Danish University Extension

By Bjørn Tell Persson

since it was started at the end of the nineteenth century, Danish University Extension

(Folkeuniversitetet) has been regarded as a self-evident part of free general education in Denmark. This is remarkable, because its point of departure is the University, the very antithesis of Denmark's so-called Folk High Schools (Folkehøjskolerne), which at that time represented the dominant activities in the area of general education. The University of Copenhagen, which was Denmark's only university, had until then been a distant, closed country to the majority of the Danish population, but University Extension now offered to make the scientific world (for which the University was the domicile or principal exponent) open to everybody. By arranging specially prepared series of lectures, the aim was to give all who had the desire or interest the opportunity of gaining insight into scientific disciplines and subjects. The inspiration for this initiative came from the University Extension Movement in Great Britain.

The Danish Government confirmed its formal recognition of University Extension from the very outset by providing a grant in the spring of 1899 towards establishing its courses. Ever since (except for one year) the Government has allocated a sum of money in the Budget every year for what was called "popular university education" (folkelig universitetsundervisning). For the first 70 years, University Extension was annually obliged to submit a substantiated and documented application for a grant, but from 1969 it was placed in the group of general education institutions that are entitled to receive State subsidies. This came about with the passing of an Act covering leisure-time education (Lov om fritidsundervisning) in which a separate chapter was devoted to University Extension. After this, University Extension was automatically entitled to receive State subsidies in accordance with fixed criteria.

The Act covering leisure-time education, which was the fruit of several years of parliamentary commission work devoted to a revision of the overall structure, conditions and subject fields of adult and general education, codified University Extension with reference to the significance of its work as a part of adult education in general. Emphasis was placed on spreading knowledge of the results of scientific research and of scientific methods as widely as possible throughout the population. In the explanatory notes attached to the Bill it was stressed that increasing specialization in scientific research intensified the need for scientific information; at the same time, University Extension was judged to be "a natural superstructure over general education as a whole" and an obvious means of disseminating research results widely.

Today the legal basis - now the Act covering the support of General Education (Lov om støtte til folkeoplysning) - upon which University Extension functions still remains largely unaltered. The state subsidizes either two-thirds (lectures) or three-quarters (university courses) of teachers' salaries [i]; only a small grant is made towards administration costs as it is assumed that most of these will be met by the charges paid by those who enrol for courses.


University Extension courses are available throughout the country, even in many smaller towns. In accordance with its statutes, the organization is "associated with the universities" (i.e. those in Copenhagen, Århus, Odense, Roskilde and Aalborg) as well as with other institutions of higher education. In the university towns, University Extension activities are taken care of by independent institutions which both arrange and approve the courses they offer: the university faculties (and possibly other institutions of higher education in the area) appoint representatives to the boards of these institutions. In the rest of the country classes are arranged by about 120 local committees which are normally composed of representatives of local schools, libraries and museums and of local institutions that provide general education; their activities are controlled by the University Extension Committee

The University Extension Committee is the joint organ for the overall activities of University Extension and has the financial and professional responsibility for such activities throughout the country. The Committee moreover supervises these activities outside university towns and approves the courses offered by the committees. The University Extension Committee consists of nine members: five nominated by the independent institutions in the university towns, three by the local committees and one by the Danish Council for Adult Education (Dansk Folkeoplysnings Samråd). The Committee's office is known as the National Secretariat of the Danish University Extension (Folkeuniversitetets Landssekretariat).

A new structure on the basis of a revised parliamentary Act is expected to be introduced as from 2002.[ii]

Programme activity

The idea behind University Extension teaching as it was taken over from Great Britain is that scholars should present their research area and research results themselves in a straightforward, uncomplicated form. This direct encounter between scholars and ordinary people is a cornerstone of University Extension work. Teachers are therefore mainly recruited from research institutions where they hold academic posts.

In the wording of the Act, the purpose of such teaching, which is in the form of lectures, lecture series and university courses, is "to spread a knowledge of scientific methods and results". The aim is not to educate or provide formal qualifications but solely to meet each student's private, individual desire for information and insight.

The aim is to ensure that the educational courses offered continuously cover the entire spectrum of scientific subjects, ranging from theology, the humanities, the social sciences and health science to various subjects in the natural sciences. The most widely attended courses are those within the humanities: art history and subjects connected with psychology, philosophy and history. The short courses are the most popular: lectures and lecture series comprising from two to ten double periods. The university courses, in which the classes are smaller and presuppose active participation in tuition based on discussion (and also incorporate the reading of scholarly or scientific literature) comprise between six and 24 double periods. In Copenhagen such university courses are organized in a system of single courses that provide the possibility of assimilating whole subject areas. In all, about 24,000 double periods are  available annually.

Course participants

The Danish University Extension's public covers a broad spectrum of the population. Virtually all vocational and educational backgrounds are represented. In terms of distribution by sex, two-thirds are women and one-third men. All adult age-groups participate: one-third of those who enrol for courses are over the age of 65.

Most of those who enrol for courses continue to do so year after year. Some are predominantly interested in topical subjects. Others, by regular attendance at courses on specific subjects, wish to acquire qualified insight into a personal field of interest; in this way they can - to a certain degree - become acquainted with its scientific method and bibliography. Even though University Extension teaching does not, in accordance with its declared aim, provide qualification for jobs, a number of participants find that the courses offered by University Extension tend to widen their perspectives in connection with their work.

Updating notes (09/2005):

[i] Since 1st of January 2003 the salary subsidizes for lectures as well as courses were reduced to one-third.
[ii] The University Extension Committee is now transformed to a board where the members are appointed by the Minister of Education. The board is the joint organ for the overall activities of University Extension and has the financial and professional responsibility for such activities throughout the country. The University Extension Board consists of 13 members: five representing the independent institutions in the university towns, five representing the local committees, one representing the Danish Adult Education Association (Dansk Folkeoplysnings Samråd) and two representing The Danish Research Council (Forksningsrådene). The secretariat of the Board of the University Extension is located at University of Southern Denmark. The education activities are now first of all organized in regions, with the independent units in the 5 university towns as administrative responsible.

English translation: David Hohnen.
Published in
“Europahandbuch Weiterbildung/ European Manual of Continuing Education”, Luchterhand 2000, Neuwied, Germany.

More information:

National Secretariat of the Danish University Extension
Syddansk Universitet
Campusvej 55
DK-5230 Odense
tlf. +45 65502727

University Extension
Badehusvej 20
DK-9000 Aalborg
tlf. +45 98167500

University Extension Copenhagen
Njalsgade 80
DK-2300 Copenhagen S
tlf. +45 35328710

University Extension Odense
Syddansk Universitet
Campusvej 55
DK-5230 Odense
tlf. +45 65502772
Info: www.fuodense.dk

University Extension Århus
Sct. Clemens Stræde 1
DK-8000 Århus C
tlf. +45 89190566
Info: www.folkeuniversitetet.au.dk

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