Concern over education and training choices

According to figures published in July 2000, increasing numbers of people are applying for higher education courses in Denmark. Many applicants have been attracted to new short vocational college programmes, to the detriment of traditional education programmes, such as those for teachers, pre-school teachers and nurses, and of university education in the fields of arts and science. This development has caused concern among employers' organisations and trade unions, worried about future shortages of key workers.

In spite of the falling number of young people - in 2000, there are about 15,000 fewer 20-year-olds in Denmark than five years previously - it has generally been possible to maintain the high level of applications for admission to higher education. According to a preliminary survey of applicants to higher education based on figures from the Ministry of Education, published on 12 July, in 2000 nearly 62,000 applicants have applied for admission to a continued education programme, about 2,000 more than in 1999. This high figure is notably the result of 15 new vocational education programmes, which have attracted 9,327 applicants. The interest in these new short, vocationally-oriented programmes which may, for instance, lead to jobs in laboratory work, banks and information technology, has led to an increase in applicants of more than 3,000 over the past year.

"I am pleased to note the continued increase in the number of applicants for higher education and I am particularly pleased that the reform which we have implemented of the vocational education system has been so well received," stated the Minister of Education, Margrethe Vestager.

However, at the same time, a fall has been recorded in the number of applicants for higher university education in the field of arts, science and technology, and for intermediate-level education programmes leading to qualifications for jobs such as teaching, pre-school teaching and nursing.

Not all are equally pleased with these figures. The Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI), for instance, warns against the current developments in the choices of young people. Bjarne Lundager, a research manager at DI, stated: "there is a big problem with the falling number of entrants to education and training in the economic sectors upon which we are all economically dependent and the low prestige of these programmes among young people".

DI notes that it is the fifth year in succession that there has been a fall in the number of young persons seeking education and training for jobs as teachers, nurses and engineers - occupations which are necessary for the maintenance of society. "You could say that too many young people see education as a self-realisation project without any connection with the future labour market. It is necessary to start a discussion of educational policy, concerning the common values in our society and the advice we give to young people", said Mr Lundager.

The Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (Børne- og Ungdomspædagogernes Landsforbund, BUPL) and the Danish Nurses' Organisation (Dansk Sygeplejeråd, DSR) share the concerns expressed by DI. "There will, also in the future, be a need for childcare facilities and for well-educated persons to look after our children", said Birthe Sorgenfrey, chair of BUPL. This trade union finds that the poor reputation of the public sector as an employer is one of the explanations for the falling number of applicants to teacher training colleges etc. "We have to keep putting pressure on the local authorities to improve the financial conditions so that the young persons within these occupations will have access to the continued training possibilities and career prospects they demand," according to Ms Sorgenfrey.

There has also been a significant fall in the number of applicants to nurses training courses. "In spite of major campaigns, we must acknowledge that the competition for young persons has become much keener recently", said Grete Christensen, vice-chair of DSR.

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