University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


The UCPH language requirements are just nationalist gesture politics

Language requirements — Dropping the Danish-language teaching requirement for international researchers should be an open-and-shut case. As this is not happening, you may realize that this is all about gesture politics.

Since 2021, new researchers have been required to learn Danish so that they can teach in the language after three to six years of employment. This means that the academics we employ at the University of Copenhagen have to spend a lot of time learning Danish instead of what we hired them to do: To teach and do research.

The University Post has just described how big a burden it can be for non-Danish speaking researchers to be employed at UCPH and then suddenly have to learn Danish at a high level within a short period of time. They are reduced to language novices, face humiliating experiences, and get poorer student evaluations.

READ ALSO: Academics lose status when they teach Danish with an accent

Missing out on important insights

UCPH has the privilege of being able to employ talented world-class researchers. It is an opportunity to increase the diversity of teaching and to strengthen the students’ skillset, who can be instructed by teachers from multiple backgrounds. This is the gift that we will lose when we move our academic instructors back to the school bench and away from the students in the auditorium.


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It is not just the teaching that would be better, however, if we gave international researchers more time for academic work. The research would also be more sophisticated. When different researchers from different backgrounds meet, the research take on a different nuance, with insights that a group of purely Danish researchers with their own backgrounds would never have achieved.

Organisations with a high level of diversity have a proven ability to perform better financially. We have to assume that something similar applies to academic performance.

At a time when universities are under political and financial pressure, we need to use the resources where they benefit the most. In other words, where they strengthen the university, improve the teaching and improve the research. If that is not the university’s most important task, I do not know what it is.

A suspicious political shift

Of course, a Danish university also has to accept that many students find it difficult to be taught in English at the beginning of their study programmes. It may make sense here to teach new students in Danish until they have become more confident in academic English.

But this is not an argument for all academic teaching staff to have to be able to teach in Danish. There are a lot of researchers who do not teach first-year students, but who, for example, only teach at the master’s level or in elective subjects. Why should they all fall under the same rigid language requirements?

There are a lot of benefits to be had from making one, simple, change

As is also evident from the aforementioned article, the political focus changed in the 2010’s, and there was a feeling that Danish should not lose its status as a language at the universities. In 2008, the guiding principle for the UCPH language policy was parallel language use between Danish and English – but since then there has been a political shift.

And I believe it is a result of the [right wing, ed.] Danish People’s Party’s progress in parliament during the same period. Because the language policy also expresses a nationalist gesture politics that excludes foreign researchers and harms the international research environment at UCPH.

Reintroduce the parallel language policy

So dear management: Should we not take another look at language policy? Let us reintroduce the 2008 parallel language policy between Danish and English. We can then accommodate the students who still need to get used to academic English, by possibly retaining the Danish language requirement for staff who teach first-year students.

But for all the others, we can improve diversity by re-introducing an inclusive language policy that takes care of our international researchers. Let us improve the teaching, improve the research, and give ourselves a better international profile. There are a lot of benefits to be had from making one simple change.

READ MANAGEMENT’S RESPONSE HERE: We do, actually, have a language policy at UCPH that is quite international