Universities axe language education

Academics and politicians condemn shutting language courses by the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen Business School in response to government budget cuts

Niche courses are being closed by universities in a bid to satisfy cuts to higher education. In January, The University of Copenhagen (KU) announced its Faculty of Humanities would stop the intake of students for 13 courses that are not profitable to run. The courses are primarily language and regional studies, including Classical Greece, Balkan Studies, Turkish, Polish and Eskimology and Arctic Studies.

Seven of the courses are not taught at any other Danish university, and while some courses may open again to students in 2017, some face permanent closure. Ulf Hedetoft, Director of the Faculty of Humanities, is concerned about Denmark’s ability to produce graduates with a broad set of language skills.

“The government should make a strategy for ensuring that Denmark continues to teach a broad range of languages at universities,” he says, calling for new national language strategy, which could support the courses through increased funding.

He highlights Turkish as an example. Turkey is a geopolitically important country which imports eight billion kroner of Danish goods every year. The course was selected for a reduced intake from 17 to 12 in 2018 because of its high dropout rate – 60 percent of the 2015 class. The course has now been slated for permanent closure, however, because despite the 760,000 kroner expense every semester, KU would only receive 415,000 kroner for the course.

Shrinking budgets
This is just one example of how KU needs to reprioritise its funding, after the government demanded universities cut spending by two percent per year for four years. KU’s Faculty of Humanities alone has to reduce spending by 125 million kroner, or a fifth of its government funding.

“As education finances currently stand, we are only heading in one direction. Both small and medium-sized language educations are vulnerable and risk buckling under when finances are squeezed,” says Hedetoft.

KU is not the only university to cut language courses due to pressures on their finances. In October, Copenhagen Business School (CBS) announced the closure of the German, French and Spanish lines in two Bachelor programmes, as well as the Japanese in the Asia Studies Programme (ASP).

“These courses have been waning in popularity for some years,” CBS President Per Holten-Andersen told CBS Observer, adding that the school will be finding savings by consolidating students into larger classes.

“The classes were small and there was higher unemployment than other CBS courses. That is why we have chosen to cut them. But we are still maintaining the same total student intake.”

Holten-Andersen added that students can still take language education at KU and the University of Aarhus, but that these universities don’t have a business language focus.

Losing knowledge
Charlotte Rønhof, Deputy Director of industry lobby group Dansk Industri, says the decision to close small language courses might make economic sense, but supports Hedetoft’s call for a national strategy to protect the courses.

“Society is not best served when finances alone dictate which courses are offered,” Rønhof told Berlingske.

It’s not just language abilities that might be lost among future graduates, however. KU’s decision to stop admissions into its BA in Eskimology and Arctic Studies has provoked a strong reaction, as it is the only course in Denmark that examines the language, culture, history and society of Denmark’s former colony, Greenland.

Aaja Chemnitz, one of two MPs in the Danish parliament representing Greenland, argues it is a poor decision given the increasing global interest in the Arctic region and Greenland.

“We need to remember that the course is not the study of a far off Asian region […] but a study of an important part of the Kingdom of Denmark, which means its closure would be a significant loss for both Greenland and Denmark,” she says, calling for targeted investment in the study of the Arctic region and its people.

Frank Sejersen, associate professor at KU’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional studies agrees.

“Denmark’s historic relationship with Greenland means we have, over the centrues, developed a large knowledge base, especially about the Greenlandic language, culture, society and history. That is why it is deeply frustrating to see a course with such a long history and significance, judged against simple budget models,” Sejersen told Information newspaper.

Of the 13 courses slated for closure at KU, six receive an extra 1.25 million kroner in funding a year due to theri small size. Despite the additional funding, however, the courses are still not affordable.

The future of the 13 courses will be decided at a board meeting on February 1. M


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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