Danes hamstrung in European alliances by inflexible regulations

Virtual exchanges and microcredentials off the table until rules are redrawn

September 30, 2022
Copenhagen, Denmark - January 5, 2011 Nyhavn (New Harbor)in winter. It is waterfront, canal, entertainment district in Copenhagen in Denmark. It is lined by colorful houses, bars, cafes, wooden ships
Source: iStock

Strict regulations are locking frustrated Danish universities out of the most innovative parts of European university alliances, but looming elections mean that red tape is unlikely to be cut any time soon.

Seven universities in Denmark are in European Union-funded alliances, a part of the Erasmus+ programme increasingly focused on the legal integration of higher education within the bloc.

The alliance universities act as guinea pigs for trendy but tricky work on interdisciplinary curricula, challenge-based learning and virtual mobility, all of which can ruffle regulators’ feathers.

Under Danish law, student exchange must involve physical movement between countries, making the accreditation of short study trips tied to longer-term virtual learning impossible.

The physical-only definition was “highly problematic” for efforts to make international mobility accessible to disadvantaged students, who might not have the time or resources for longer trips, Kristian Lauta, vice-rector for education at the University of Copenhagen, told Times Higher Education.

Lise Thorup-Pedersen, who leads alliance work at Aalborg University, said joining in with other educational experiments was also impossible.

“Microcredentials cannot be included in the existing study programmes as Danish universities have to pre-qualify and accredit all programmes,” she said. “At the same time, it is not possible to include flexible microcredentials as extracurricular activities in student diplomas, as this is not allowed.”

Copenhagen and Aalborg joined the first wave of EU-funded alliances in 2019, but the government has yet to put forward legislation that would allow their full participation.

“Even though we appreciate the ministry’s efforts to implement updated rules regarding virtual and blended mobility, the process has been prolonged and is not yet concluded,” said Jesper Langergaard, the director of Danish Universities, which represents all eight institutions in talks with the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.

“Universities are concerned that the long process reflects a general lack of political support to international university cooperation.”

They could be forgiven for such suspicions: Danish governments of many stripes have taken positions against internationalisation in recent years.

The previous conservative-liberal coalition cut more than 1,000 places on English-language programmes and switched others to Danish to reduce international student numbers.

The current centre-left but anti-immigration Social Democrat administration has not reversed the policy, which Professor Lauta said was driven by a reluctance to extend generous subsidies and low tuition fees to non-Danish EU students, a requirement under the bloc’s rules for equal treatment.

A rule that inbound and outbound exchanges must be financially balanced is another barrier to full participation in the alliances, he said.

The ministry has plans to table legislation removing the red tape before summer 2023, said Mr Langergaard, but political changes might make that promise hard to keep, with the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, possibly facing a general election in the near future.

“For the last three years we’ve had, which is really the exception in Denmark, a one-party government. I think it’s safe to assume that will not continue after an election,” said Professor Lauta.

ben.upton@timeshighereducation.com

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