Too many graduates with a master’s in unemployment

Reports propose major changes for the university system

Two reports published last week have delivered a damning appraisal of the Danish higher education system. 

Denmark, which spends more than any other country on education but scores below the OECD average on young people’s basic competences, tops the list for dropouts because it is producing the wrong kinds of graduates.

First a report by Produktivitetskommissionen, the productivity commission, concluded that the overall weakness of the education system was one of the biggest causes of Denmark’s recent drop in productivity.

And then just a few days later, Kvalitetsudvalget, the expert committee on quality in higher education, made its recommendations on how Denmark’s education system can be improved.

Jørgen Søndergaard, the chairman of the committee, summed up its findings. “The situation we have today is that the education system just isn’t suitable,” he said in a press release.

Alarming trend
The most striking finding of both reports is an apparent incongruity between how young people are being educated and the economy and job market at large.

Produktivitetskommissionen found that in recent years the number of graduates has grown most in the subjects leading to the lowest pay and the highest rates of unemployment. 

Humanities surplus
For example, in the period from 1991-2011, the number of humanities graduates tripled despite average unemployment in the field being up to 5 percent higher than other disciplines.

The commission also noted that graduates of many shorter social science and technical educations achieve higher earnings than humanities graduates.

Ignoring the job market
Young people are not choosing their education based on the job market. In Denmark only 5 percent did so compared to 20 percent in Sweden and 30 percent in the UK.

Nina Smith, a professor at the School of Economics and Management at Aarhus University, who is a member of the quality committee, thinks this needs to change. 

“Ten years ago I said that young people should study what they liked,” she told Information.

“But I’ve changed my opinion since seeing these findings.” 

The quality committee recommends that bachelor education programs be extended to four years, with the extra year focusing on how the subject can be used professionally.

They also recommend that in the future fewer students should take a master’s.

Among their other recommendations, they proposed that there be centrally-determined quotas for admission to education programs to reflect the demand in the job market.

Master’s not for everyone
Dansk Industri is in the process of reviewing the committee’s proposals and consulting with its members.

But Sarah Gade Hansen, a senior advisor at DI, said that DI agrees that there should be fewer graduates with master’s degrees in the future. “The proposal should be seen in the context of the data collected by the committee,” she said.

“Twenty-nine percent of young people are now expected to get a master’s degree, 4 percentage points more than the government’s target. This is more than the labour market needs. We also need people with vocational qualifications,” she said.

Hansen conceded that, as things stand, there are not many with a university bachelor’s degree working in Denmark, although there are many jobs for those with a vocational bachelor’s.

“But in the years to come, there could be more university bachelor’s jobs if the current bachelor’s programs are reformed,” she said.

Alternative viewpoint
But not everyone is in agreement with the findings. In its reform proposal document, Danske Studerendes Fællesråd, the national students’ union, highlights perceived dangers in viewing education in purely economic terms.

“A limited focus on courses’ direct short-term business-relevance risks watering down all-important aspects of our education, seriously harming our ability to think in new ways, be critical and be innovative,” it noted.