1 June 2018

New forms of learning can safeguard small programmes

Nordic languages

Low interest in elective courses in Nordic languages has meant that these courses are no longer offered to students. It has reopened the debate on the existence of small programmes, which are severely affected by the annual two-percent spending cut under the Finance Act. The University of Copenhagen calls for an easing of the demands on small programmes to safeguard their existence.

A betrayal of joint Nordic relations, a loss of ‘irreplaceable cultural heritage’ and a ‘strike against the unity of the Realm.’ That’s the sound of the criticism that has been voiced after the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen decided not to offer courses in Old Norse, modern Icelandic and Faroese this year, as only few students are interested in the courses. However, according to Prorector Lykke Friis, the criticism is off the mark.

“Research in the small Nordic languages is strong and will not be affected. But the limited interest from students makes it necessary to rethink our course offering. We cannot uphold courses that virtually no students want. But perhaps we can introduce a kind of apprentice-master tutorial if we can reach agreement with the Ministry on a sustainable model, Lykke Friis says.

One example is the Arnamagnaean Coollection, which researches and preserves Icelandic writings. The collection employs six researchers, one PhD student and six Postdocs. It provides a leading international research environment and has a collection of manuscripts, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. That type of research will not be affected.

Students not interested in small Nordic languages

However, very few companies are seeking students with a command of the small Nordic languages. Today Faroese, modern Icelandic and Old Norse are not offered as full programmes, but as courses students can choose as part of another programme in, for example, Danish. The application to the specialised courses is low – on average between two and five students. This makes it difficult to create a good study environment, a high level of academic activity and quality just as the costs per student are high. 

Application to Nordic Courses 

  2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Old Norse 5 - 3 1 0
Modern Icelandic 8 5 2 8 5
Faroese 1 8 4 7 -


The Humanities’ economy – like other parts of the University – is under pressure from educational spending cuts. Every year the government cuts two percent on all programmes. 

Dialogue with Ministry

The government has just adopted a national language strategy and appointed a small programmes council to advise on how we can uphold and support small programmes in the future. The language strategy also includes the option to allow free-programme experiments. The University of Copenhagen is looking forward to discussing how to convert small Nordic language teaching and the acceptance that the requirements for these special offers are different than for other programmes.

“The small programmes need a change of direction. Otherwise, what is known as the death of languages will continue with close to half of all language programmes in Denmark having shut down since 2005. The University of Copenhagen will explore the possibility that subject areas with few students can be completed as research subjects, where students join tutorials or master-apprentice course with the scholars of the academic environment. We hope to engage in a dialogue with the Ministry as soon as possible,” says acting dean Jens Erik Mogensen from the Faculty of Humanities.

In its new 2023 Strategy , the University of Copenhagen focuses on new forms of ‘research-integrating teaching’ and integration of the University's strong research environments in the small Nordic languages just as new, intensive courses can be the key to renewed student interest in these areas.

Humanities is looking into how to introduce new research-based forms of teaching to the small vulnerable programmes and will make its insights available to the Ministry.