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Rescue operation: Language subjects to be grouped together in Copenhagen and Aarhus

Language — Rectors to save embattled language subjects by pooling them together in two of eight Danish universities. The plan is that the large universities will be language teaching 'powerhouses' in all subjects and through the entire education system.

“The downturn for foreign languages in Denmark should be stopped.”

This is according to two of Denmark’s eight university rectors, Hanne Leth Andersen, (Roskilde University, RUC), and Per Holten-Andersen (Copenhagen Business School, CBS) on 15th January in an article in the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

The solution, according to these and other rectors in the Danske Universiteter interest group is to build language centres at Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen and only retain major languages such as English and German at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and Aalborg University (AAU).

History of decline

The reason is that language programmes in Denmark are in crisis, and are being offered to a much lesser degree than previously.

This is clear when you look at the websites of the six universities outside Aarhus and Copenhagen. From the universities’ websites it can be seen that neither the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the IT University of Copenhagen, or RUC offer classic study programmes in foreign languages.

At SDU and AAU you can study English, German and Spanish (and the rectors propose maintaining English and German at both places). In addition, SDU’s master’s programmes such as the Business, Language and Culture programme (Negot) offers a degree in international negotiation which consists of half economics, half language and culture in Arabic and Chinese respectively. But these programmes and Spanish have already opted to stop admitting new students in the coming years. There are, in other words, not that many subjects to pool together in the large universities.

“It is mostly a matter of us making it clear that we all agree that it is UCPH and AU that will provide actual language study programmes,” says RUC rector Hanne Leth Andersen. “Languages should continue to be used in other universities’ programmes, as the whole point is that we need the languages. It’s a big loss in quality if Danish university graduates can only speak Danish and English.”

“You should be able to read texts in other languages to access other sources, voices and epistemologies. There are programs where language is a distinct component, for example, like on the language profiles of RUC, where you have the option of choosing German, French or Spanish in the social sciences and humanities,” she says.

 

In 2005, there were 97 language education programmes nationwide. Today we are down to 56.
Jens Erik Mogensen, Vice Dean for Education at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen

Hanne Leth Andersen says that she does not therefore want fewer linguistic options in education. Quite the contrary. But we should distinguish between pure education programmes in languages that should (almost) only be offered at UCPH and AU, and education programmes including a language element that will be available in several places.

Should the remaining language subjects be split between Aarhus and Copenhagen?

“Yes, we expect this. When it comes to the smaller language subjects – small because they have few employees, not small necessarily in terms of being a small language – UCPH and AU should decide between them who should offer what. ”

UCPH: We are already underway

The problem for language subjects today is that they typically do not attract enough students to be economical. The government taxameter subsidy per student is also too small, and too many students drop out. This is the toxic cocktail that had the University of Copenhagen in 2016 – in the face of protests – closing small language programmes like Finnish, Tibetology, Thai, Greece studies and Indonesian. More closures are being threatened.

“In 2005, there were 97 language education programmes nationwide. Today we are down to 56. This is something that approaches a reduction by half in ten years,” says Jens Erik Mogensen, who is Vice Dean for Education at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen and chairman of the university’s language programme. “The trend will continue if we don’t find a better way of financing these subjects, as the financing behind them is the reason why they are closing.”

According to Jens Erik Mogensen, who is also the UCPH member of a reference group which is to make recommendations for a future government language strategy, the new language powerhouses will make a big difference.

“The centres are basically an extension of a consortium we have already set up at UCPH between this university and two university colleges Metropol and University College Capital. Here we work together to support language programs with joint calls of PhD positions, researchers that are half employed by universities and half by the professional colleges, and a joint offering of courses. We are trying to make a consistent language teaching all the way through the entire education system.”

The A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation for General Purposes has donated DKK 12 million to the UCPH cooperation in order to improve an early language start in schools, says Jens Erik Mogensen.

KU overtager businesssprog

For Københavns Universitet giver koncentrationen af sproguddannelser også andre nye muligheder. Efter at CBS har udfaset undervisningen i sprog, har KU overtaget porteføljen og udbyder nu uddannelse i sprog med erhvervsfokus.

»Vi har for nylig fået akkrediteret kandidatuddannelsen Interkulturelle Markedsstudier sammen med CBS,« siger Jens Erik Mogensen. »Det er KU’s første cand.ling.merc. Vi fik 105 ansøgninger og optog 44 studerende.«

Rektorernes plan om at samarbejde mere får ros i regeringen

Den nytiltrådte uddannelsesminister Søren Pind (V) roste idéen om, at universiteterne slår pjalterne sammen for at forbedre sproguddannelserne. Da Uniavisen mødte ham 17. januar, kaldte han rektorernes plan for en »modreaktion« mod den konkurrence mellem universiteterne, som efter hans udsagn havde skabt »spekulation« om at optage så mange studerende som muligt hver især – for at opnå et højere statstilskud – i stedet for at vægte kvaliteten højest.

»Jeg synes, man er begyndt at lytte til den kritik, der har været,« sagde Pind.

Uddannelsesministeren har også over for Weekendavisen givet udtryk for, at han synes, det er en skam, at studerende ikke længere kan fransk og tysk, når de begynder på universitetet. Den udvikling er kendt på KU.

»Vi oplevede, at de studerende efter den seneste gymnasiereform ikke længere kunne hovedsprogene, og derfor lancerede vi allerede i 2011 vores egen sprogsatsning,« siger Jens Erik Mogensen, der kalder ordningen for en succes.

»4.500 KU-studerende har indtil nu modtaget sprogundervisning på grund af vores sprogsatsning. Primært har de lært at læse tyske og franske tekster bedre, og planen er, at flere uddannelser skal have integreret sprogkompetencerne i selve den undervisning, de enkelte studerende følger.«

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