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Timeline: The controversial 1-year master’s degree — this is how it came about

Danish master's degrees reform — The new 1-year master’s degree programme is one of the most comprehensive Danish university reforms in recent times. But how did this proposal actually get off the ground? Here is an overview.

A reform commission with a disqualified prorector from the University of Copenhagen; a minister from a party who prior to her election was against the proposal; and employers that criticize the reform that is precisely supposed to orient students more towards their labour market.

If you have also lost track of how a proposal for a 1-year master’s degree programme actually got to where it is today, the University Post has a timeline for you.

October 2020:

The former Social Democrat government set up a commission for a so-called second-generation reform. It was tasked with a new reform that would address the challenges facing the Danish economy. It was chaired by economics professor Nina Smith of Aarhus University.

April 2022:

The commission’s recommendations were released in the report ‘Reform Pathways 1’. It included universities getting a completely new structure with the master’s programmes divided into two tracks.

One track was a business-oriented one-year master’s degree programme, while the other track was oriented towards the world of research and a deeper specialization. The commission proposes that only one in three of all social sciences and humanities subjects will be like the current two-year master’s degree programme.

»If the politicians don’t do anything and let things continue like today, we will have a mismatch problem on the labour market,« Jørgen Søndergaard, the now retired research director of VIVE (the National Centre for Social Research and Welfare), said when the proposals were presented.

At the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Rector Henrik C. Wegener is critical of the proposal:.

»The consequence will be less education and less quality if you follow these recommendations. This is the opposite of what Denmark and Danish businesses need,« he wrote on Twitter.

His own prorector for research, David Dreyer Lassen, was on the Reform Commission however. He has an asterisk next to his name in the report: As prorector he is »formally disqualified« and »stands outside the recommendations«, it appears in a short text at the bottom of the page.

September 2022:

The former Social Democrat government presented the political proposal ‘Denmark can do more III’. It proposed that half of the places on two-year master’s degree programmes will be one-year vocational degree programmes or multi-year part-time study programmes to be carried out in parallel with a job.

The one-year master’s degree programme will also have a higher workload of 75 ECTS instead of the current 60 ECTS for one year. This will particularly affect the humanities and social science graduates, where the majority of the degree programmes are to be changed to 1-year programmes.

According to the government, the cuts to the master’s degree programmes will save approximately DKK 2 billion, which is to be invested equally between master’s programmes and so-called »welfare programmes« at university colleges and business academies.

The Liberal Party and the Moderate Party rejected the proposals at the time.

»Unlike the government, we believe that the 1-year master’s degree programmes and the vocational degree programmes are primarily intended to be an extra option for young people who want the opportunity, not a pathway to cuts like the Social Democrats,« Sofie Løhde wrote in a featured comment in the University Post.

Jakob Engel-Schmidt of the Moderate Party also rejected the idea in an interview with the Akademikerbladet magazine.

»Denmark cannot afford to make itself poorer in terms of knowledge, and no one gets cleverer from removing ECTS points from our university degree programmes and halving study programme completion times on the master’s,« he said.

December 2022:

The new three-party governing coalition presented its manifesto, stating that »up to half of all master’s degree programmes are to be converted to one-year degree programmes with a clear focus on the labour market.« This was an about-turn from the now-governing Moderate Party and Liberal Party, who before the election criticised the previous government’s proposal.

The government hopes that the »first classes« of the new master’s degree students »can graduate in 2029«, but it is still unclear which degree programmes are to be reorganised.

February 2023:

Minister for Higher Education and Science Christina Egelund (M) has still not presented the specifics of the government’s reform, but in an interview with the newspaper Politiken, she announced that it will be »large and comprehensive«. She also emphasised that it was a criterion of success that more people return to the universities later in life. And if this is not successful, she agreed with her party colleague Jakob Engel Schmidt, who rejected the proposed halving of master’s degree programmes.

»I also think it is a wrong direction just to educate for a shorter time. And that is why this life-long learning element is enormously important for me and for the government,« she said to Politiken.

At the same time, more and more actors criticise the proposal. Both trade unions, employers’ organizations, universities, and employers of graduates have voiced their criticism.

Mads Eriksen Storm, head of education and research policy at the Danish Chamber of Commerce criticised the proposal. He said to Radio4 that he is concerned about the quality drop.

»And we need to know more fundamentally what it actually is that they are trying to solve with this reform. Can we maintain quality? Because we are actually dependent on skilled employees in Danish businesses, including academics,« he said to Radio4.

The trade union Djøf agrees. It published a study of its members that showed a high degree of association to the labour market among their members who have just graduated. This was why the chairman of Djøf Sara Vergo said in the University Post that the government is trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

»There are so many myths in thís. But if you look at the facts, it is has no basis in reality,« she said.

Among employers, two of the largest recipients of academic graduates, COWI and Deloitte, have criticized the proposal.

Rasmus Ødum, executive vice president at COWI, said to Radio4 that the engineering and architecture consulting company would have to make more use of foreign graduates if the master’s degree programmes from where they normally receive graduates are cut.

»If we can’t get some people who are strong enough at home, we need to look further afield,« Rasmus Ødum said to Radio4.

A similar criticism was voiced by Christian Jensby, the CEO of Deloitte Denmark. Deloitte recruits, every year, hundreds of students directly from the universities in Denmark and abroad. However, according to him, the shortened degree programmes will put the Danish talent at a disadvantage relative to the international ones.

»A shortening of the programmes will ultimately impair the quality, our manpower, and mobility,« Christian Jensby, CEO of Deloitte Danmark, said to the news media