Free education is a cornerstone of the Danish welfare society, and attending primary school, secondary school, and university is something every Dane can do with no tuition costs. In Denmark, education is compulsory for children until the ninth grade of primary school, and afterwards most pupils proceed to upper secondary school, followed by a degree in higher education institutions. As of 2022, 24 percent of the population in Denmark had primary school as their highest completed education. Nevertheless, the population is becoming increasingly more educated, and nearly 30 percent of Danes had completed a vocational education that year.
Over the past decade, the number of people aged 16 years and younger in Denmark declined, and the number of pupils in Danish schools decreased accordingly. As of 2022, 680,000 pupils attended primary school, most of whom were enrolled in public primary schools. While attendance in public schools decreased over recent years, the opposite trend was seen in private schools. Both the number of pupils in private schools and the number of private schools has been growing on an annual basis, the latter peaking in 2016. In 2022, there were 550 private schools in Denmark.
Upper secondary education
After primary school, pupils can choose an optional tenth grade. Most pupils, however, proceed directly to upper secondary education. Around 142,000 students attended one of the 183 upper secondary schools in Denmark in 2022. This was the lowest number of upper secondary school students since 2012. Upper secondary education is divided into general upper secondary programs, which primarily prepare for higher education, and vocational upper secondary education and training programs, focusing on careers in a specific trade or industry. The programs usually last three years, and the most common type of institution is a gymnasium, where most students afterwards proceed to higher education institutions such as universities. In 2023, the most popular field of study among upper secondary students leaving for university was medicine.
Higher education in Denmark is divided into several different educational institutions, and universities are the most popular. In detail, more than 40 percent of all higher education students were enrolled in one of the eight universities in the country in 2021. The number of university students in Denmark remained around 150,000 since 2017, but declined the last two years. It is common for students in Denmark to hold both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree, and women make up a majority in both programs. Nonetheless, slightly more men than women have entered doctorate (PhD) programs over the past 10 years.
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Einar H. Dyvik
Research expert covering Nordics and global data for society, economy, and politics