Education in Denmark

Education in Denmark is compulsory (Danish: undervisningspligt) for children below the age of 15 or 16, even though it is not compulsory to attend Folkeskole ("public school"). The school years up to the age of fifteen/sixteen are known as Folkeskole, since any education has to match the level offered there. About 82% of young people take further education in addition to this.[1] Government-funded education is usually free of charge and open to all. Denmark has a tradition of private schools and about 15.6% of all children at basic school level attend private schools, which are supported by a voucher system.[2][3]

The Education Index, published with the UN's Human Development Index in 2008, based on data from 2006, lists Denmark as 0.993, amongst the highest in the world, tied for first with Australia, Finland and New Zealand.[4]

The chief national officer of the education system is Education Minister Christine Antorini (Social Democrats). However, universities are the responsibility of Sofie Carsten Nielsen (Det Radikale Venstre).[5]

Literacy in Denmark is approximately 99% for both men and women.[6]


The Danish education system has its origin in the cathedral- and monastery schools established by the Roman Catholic Church in the early Middle Ages, and seven of the schools established in the 12th and 13th centuries still exist today. After the Reformation, which was officially implemented in 1536, the schools were taken over by the Crown.[7] Their main purpose was to prepare the students for theological studies by teaching them to read, write and speak Latin and Greek.

Popular elementary education was at that time still very primitive, but in 1721, 240 rytterskoler ("cavalry schools") were established throughout the kingdom. Moreover, the religious movement of Pietism, spreading in the 18th century, required some level of literacy, thereby promoting the need for public education. The philanthropic thoughts of such people as Rousseau also helped spur developments in education open to all children.

In 1809, the old Clergyman's School was transformed in accordance with the spirit of the time into a humanistic Civil Servant's School which was to "foster true humanity" through immersion in the ancient Greek and Latin cultures combined with some teaching of natural science and modern languages.

Throughout the 19th century (and even up until today), the Danish education system was especially influenced by the ideas of clergyman, politician and poet N. F. S. Grundtvig, who advocated inspiring methods of teaching and the foundation of folk high schools.

In 1871, the scientific and technical development of the 19th century led to a division of the secondary education into two lines: the languages and the mathematics-science line. This division was the backbone of the structure of the Gymnasium (i.e. academic general upper secondary education programme) until the year 2005.

In 1894, the Folkeskole ("public school", the government-funded primary education system) was formally established (until then, it had been known as Almueskolen ("common school")), and measures were taken to improve the education system to meet the requirements of industrial society.

In 1903, the 3-year course of the Gymnasium was directly connected the municipal school through the establishment of the mellemskole ('middle school', grades 6-9), which was later on replaced by the realskole. Previously, students wanting to go to the Gymnasium (and thereby obtain qualification for admission to university) had to take private tuition or similar means as the municipal schools were insufficient.

In 1975, the realskole was abandoned and the Folkeskole (primary education) transformed into an egalitarian system where pupils go to the same schools regardless of their academic merits.

Recently, some political parties (e.g. Social Democrats and Liberal Alliance) have advocated extending the time of compulsory education from nine to twelve years.[8]

Compulsory education

The folkeskole (English: people's school) covers the entire period of compulsory education, from the age of 6 to 16, encompassing pre-school, primary and lower secondary education.[9]

Secondary education

Secondary education usually takes two to four years and is attended by students between the ages of 15 and 20. Secondary education is not compulsory, but usually free of charge, and students have a wide range of programmes to choose from. Some education programmes are academically oriented, the most common being the Gymnasium. Others are more practically oriented, training students for jobs as e.g. artisans or clerks through a combination of instruction in vocational schools and apprenticeship.

Post-secondary education

University colleges

Danish university colleges (Danish: professionshøjskoler) offer profession specific tertiary education, also known as medium higher education (MVU) and diploma courses, but do not offer university education at postgraduate level.

Universities and colleges

The first university in Denmark, University of Copenhagen, was established in 1479. The second, University of Kiel in Schleswig-Holstein, was established in 1665. When Schleswig-Holstein was conquered by German forces in 1864, the University of Copenhagen was once again the only university in the Kingdom of Denmark and remained so until 1928 when the University of Aarhus was founded. Since then, numerous universities have been established. In addition, there are many independent colleges specializing for instance in educating teachers.

Many programmes are taught in English, including Bachelor's, Master's, PhD, exchange and summer school programmes.[10]

Tuition and financial aid system

Almost all educational institutes in Denmark are free. This tuition-fee-less system applies to all students who:

Not only are students charged no tuition fees, but all Danish citizens (and many others meeting certain criteria) are offered monthly financial aid, known as "SU" (Statens Uddannelsesstøtte, meaning State Educational Support), amounting for each student to about DKK 2,728 monthly if the student lives with his/her parents or guardians, and about DKK 5,486 monthly if the student lives away from his/her parents or guardians.[11] Students can supplement the SU with low-interest government loans amounting to DKK 2,807 per month, which must be paid back upon the completion of their education.[12]

See also


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