COVID-19 pandemic drives record in student intake

Jan Petter Myklebust

When admission to Danish higher education institutions was published on 27 July 2020, 69,526 students were granted a place – 3,086 more than the previous record in 2016. Minister of Higher Education and Research Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen described the significant increase as positive.

“I am glad that so many want to and get the opportunity to take a higher education,” she said. “We are in many ways having special conditions due to the coronavirus. More have applied for access to higher education and it is positive that we also can offer more study places.

“On behalf of Denmark I am very satisfied,” the minister stated.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was expected that the number of student applicants would increase. In spring, Parliament decided that universities and colleges could have 5,000 more study places in 2020 and in 2021, including 500 places in professional health sciences.

Halsboe-Jørgensen said there was an historic high in the nursing student intake, which would make it possible to strengthen the health sector. This year, 510 more students than in 2019 have also been admitted to social sciences such as education, nursing and social work.

Recruitment to fields of STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – has also grown, with 1,380 more students accepted. This is an increase of 9%, which is higher than the increase in average intake.

As University World News reported in 2016, Denmark introduced a ‘ranking’ classification in higher education based on fields of studies leading to employment within the first year after graduation, the so-called ‘dimensional intake’.

In 2020, 16,361 students were admitted to ‘non-employable’ subjects, which was an increase of 386 students or 2% from 2019. ‘Employability successful’ subjects had an increase of 3,426 students or 7%.

The fields with the highest intakes were education (4,955 up 2%); nursing (4,259 up 6%); engineering diploma (3,742 up 4%); civil engineering (3,520 up 19%); business economics (2,786 up 2%) and basic teacher training (2,697 up 6%).

Application statistics

The ministry published seven reports analysing admission to Danish higher education institutions in 2020:

• Total number of applicants: 94,604

• Offered a study place: 69,526

• Offered a place corresponding to their first priority: 81%

• Offered another place: 19%

• 39,948 students admitted to a business academy or professional bachelor degree at a professional college or university college.

• 30,978 students accepted for a bachelor degree at the country’s eight universities

• 16,000 of students admitted are below 21 years of age.

For 2020 the admission level cut-off point for higher education was lowered, because Parliament removed bonus points for entering universities directly from secondary school, which was introduced in 2009.

For instance, for studies in international business at Copenhagen Business School, which has the greatest competition for places in Denmark, the cut-off point for entrance was reduced from 12.4 in 2019 to 11.3 in 2020.

The Danish news agency Ritzaus Bureau reported in a press release that several organisations, including the Danish Society of Engineering and the Confederation of Danish Industry, had welcomed the increase in intake of STEM students as positive, notably for ‘green economic growth’.

At universities in Copenhagen, 7,831 students were accepted compared to 7,326 in 2019, to 73 bachelor degrees. The most popular studies in Copenhagen were: 1. Molecular biomedicine; 2. Psychology; 3. Insurance mathematics; 4. Medicine; 5. Political science; 6. Anthropology; 7. Veterinary medicine; 8. Dentistry; 9. Literature science; and 10. Mathematics-economics.

Gender balance in fields is changing

More men this year have been admitted to educational sciences and nursing while more women have been accepted to STEM-fields, notably to information technology.

Halsboe-Jørgensen believes this development in several fields is “fantastic news”, and a step forward towards achieving greater gender balance across subjects in future. “If we are going to reach our goal of having a sufficient number of students recruited to many academic fields, we need to see both sexes in play,” she said.

“This year 13% more women are accepted in the STEM fields compared to 2019 while the increase in intake of men is 7%. For the IT field the increase in intake of women is 20% or 355 more women accepted. Comparatively 11% more men were admitted to IT.”

For nursing, 10% more men have been admitted, and the increase for women is 5%. “I hope this year will contribute to change the attitude that some higher education fields are for women and some others for men,” said the minister.

Halsboe-Jørgensen as ‘Comical Ali’

Not everyone endorses the trend described by Halsboe-Jørgsensen on twitter and confirmed by ministry bureaucrats in the eight published analytical papers on this year intake.

The education editor of the influential Danish newspaper Politiken, Jacob Fuglsang, in a critical analysis on 29 July called the minister ‘Comical Ali’ – for allegedly manipulating the statistics, notably by drawing a much more optimistic view on the intake to educational sciences and teacher training than is taking place in reality.

‘Comical Ali’ is the former Iraqi diplomat and politician, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, who shot to prominence during the 2003 invasion of Iraqi. As information minister, he became famous as a spin doctor emitting outrageously favourable government propaganda.

“That the numbers have been doctored is proven by the minister’s home page” on Twitter. Admission to educational sciences and teacher training have fallen from 2016 and both have admitted around 100 more students this year than last year.

That, Fuglsang opined, would far from fill up study places “or change the catastrophic lack of teachers and educational candidates that is a reality in several parts of the country and that will only become worse in the years ahead. The ambition to raise teacher education to the masters level, as the other Nordic countries have done, is no longer mentioned.”