still in need of a shake-up. This is one of the findings in the just-released 2014 country report on Denmark from the OECD.

The 2013 reform of the grant system, the SU, limiting the duration of the grant beyond the normal length of programmes is good, but tuition fees would be even better.

Introducing tuition fees, “would give even greater incentives to students to choose those programmes that will deliver high returns to them and to the society. The introduction of tuition fees should be gradual and in parallel with reductions in marginal income tax rates to preserve incentives to undertake tertiary education. In addition, income-contingent loans and grant programmes should ensure that students from poor families continue to have access to tertiary education,” the report says.

Humanities, social sciences, need to be monitored

Questions as to the quality of humanities and social sciences and their low numbers of teaching hours were legitimate:

“The National Audit Office has recently questioned the quality of programmes in humanities and social sciences, concluding that the number of teaching hours per student was extremely low in these fields. The government has decided to increase funding for humanities and social sciences. ”

“There should be close monitoring of the quality of these programmes and financial sanctions for universities with low quality programmes. Efforts to develop easily accessible indicators on the main features of programmes, including the number of teaching hours, are welcome and should continue by also including information on the labour market situation of alumni,” the report writes.

Slow return to growth

Although the economy has hardly grown since 2010, Denmark continues to score high on dimensions of ”well-being” compared to Sweden and other OECD countries, according to the report.

”Labour market outcomes are better than average, and are accompanied by an outstanding work-life balance, low inequality and a good level of education and skills. Environmental quality is high, as are civic engagement and trust in institutions,” the OECD writes.

”Despite the shocks endured in recent years, inflation has been low and stable. These outcomes are the result of sound policies and institutions,’ the OECD reports. The report mirrors the government’s own low growth projections for 2014 and 2015 – 1.65 and 1.9% respectively.

Not enough academics in business

In the meantime however, the private sector is not attracting people with a higher education: “While the flexibility of the Danish labour market helps achieve an efficient allocation of skills within the economy, the share of high-skilled workers in the private sector is relatively low, which can partly be explained by weak incentives to undertake tertiary education and to choose demanding jobs,” the report writes.

Adult skills, as defined by the OECD, are below those of other Nordic countries, according to the report. And government should continue efforts to cut marginal taxes on higher incomes in order to increase the return to higher education, the report says.

See the full Economic Survey Report from January 2014 here.

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