There recently was some bad press regarding job security for tenured academics in Denmark. A critical article in a newspaper edited by University of Copenhagen employees mentions the firing of two professors, one of them (Thomas Højrup) due to a "cost-cutting measure".

To get a balanced picture of the matter, I looked into official information as provided by universities, and found the following explanation by the Copenhagen Business School:

A position as associate professor or full professor at a Danish university is a permanent position. The employment and working conditions of academic staff employed at Danish Universities are primarily regulated by collective agreements between the Danish Government and the trade unions. According to the collective agreement [...] Danish Universities, however, can dismiss a member of the academic staff, employed in a permanent position, but only in special circumstances, due to either disciplinary offenses or as a result of considerable budgetary restrictions or other unexpected institutions circumstances.

This sounds to me like a university could easily get rid of any tenured employee they don't like anymore (for whatever reason) by declaring a new "strategic orientation", which results in an unavailability of funding for said employee.

Consequently, I wonder is if there is any job security at all for tenured academics in Denmark. Specifically, are there usually any "safeguards" that prohibit a university from firing a person they don't like by reallocating their funding?

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    I don't know anything about Denmark specifically, but in the US, it is common to have such "escape clauses". However, they come with various safeguards. For instance, at my institution, it is possible to dismiss tenured faculty in the case of "financial exigency", but there is a complicated process that must be followed. Faculty must be dismissed in reverse order of seniority, and offered their jobs back before the university hires anyone new. So it wouldn't be so easy to use this process to get rid of a specific person they don't like. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:43
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    I would be fairly surprised if the union contracts in Denmark don't contain similar safeguards. Union negotiators are pretty savvy people and they won't leave obvious loopholes. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:44
  • @NateEldredge Thanks, that's a valid concern. I edited my question to explicitly ask for any such "safeguards". Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 22:59
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    For the record, there was a now-deleted comment which pointed out that the mentioned firing practices are in line with Denmark's flexicurity model. The commenter also suggested that employees are supposed to negotiate a good deal (with input from trade unions) during hiring. Of course, I would be interested in any resources providing guidance on such matters. Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 11:23

4 Answers 4


I have recently been employed at University of Copenhagen in a temporary position. The current situation is definitely problematic.

Denmark has the general problem (shared with many other countries), that basic funding for universities has been cut over many years, and transferred to project specific funding for research centers or individual grants - more often than not provided by private companies and foundations, rather than the state.

This means that the extraordinary circumstances have become rather ordinary, and the case of prof. Thybo mentioned in the article, is not the only known case. Adding to this that many younger people are now being hired in assistant professor positions without tenure, although being at the age and reputation where they should really get tenure track positions or tenured positions, it certainly seems that University of Copenhagen is phasing out the concept of tenure.

To summarize: I think the conclusion that there is no job security at all in Denmark is rather harsh, but definitely not without reason. I would recommend anyone aiming for faculty positions in Denmark in general, and University of Copenhagen in particular, to do solid research into the financial situation of the department they are considering joining first.

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    Thanks for the valuable answer! Probably a question of its own, but do you have any recommendations on how to start with researching the department's financial situation (in particular the trajectory over time)? Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:16
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    It is quite department specific. Sadly I don't think you will learn much by looking into the public records, as department books can be quite inflated by project grants. Best bet is probably to contact someone you know at the department, and if that is not possible, I would look to the professor/student ratio, where numbers can sometimes be found on the web.
    – nabla
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 21:22
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    As somebody teaching in Sweden were the general mindset is similar, it really makes no sense to talk about "tenure" in Scandinavia - as an associate professor, I have a non-time-bound appointment with a university. Same as any other employee, they can't fire me "just because", but given an objective reason (job performance, strategic, or financial) I could be on the street by the end of summer.
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 11:12
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    But - and this can't be stressed enough - saying that I have "no job security" is wildly exaggerating. I still have more job security than virtually any employee elsewhere, even if it isn't quite as absolute as tenure in the US or Verbeamtung in Germany.
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 11:15
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    @lighthousekeeper As of today I personally know of none (although it has certainly happened), but this may change - my university has severe financial issues, and talk of "downsizing" some divisions has emerged. But this is what I mean - what protects us is mostly a strong social contract (and the strict Swedish labor laws), but that's still a much better protection than virtually any employee in a company enjoys, even in Sweden. However, "tenure" in the normal sense of the word it is not.
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 10:43

I agree that there is not complete job security anywhere, but the academic tenure-position in Denmark is special. First, management such as the Dean is not voted in by their colleagues. It is actually hired as a manager from a hiring committee that evaluates the candidates cv. So when a new dean comes to office, often they want to arrange faculties to their liking and move budgets around, which often result in firings because the new research agenda changes. So they fire people simply because they do not fall into their research agenda using the excuse of "money problems". No freedom of research. It has happened in my faculty. Like 6 years ago a new dean from the economics department was hired in the Faculty of Social Sciences at SDU and a round of firings happened, affecting heavily the management department. Last year, a new dean came in, one who had been fired in the previous firing spree. He now attacked the economics department from which more than 30 people were fired.

The problem lies in the way institutions are formed at Danish universities in addition to the Danish labour law. A senior academic who has worked for 9+ years will get a 6 months notice (the maximum) and no monetary compensation for being fired. This is the Danish law which applies equally to every profession. Independently of whether the market for an academic is not as fluid as the market for instance a programmer. So a few months of notice is not enough when it takes like one year to find a new position.

This is a greater problem for non-EU foreigners who only have a few months to pack their bags (meaning sell property, find a new school for kids, etc) and leave as they are not allowed to stay too much longer after their contract is over.

Summarising, a tenure position in Denmark does not correspond to a tenure position in the US, UK, Ireland or Australia and definitely not to a civil servant position like in many other countries like Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

Note that this is not a criticism, but a description of how it works and something foreigners should know before moving to an academic position in Denmark.


No one has job security in a bad economy or in an institution with poor leadership. Nor will tenure protect you from bad behavior.

Tenure isn't an absolute guarantee of a job.

Universities close. Wars happen. National politicians make bad decisions. Departments are closed fairly frequently in fact. And they are cut back for lack of students or research funding even more frequently.

Tenure protects you from being fired for what you say and think and write; not from everything. That is why it exists, not to make you comfortable.

Tenure exists so that you can properly follow your research even in to corners that offend other people, and especially important and influential people. It is a particularly strong form of free speech.

But tenure won't protect you in cases of misconduct and the actual treatment of others. This is the issue in the case cited. The professor has been charged with misconduct - with breaking rules and norms, not with what he has said or written. I won't and can't judge the case from afar, but tenure won't protect you from charges of, for example, pressuring junior colleagues in improper ways - coercion, extortion, and such.

The case of cutting someone for financial reasons is fairly common - especially if departments need to shrink for financial reasons. But if the university has competent management they are more likely to have a plan in place for such situations. In the US there have been cases of the university offering to "buy back" tenure for, say, a year's salary. This can be used to encourage older faculty to retire so that new faculty can be hired. But that takes planning. There is no job security in the face of incompetence of management unless there are laws that let, for example, governments step in. And that assumes government will be more competent.

However, in any decisions affecting your employment, you probably have rights at law. This depends on the country, of course, but most places such decisions can be contested within the university and/or outside it. In many places a decision on propriety might come down to intent. If the university moves funds around with the intent of getting rid of an individual it would be seen (and judged) as improper most places. So, tenure isn't the only right that an individual has in such situations though it often provides a presumption that you can remain employed.

There are abuses of the tenure system, but it is usually on the side of not firing someone who is being offensive - especially if they are being offensive outside their normal duties. There is currently a case in the news in the US (Indiana University) where a professor is being racist and otherwise offensive. The Chancellor of the university counters his comments in public very strongly, but refuses to attack his tenure. He stays. He can say what he likes. But others can also call his offenses out and they can do it without fear of loss of tenure.

If he is racist and spouts it he can probably keep his job, but if he acts it out, say by refusing to teach non-white students, then he would likely be gone in an instant.

I know of another odd case. A major university (R1) wanted to form a new department for an emerging field that overlapped some others. To form the initial faculty, administrators asked heads of those other departments to "contribute" faculty to the new department. What happened was that those departments sent over their tenured incompetents who they would have liked to fire, but could not. The individuals kept their tenure but the other departments were now free to hire better people. The new department struggled for quite a while but eventually overcame the original situation.

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    I fully agree that absolute job security would be undesirable for society as a whole, but I'm concerned whether the particular positioning of Denmark is anywhere near the sweet spot. For the case I cited from the article (Thomas Højrup) there wasn't any misconduct mentioned, unlike for the other, more prominent case in the same article (Hans Thybo). I find Højrup's case more remarkable and wonder why the authors of the article didn't expand more; there doesn't seem to be much information on the web either. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 22:28
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    The article mentions two cases, Thybo (fired for misconduct) and Højrup (fired in the context of a "cost-cutting measure"). I appreciate the insight about the situation at Aarhus. Surely institution-specific factors may play a role, as also reinforced by the fact that the article speaks about the situation at University of Copenhagen. Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 22:40
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    One measure of job security is how willing the other faculty would be to walk off the job in protest to a poor decision. Even threatening a walkout is very powerful as universities don't like adverse publicity. My guess is that you would be perfectly safe if you stick to the business of education and treat others well. (Absent wars and depressions, of course)
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 23:30
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    (Sorry, pressed enter to early - here is the full comment) I think your answer miss the mark regarding this question, as it assumes that labor laws from the US can be applied, they can't. - Employees in DK have very little protection by law, everything is governed by agreements with the unions. - In general the labor market in DK is quite flexible, in return employees have a strong social security net. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexicurity - The universities have, however, chosen to uphold principles of tenure anyway, due to arguments of free speech as you mention. (cont.)
    – nabla
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 13:09
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    - It is true that the university argued that the Thybo firing was due to misconduct. This was seen mainly as an excuse for firing him, and later the labor board judged that the firing was in fact ungrounded (source, only in Danish: uniavisen.dk/fyring-hans-thybo-usaglig). This did not mean that he got his job back, as this is generally not a possibility in the Danish system.
    – nabla
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 13:12

A tangential "answer": in the U.S., for example, "tenure" creates a higher thresh-hold for getting fired. So, mostly, it's not worth the trouble for an administration to fire tenured faculty. Still, as can be observed, given sufficient motivation, administration can make a tenured faculty person's situation quite unpleasant... whether or not literally firing them. (Office in a broom closet, crazy teaching assignments...)

Unionized situations in some places in the U.S., and other countries, certainly shift the rules of the game, but, in the end, I'd think it'd come to the same.

Plus, there seems to be a perception among university administrators that systematic panicking of faculty and staff is useful to set a context in which there will not be good raises. "Financial contingencies..."

(Yes, in bad times, it is plausible that we won't have good raises at all, but, hey, wait, how come in good times we don't have good raises, either?)

And, yes, also, in many/most R1-style universities in the U.S., the dept head is not quite elected by the faculty, and certainly does not have decision-making power determined by the faculty... but, by the Dean. And, similarly, the Dean is not determined "from below", but "from above". Most days, this doesn't lead to anything ridiculous, but it does color the whole system here in the U.S.

The whole situation here, in the U.S., to my mind is comparable to the idea that "citizens have civil rights". Well, ok, sure, until, as we see now and then, a powerful person or group decides to do a thing despite one's "right" to not have it done. As an extreme case, we've seen that being declared an enemy combatant will really do a number on your life. My point is that "rights" exist at the whim of powerful people/entities. "Tenure" is similar, actually, I think.

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