Students take too long to finish university

Two billion kroner a year could be saved if the government’s education reform manages to shorten how long it takes Danes to finish university

Danish university students are taking too long to finish their studies and it is costing the state billions of extra kroner a year.

According to a recent study by the think-tank Kraka, Danes take an extra 4.5 years to finish a five-year university education, compared to if they had started directly after upper-secondary and finished without taking any breaks.

Most of the problem lies in getting students started. On average, Danes take three gap years before starting and also average 1.5 years of extra breaks during their studies.

These delays mean that, according to a 2011 OECD report, Danish university students take far longer to finish their studies than their European counterparts.

Later this year, the government will present its education reform, which it hopes will speed up university education and save two billion kroner a year.

“As opposed to our predecessors, we are not going to just cut a year of [state-allocated student allowance] SU,” the education minister, Morten Østergaard (Radikale), told Politiken newspaper. “We are working on a comprehensive and broad spectrum reform in which we will both look at the SU system and the unnecessary delays that occur as a result of dead-ends and barriers in the education system.”

According to Per Christian Andersen of the University of Southern Denmark, one of the reasons for the delays is due to how late Danish primary education starts.

“In the Anglo-Saxon educational systems, where you start in school as a five-year-old and finish by the time you’re 17 or 18, you are more willing to move out in search of an education because you haven’t established your independence yet with your own apartment or significant other,” Andersen told Politiken. "Our youths often take an extra year in tenth grade and finish on average when they’re 19 or 20.”

Esben Anton Schultz, a Kraka researcher and co-author of its recent education study, said that it highlighted how severe the problem of delays to further education were, ahead of the government’s planned reform.

“It’s realistic that changes can be made,” he told The Copenhagen Post. “There are different ways to try and change it but one way could be modifying the very generous support that Danish students receive in order to motivate people to finish their studies earlier.”

The state-allocated student allowance SU has already been the target of cuts by the former government. But several organisations support cutting it even further to get students through the system faster.

The national chamber of commerce, Dansk Erhverv, has proposed dropping SU during the two-year Masters phase.

“You could easily turn the Masters part of the SU into a loan in order to motivate students to finishing their education, which they and the rest of society will benefit from,” Morten Jarlbæk Pedersen, a political consultant for Dansk Erhverv, told

Denmark largest business lobby group, Dansk Industri, has also proposed cutting SU from six years to five and reducing the number of primary school students that take the optional tenth grade before starting upper secondary.

The government’s common platform, published after their election last September, lists speeding up education as a priority. In the platform, the government states that it will “keep the SU system in its current form but investigate possible positive incentives within the SU system that will both get young people to start their education earlier and finish it faster than they currently do.”

The government said it would also examine possible ways of shortening further education by, for example, adding a third semester each year and shortening holidays.

Earlier this month, figures from Statistics Denmark revealed that every fourth student who graduated from upper secondary school in 2001 had not completed a further education by 2011.

"Naturally, I'm surprised by the number," Pedersen told Ritzau news agency. "After ten years, most of them should have come a step further."

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