1. Key indicators
Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
|EU-level targets||2030 target|
|Participation in early childhood education
(from age 3 to starting age of compulsory primary education)
|Low achieving eighth-graders in digital skills||< 15%||21.4%13, **||16.2%18, †*||:||:|
|Low achieving 15-year-olds in:||Reading||< 15%||15.2%09,b||16.0%18||19.7%09,b||22.5%18|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||< 9%||11.5%||9.3%||13.8%||9.9%|
|Exposure of VET graduates to work based learning||≥ 60%||:||:||:||:|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 25-34)||≥ 45% (2025)||37.6%||47.1%||32.2%||40.5%|
|Participation of adults in learning (age 25-64)||≥ 47% (2025)||:||:||:||:|
|Other contextual indicators|
|Education investment||Public expedienture on education as a percentage of GDP||7.1%||6.3%19||5.0%||4.7%19|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per FTE/student in € PPS||ISCED 1-2||€8 51712||€3 38918||€6 07212,d||€6 35917,d|
|ISCED 3-4||€7 62412||€6 86218||€7 36613,d||€7 76217,d|
|ISCED 5-8||:12||€12 98018||€9 67912,d||€9 99517,d|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||Native||11.1%||9.2%||12.4%||8.7%|
|Upper secondary level attainment (age 20-24, ISCED 3-8)||69.1%||76.1%||79.1%||84.3%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 25-34)||Native||38.7%||47.1%||33.4%||41.3%|
Sources: Eurostat (UOE, LFS, COFOG); OECD (PISA). Further information can be found in Annex I and in Volume 1 (ec.europa.eu/education/monitor). Notes: The 2018 EU average on PISA reading performance does not include ES; the indicator used (ECE) refers to early-childhood education and care programmes which are considered by the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to be ‘educational’ and therefore constitute the first level of education in education and training systems – ISCED level 0; FTE = full-time equivalent; b = break in time series, d = definition differs, u = low reliability, := not available, 09 = 2009, 12 = 2012, 13 = 2013, 17 = 2017, 18 = 2018, 19 = 2019; † = Met guidelines for sampling participation rates only after replacement schools were included; * = National defined population covers 90% to 95% of the national target population; ** = Did not meet the sample participation rate.
Figure 2 - Position in relation to strongest and weakest performers
Source: DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, based on data from Eurostat (LFS 2020, UOE 2019) and OECD (PISA 2018).
- After several years of spending cuts, Denmark has stepped up investment in education, including by earmarking funds to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic.
- Participation in early childhood education and care is high, with Denmark taking steps to further improve its quality, in particular by increasing staffing levels.
- Well-being policies are well-established, and wide-ranging monitoring mechanisms are in place, yet the overall mental health of students does not seem to have improved in the past years.
- Although a lack of interest in dual vocational training continues to have an impact on skills shortages, participation increased during the pandemic thanks to improved guidance, financial support and the new obligation on schools to secure training places.
3. A focus on well-being in education and training
Denmark addresses well-being by a well-established policy that covers all levels of education. It formally introduced well-being as a key policy objective in primary and lower secondary education by the Folkeskole reform of 2013 and by the general upper secondary reform in 2017. Since 2018, well‑being has also become a priority in higher education policy with better monitoring arrangements and improved data collection and policy design. The Danish concept of well-being was developed by an expert group for primary and lower secondary education launched in 2014 and identifies three aspects: (1) psychological and physical well-being, (2) students’ self-assessment of their competencies, in particular self-efficacy, resilience and social competencies, as well as their ability to participate in and contribute substantially to school activities, and finally (3) whether the students’ environment (including parents, peers and teachers) supports and inspires them (Undervisningsministeriet, 2014).
Student well-being is closely monitored through regular surveys. It is compulsory for all primary and lower secondary schools (since 2014) and upper secondary schools (since 2017) to measure student well-being. The monitoring is carried out annually through an online survey. The aggregated results are made available online, and each school has access to its aggregated data. The outcomes of the well-being survey are not only used by schools and municipalities, but also feature in the Ministry’s of Children and Education annual status report (Undervisningsministeriet, 2017a). In addition, at least every third year schools must measure the educational environment and publish an assessment of it. Each school must publish a set of values, including strategies for dealing with bullying and digital bullying, and guidance on the relations between teachers and students, as specified in the national legislation on the educational environment (Undervisningsministeriet, 2017b). In the area of higher education, the Danish Evaluation Institute has collected data on well‑being since 2016 in its annual survey on dropout rates. A budget of DKK 25 million (EUR 3.35 million) has been earmarked for pilot initiatives in higher education, including evidence-gathering and policies that aim to improve student well‑being (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2019b).
Despite considerable policy efforts over the past years, the overall well-being of Danish students does not seem to have improved. The Folkeskole reform in 2013 was accompanied by a comprehensive research programme. According to the 2020 evaluation report, there has been no overall progress in student well-being, despite the reform focusing mainly on well-being (VIVE, 2020a). The 2020/2021 annual well-being survey of the Ministry of Children and Education confirmed a stable level of well-being in primary and secondary school. Another study by the Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA) on student well-being in upper secondary education, published in 2019, found that many students felt challenged and had negative feelings for extended periods, which in turn had a negative impact on their academic performance (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2019a). Similarly, another survey on well-being in higher education carried out in 2018 revealed that every fifth student was doing poorly and showing symptoms of stress (21.2% of female students compared to 13.6% of male students reported very frequent strong symptoms of stress) (Uddannelses- og forskningsministeriet, 2019). A study published by the Danish Evaluation Institute in 2019 shows a clear correlation between higher education students’ feelings of frustration in relation to their studies and an increased risk that they will not thrive and will drop out (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2019b).
Danish schools score around the EU average on bullying and the disciplinary environment but with a negative trend. According to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), every fifth student (21.4%) reports being bullied at least a few times a month (EU: 22.1%), girls less so (19.7%) than boys (23.1%), with there being no significant difference by socio-economic or migrant status and having little impact on reading performance. The overall disciplinary environment broadly corresponds to the EU average, but teachers report a significant worsening in all related indicators since 2009. In line with EU trends, advantaged and private schools record less truancy and have a better disciplinary environment, although the gap is slightly smaller than in other EU countries. Advantaged students report receiving more academic support than disadvantaged ones. Those different levels of support may partly explain why young people with a migrant background have less favorable educational outcomes, although they participate to the same extent in ECEC, and why advantaged students drop out of school much less often.
Figure 3 – Change in PISA reading performance when students reported being bullied at least a few times a month, 2018
Source: OCED, (2019b). Note: the data for FI are not statistically significant
During the pandemic, teachers attached great importance to the well-being of students. School principals and teachers underlined that well-being and maintaining relationships was a key goal. Consequently, during lockdown some schools focused more on student well-being than on fully implementing curriculum requirements (Danmarks Lærerforening, 2020). For instance, when schools reopened in spring 2020 for fifth grade pupils, some schools arranged smaller groups in order to have closer contact between pupils and teachers.
Denmark launched a number of policy initiatives underpinned by substantial funding to mitigate the impact of the crisis. In February 2021, the government allocated DKK 600 million (EUR 80.7 million) to crisis-related measures in the educational sector. Of that amount, 65% was allocated to boost students’ learning and to better prepare students for the 2021 summer final exams through reorganised and locally‑adapted learning opportunities. 20% is intended to compensate for lost practical training in vocational dual education and 15% has been allocated to enhance students' well-being. Additional DKK 295 million (EUR 39.7 million) are invested to deal with academic challenges following Covid-19 in 2021, and schools, educational institutions and municipalities have been given more freedom to organise and adapt teaching to local conditions. (Undervisningsministeriet, 2021). A stakeholder summit was also organised by the Minister for Higher Education and Science and the Minister for Culture to explore ways to boost the well-being of students during the pandemic.
Despite the measures taken, the pandemic has affected the well-being of students. 33% of the school principals surveyed consider that the lockdown has had a negative impact on pupil well-being. Teachers and pupils largely concur in their assessment of the situation (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2021a). About half of the surveyed students were more depressed and felt lonelier (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2021b). The national well-being survey of students in primary and secondary education 2020/2021 observed indicators to be rather stable over time. In higher education, too, loneliness of new students increased from 56% in 2017 to 63% (measured until the end of 2020). That trend was more pronounced for first-year students, as the share of students who could easily make contact with others dropped 30 pps to 43% in the same period in 2020. In addition, students faced financial stress as a result of the loss of typical student jobs (Denmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2021c). The pandemic has shown that face-to-face learning better supports the social aspects of learning across the educational sector.
Well-being challenges during lockdown affected learning outcomes, with a higher risk for low-achievers. 88% of the school principals surveyed reported that the pandemic had had a negative impact on academically weak students, while 19% considered that high-achieving students were affected. At primary school level, regular contact with teachers and peers, and having parents with an positive attitude, were reported to strengthen students’ resilience. Two thirds of upper secondary students reported lower education outcomes and motivation during school closures in contrast to a small group who believed that they did better than usual (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2021b. About two thirds of students in higher education prefer face-to-face teaching to distance learning and one third favour a hybrid approach (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut, 2021c).
4. Investing in education and training
2019 saw the first real increase of 1.1% in general government expenditure on education after a period of spending cuts. Denmark’s spending on education as a share of GDP remains at 6.3% - 1.6 pps above the EU average - after contracting between 2016 and 2019. While Denmark’s gross capital formation and compensation for employees are around the EU average, Denmark spends significantly more on intermediate consumption and double on other types of expenditure (COFOG). This higher spending could be explained in part by more generous student support in general.
Denmark is increasing funding for education, in particular at pre-primary and primary level, with a focus on teacher support. Education received DKK 678 (EUR 91.2) million in funding as the ‘re-prioritisation contribution’ (Omprioriteringsbidraget) - a budget‑savings method used in Denmark - ended in 2020. The investments target pre-primary and primary education. A 2020 government and multi-party agreement stipulates an additional annual investment of about DKK 1.8 billion (EUR 242 million) as of 2024 to especially ensure minimum staff levels in ECEC. At the same time, funding for basic education (Folkeskole) increased in 2020 by DKK 275 (EUR 34.5) million annually, further increasing to by DKK 807 (EUR 108.5) million annually as of 2023. These additional funds are intended to enable municipalities to improve the conditions in their schools, especially by increasing teacher numbers by more than 1 000 in the coming years. A number of tripartite agreements resulted in investments of DKK 6.1 billion (EUR 820.4 million) in vocational education, of which DKK 500 (EUR 67.3) million per year are devoted to new initiatives (Danish Ministry of Finance, 2021). Public investment in tertiary education amounted to DKK 14 (EUR 1.88) billion in 2019, an increase of approximately 23% since 2008. However, over the same period, admission to tertiary education in Denmark increased by 42%.
Box 1: The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP)
Denmark’s Recovery and Resilience Plan, with a volume of about EUR 1.5 billion, targets 59% of its measures at supporting climate objectives and 25% at the digital transition. The plan has six components: (i) green transition of agriculture and the environment; (ii) energy efficiency, green heating and carbon capture and storage; (iii) green tax reform; (iv) sustainable road transport; (v) investing in green research and development and, finally, (vi) digitalisation. Under the latter component, Denmark will develop a digital strategy before the end of 2021, which may specify more detailed measures for education and training, and competencies and skills.
5. Modernising early childhood and school education
Participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC) remains high. Nearly all children between the age of 3 and the age of starting compulsory primary school attend ECE (97.7% in 2019), above the EU-level target of 96%. Participation in formal childcare by children aged under 3 is also high at around 66% (2019), almost double the EU average and the highest participation rate of all EU countries. With 58.1% Denmark also leads the EU in terms of children attending more than 30 hours of ECEC a week1. There is practically no difference between the attendance rates of disadvantaged and advantaged children (OECD, 2019).
Major investments and reforms aim to improve the quality of ECEC. In December 2020 the government announced an agreement with several parties in Parliament to especially gradually increase staffing levels in ECEC by about 3 900 additional teaching staff by 2024. That agreement is connected with the plan to bring in minimum staffing levels as of 2024 to 1 to 3 in nurseries and 1 to 6 in kindergarten. The total investment will be about DKK 1.8 billion (EUR 242.1 million). Of that, a sizeable share will be used to train more educators and assistants. Since municipalities are responsible for ECEC provision, quality can differ. A 2020 report of the Danish Evaluation Institute identified significant differences between the 98 municipalities (Danmarks Evalueringsinstitut (2020).).
There has been another drop in the early school leaving rate, although it has yet to reach the 2015 low. After a sharp increase in 2016 (7.5%) and 2018 (10.4%), the rate of early school leavers from education and training (ELET) has gradually dropped to 9.3% in 2020, which is below the EU average (9.9%), but slightly above the EU level target of 9% by 2030. There is a stable 4 pps gap between the best and the worst performing regions (the Capital Region (7.9%) and Zealand (11.9%), respectively). While early school leaving in cities has nearly halved in a decade, there has been only a slight decrease in rural areas. In 2020, boys dropped out of school 1.7 times more than girls; a gender gap of 4.9 pps (1.1 perceptage points above the EU average). A government expert group is being set up to determine how to decrease the academic gap between boys and girls. Over the last 10 years, boys have narrowed the gap by 1.2 pps. There is a small difference between native-born and foreign-born children of 1.4 percentage points, which is less than half the EU rate. This could be partly explained by the fact that nearly all foreign-born children attend ECEC. The government recently established a “Reformkommission” that also focuses on students with difficulties finishing primary and lower secondary school.
Parents’ socio-economic background still determines educational outcomes in Denmark. PISA results show that Danish students are performing well overall (close to the 15% EU level target for the share of low-achievers, and above the EU average) in reading, maths and science. Nevertheless the share among disadvantaged pupils of low-achievers in reading is 20 pps higher than among their advantaged peers (27% against 7%), which represents a significant gap, but is still well below the EU average (26.9 pps). A recent Rockwool Foundation study analysed the link between the educational outcomes of pupils and their parents. While the impact of family background decreased for those born in the 1950s and 1960s as compared to the 1940s, it increased again for those born in the 70S and 80s2. Poor non-cognitive skills increasingly put students at a disadvantage’ (Rockwool 2021). In addition, there has been a slow, consistent increase in the number of pupils attending private schools, from about 73 000 in 2015 to 79 000 in 2019 reaching 17% at the level of Folkeskolen. Their share increases to 30% in lower secondary and drops to 3.1% in upper secondary school.
Danish education reforms have not yet produced the desired results. In 2013, primary and lower secondary education systems were reformed through the Folkeskolen reform. Its goal was to increase both academic performance and well-being. The evaluation from 2020 showed that no significant improvement has been made yet, neither on outcomes nor on well-being. National primary school performance and graduation tests did not show any changes from 2012-2018. There is no difference in student learning outcomes and well-being between schools that are well-advanced in implementing the reform and those that are not. The impact of the socio‑economic background on learning outcomes also remained unchanged (Vive, 2020a).
Attracting young people to the teaching profession remains a challenge in schools and ECEC. Denmark has a relatively balanced teacher workforce in terms of age, with only 32% of lower secondary teachers being above 50 and 26% below 34 years old. It also manages to attract a larger share of male teachers compared to the EU average, with 10.9% of teachers in early childhood education, and 31.6% at primary level, being male. According to a Eurydice study, Danish teachers are more stressed than their European peers (6.7 pps more than the EU average for ‘total stress’ and 8.2 pps for ‘quite a bit’ of stress). Mental health is also a concern for one out of three teachers in Denmark (European Commission, 2021). Teacher shortages and a lack of fully trained teachers is a challenge. Too few young people are attracted to initial teacher training programmes, and many drop out during training (European Commission, 2021). In the context of the Folkeskole reform, the number of compulsory teaching hours in primary education increased between 2014 and 2019 (by 39% or 2 080 hours) (OECD, 2020). In lower secondary education, teaching time increased by 29% and the distribution of time devoted to subjects changed significantly (OECD, 2020).
In Denmark, teachers are not obliged by law to participate in continuous professional development and compared with their peers in other countries they are generally less satisfied with the training available. Municipalities are required to develop professional development plans, and school heads are responsible for the professional development of their staff. Based on teachers’ collective agreement, the school head and the individual teacher are expected to discuss the specific plan. Lower secondary school teachers are less satisfied with their continued professional development opportunities than their European peers. Only 70.9% of teachers attending training courses felt that they had a positive impact on their teaching practices (7 pps below EU-23). Compared with their European peers, Danish teachers consider that the specific course content is less adapted to their needs, has a less coherent structure and does not provide sufficient training opportunities for active or collaborative learning. Nevertheless, Danish teachers are among the European teachers (along with Italian, Dutch and Swedish teachers) that devote the most time to teamwork (European Commission, 2021).
6. Modernising vocational education and training and adult learning
The Danish labour market faces sector-specific supply and demand mismatches. Although mismatches have been less evident during the pandemic, they appear to be structural. This particularly concerns the supply of VET graduates, which remains low. The VET programmes fail to attract sufficient numbers of young people, with the share of young people starting a VET programme directly after compulsory school stagnating at around 20%, significantly below the government’s 2025 target of 30%.
Within this context, Denmark is continuing its efforts to address one of the major issues: the shortage of apprenticeship places. This requires both attracting more young people to dual training and reducing the number of dropouts from VET programmes, which will be achieved partly through a tripartite agreement signed in November 2020. Additional funding by employers will be invested in apprenticeship contracts via The Employers' Reimbursement Fund.
In the spring of 2020, the Danish Parliament extended the mandate of Study and Career Guidance Denmark (Studievalg Denmark). Besides offering guidance for higher education it will now guide students on VET programmes as well. Studievalg Denmark receives DKK 5 million (EUR 670 000) (Cedefop, 2020a) for this expanded role. In 2020, its additional activities were: (1) e-guidance and webinars for learners and parents, (2) information letters for parents and (3) new peer-to-peer guidance among learners (Cedefop, 2021).
In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, responsibility for organising apprenticeship contracts was shifted from students to schools. This new task for VET schools relieves students of a constant challenge and might help increase interest in dual training (Cedefop, 2021). Furthermore, the government and the social partners agreed to subsidise apprenticeship salaries to secure apprenticeship places (Cedefop, 2020c).
During the crisis, Denmark paid special attention to learners from the most vulnerable backgrounds, especially those with special educational needs. Schools had the obligation to provide extra support and to make sure that they were in daily contact with the child and their family. However, some regular activities in VET schools, like, making sure that every student has close contact with an adult at school, could not be maintained (Cedefop, 2020b).
Box 2: The Faglært med Fordel project (Skilled with advantage) – Improving VET enrolment and decreasing dropout rates
Faglært med Fordel aims to increase the number of VET graduates in areas where there are good opportunities of finding apprenticeship places, and emerging labour market shortages. The project has a dual focus, (1) on increasing the uptake to boost numbers of skilled workers and on (2) improving the retention rate to reduce the dropout rate.
Increased communication and guidance on the programmes available, combined with more flexible enrolment opportunities will increase recruitment to VET programmes. Finding and securing apprenticeships at an early stage, as well as thorough, systematic monitoring of pupil well-being and pedagogical follow-up will improve the retention rate. Securing apprenticeship places and developing a tool that can continuously measure student well-being to supplement pedagogical methods of prevention will facilitate implementation of the project.
The project’s target group are young people in education and training. The aim is to provide 10 680 online users with relevant educational material and to produce 450 additional skilled graduates in fields with good job opportunities.
Denmark’s adult learning system performs well in general. However, its high participation rates have fallen over time and it does not fully address the shortage of skilled labour. Over the last 10 years, participation fell by a third from 32.7% to 20% in 2020, while funding remained stable overall (Figure 4). The reduced training capacity may limit Denmark’s ability to face the technological twin transition. However, the government launched a plan to upskill unemployed adults in 2020, which allows them to receive 110% of their unemployment benefits while training as an incentive for reskilling and upskilling (Cedefop, 2021).
During the year 2000, Denmark relaxed the rules of the existing adult apprenticeship scheme (voksenlærlingeordningen). This enabled unemployed skilled workers to start adult apprenticeships after 3 instead of 6 months of unemployment, thereby helping them find a job in sectors with shortages. Unskilled and skilled workers with outdated training can receive higher unemployment benefits if they follow a vocational education course. This includes training for the care sector and for green jobs. Denmark improved and simplified the vocational training opportunities available to all unemployed people to ensure flexible transitions to new jobs and industries, and to increase adult learning opportunities among the unemployed.
Figure 4 – Adult participation rate in education and training (25-64), 2010-2020
Source: LFS, trng_Ifse_03. 2020
7. Modernising higher education
While tertiary attainment rates remain stable, Denmark has fewer STEM and Master’s graduates than other EU countries. In 2020, the tertiary education attainment rate (25-34) in Denmark was stable at 47.1%, which was above the EU average (table on Key indicators). Over 10 years, it has increased by 9.5 pps and now exceeds the new EU-level target of 45%. At 16.5 pps, the gender gap is clearly above the EU average (10.pps). The share of total STEM graduates (22.5%) is lower than in Finland (28.4%) and Sweden (27.3%). The number of students in public higher education institutions kept increasing until 2017, but dropped in 2018, and again in 2019 to reach 307 400. After oscillating between 83% and 85% until 2017, the employment rate of tertiary graduates increased over 2 years to 86.9% in 2018 and to 87.9% in 2019, before dropping back to 85% in 2020 [edat_lfse_24], probably also as a result of the pandemic. The gap between graduates (25-34) from cities and from rural areas is about 50% above the EU average which is also related to the small size of the country.
Denmark has brought in policies to increase the participation of women in digital studies and jobs. A key challenge remains motivating women to take up digital jobs, careers and entrepreneurship in ICT and, thus, to increase the total share of ICT specialists in the workforce. In 2019, the Ministry of Higher Education and Science also launched a ‘national action plan for digital skills’ based on ideas and experiences from higher education institutions. Those activities helped higher education institutions cope with the challenges related to the pandemic. Lockdowns forced many education institutions to move to distance learning. That increased the use of digital tools by a factor of up to 200 within a short time span. In 2020, the Ministry allocated DKK 6 million (EUR 0.8 million) to nine projects to boost digital competencies among teachers in higher education1. Additional public funding of DKK 102 (EUR 13.71) million resulted in 1 380 additional students (+9%) in 2020/2021 an important step to increase participation in STEM subjects.
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Annex I: Key indicators sources
|Indicator||Eurostat online data code|
|Participation in early childhood education||educ_uoe_enra21|
|Low achieving eighth-graders in digital skills||IEA, ICILS.|
|Low achieving 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science||OECD (PISA)|
|Early leavers from education and training||Main data: edat_lfse_14 .
Data by country of birth: edat_lfse_02 .
|Exposure of VET graduates to work based learning||Data for the EU-level target is not available. Data collection starts in 2021. Source: EU LFS.|
|Tertiary educational attainment||Main data: edat_lfse_03 .
Data by country of birth: edat_lfse_9912 .
|Participation of adults in learning||Data for the EU-level target is not available. Data collection starts in 2022. Source: EU LFS.|
|Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||gov_10a_exp|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student||educ_uoe_fini04|
|Upper secondary level attainment||edat_lfse_03|
Annex II: Structure of the education system
Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2021/2022: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
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