Aarhus University Seal

Rector on the relocation agreement: More micro-management and increased pressure on quality and academic excellence

Brian Bech Nielsen is disappointed by the government’s failure to involve the university sector before the agreement.

The agreement won’t be fully phased in until 2030. But this is virtually the only concession to the universities’ wishes relative to the Social Democrats’ original proposal in Parliament’s new degree programme decentralisation agreement.

The main take-home points in the agreement are: Admit fewer students to educational institutions in Denmark’s largest cities. Instead, move student places to smaller towns, if you can and will. In any case, we will keep an eye on you, and if we’re not satisfied, we have other cards up our sleeve...

“We are by no means advocates of the agreement that’s been reached, and I consider it unlikely that the political objective of achieving a more balanced nation will be achieved by means of this initiative. I understand the intention behind it, but the government has taken the wrong wrench out of the toolbox,” says Rector Brian Bech Nielsen, adding: “What’s more, the proposal represents an escalation in government micromanagement. It would have been natural to engage in dialogue with the sector and solicit guidance before making a decision with such far-reaching consequences. Instead, an overwhelming majority in Parliament has endorsed the proposal, apparently without any consideration for the consequences for quality and academic excellence.”

The 2030 sector plans are sensible, but...

The rector is fundamentally positive about politicians’ intentions to involve the universities in the process of developing a 2030 plan for the university sector. However, this dialogue has gotten off on the wrong foot, he believes: “We are already working with adapting our degree programme offers, and in this respect a long-term perspective is decisive. So we are happy to participate in a dialogue about the university sector’s plans toward 2030, I would have like to see the government invite that dialogue before setting the end goal,” the rector says.

Uncertain conditions for decentralisation

First and foremost, Aarhus University intends to maintain the high quality of its research and educational activities, which is inextricably linked to the university’s financial framework conditions.

"It's expensive to build up the requisite research base and infrastructure in a new space. For that reason, my initial assessment is that we will only be able to decentralise degree programmes to a limited extent. In addition, it’s uncertain whether the decentralised degree programmes will be able to attract students to a sufficient degree to ensure sound financial conditions, and not least a good academic environment.”

This must be understood in the context of the other financial uncertainties facing the universities in coming years: A possible new model for the allocation of basic funding, potential repeal of the increased taximeter funding for the humanities and social sciences from 2023, and now cutbacks in study places in the major cities toward 2030.