To educate for the future

How does the public debate about higher education in Denmark differ from the debate in Sweden? This was one of the topics when University Chancellor Harriet Wallberg spoke at a conference on education in Kolding, Denmark, on April 28 2016.

Representatives of universities, academic authorities and ministries gathered in Kolding to discuss the quality of higher education and the changes that are underway. Harriet Wallberg was invited to speak about the Swedish higher education sector, and to make comparisons to the situation in Denmark.

The higher education sector goes through rapid change

In both countries, the sector has changed rather quickly and Harriet Wallberg gave examples of the various challenges that both countries face.

There is a rapid technological development, and the labour market is in constant change. The universities must work strategically to meet these challenges and develop systems that maintain the quality of higher education, says Wallberg.

Differences in the public debate

The public debate about higher education in Denmark differs markedly from the debate in its neighbouring country Sweden. Denmark is about to implement major reforms of the education sector, and there is discussion about how to match the supply of higher education institutions to the demands of the labour market. One suggestion is to reduce the number of places on courses that do not adequately match the labour market.

Harriet Wallberg believes that there are hazards associated with a system based so heavily on the labour market match:

”I pointed out that there is a clear risk that the humanities will suffer. It is important that there is a wide variety of humanities available even if these subjects are not directly matched with the labour market. Elements of the humanities are also important in for example technical training courses to foster cross-pollination between various general skills.”

In addition, Harriet Wallberg does not believe that it is possible to predict which professions will be attractive in the future.

The current students will be active on the labour market for an average of 35 years and many of them will change jobs many times. Therefore it is important that students are trained to absorb new knowledge and to be flexible so that they can handle new ways of working. Thus we should not only focus on what is needed right now.