Concerns raised over higher education completion rate

One out of every six secondary school graduates in Denmark, or 16%, has not completed a university education or higher professional competence-based education – erhvervskompetencegivende utdanning – by the time they are 30 years of age, according to a new analysis by Danish think tank DEA.

Published in March 2023 and authored by Signe Koch, Anne Fløe and Emma Wæge, the report (in Danish) is based on a survey of 38,456 secondary school graduates aged 30 in the period 2012-19.

This translates into approximately 5,000 young people each year, a significant proportion of whom have tried out higher education options, but for some reason or another have not completed their studies.

It indicates that approximately 20% of men in Denmark have not completed a higher education at 30 years of age compared to 12% of women.

Employment trends

Seventy four percent of students without higher education at 30 and not in education are employed with a salary. The corresponding percentage of those graduates having completed higher education at 30 and who are employed is 92%.

Most 30-year-olds without higher education and employed are mainly concentrated in the sectors of trade, and the health and social work sector.

Koch, a senior economist at DEA, told University World News that high school in Denmark is “meant to lead to higher education”.

She said since the demand for skilled employees is growing, “it is a problem that one-sixth hasn’t completed further education at the age of 30. They are employed in areas where it seems like a vocational education would have maybe been a better choice”.

The report finds that there is “huge potential” for more of those students completing secondary school to enter higher education.

Ambition to study further

The study found that as many as three out of four of the students who had not completed higher education at 30 years of age started at least one higher education course before their 30th birthday, a fact that suggests they have an ambition to achieve a higher education.

Specifically, 54% of those without a higher education by 30 years old tried to embark once upon higher education; 29% tried starting twice and 11% have tried starting three times. The majority of first attempts were at the bachelor degree level.

Senior Economist at DEA Signe Koch, who is one of the main authors of the report, told daily newspaper Berlingske that she is worried about the results because if the students had managed to complete secondary school, the assumption is that they would be able to complete higher education.

“Of course, problems can arise later in life, but as a point of departure there should be no hindrance for them to be able to complete higher education,” Koch said.

She observed that there are significant differences between the regions in Denmark, with Copenhagen having the lowest percentage of secondary school graduates not completing a higher education.

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