Folk High School- Revolutionary Education in Denmark

Inspired in the French Revolution ideals these “independent universities” were originally born in Denmark and are most commonly found in Nordic countries, Germany and Austria. 

 By Melinda Visan


In the folk high schools there are no grades or exams. Photo: taken from Internet.

In the year 1844, N.S.F. Gruntvig founded the first folk high school (højskole) in Denmark. Backthen, it was meant to be the forth-runner of democracy and the way to people’s enlightenment. Now, nearly 170 years later, there are still about 70 folk high schools In Denmark. Although their vocation has changed over the time, they are still one of the most democratic school forms that you possibly know.

No grades, no exams,and definitely no stress are just a few attributes that describe this form of education. Community life, spending time together, and knowing each other- and ourselves better are key principles in today’s højskole.

Also democratic in terms of admission, it is easy to get in. Anyone above the age of 17 ½is eligible for admittance and –generally- there are no other requirements to fulfill in order to be accepted. Average age, however, is between 18-24 covering young people who just finished their upper secondary education, students who take a year off from their studies, or personswho want tochoose a direction for their life. Many come to make new friends and have some “hygge”: the highly valued cozy time of the Danes.

Although, this step on the stairway of education is not a mandatory one (and it is not part of the official Danish School system either) is the perfect place for those youngsters who are in doubt regarding their future.

Students can chose between  two main types of folk high schools: some have a more general spectrum of subjects covering arts, sports, social sciences and politics, media, life style, health, othershave in focus a specific area like music, theater, dance, sport etc. Their aim is to develop better skills within these fields of study and to prepare students for admission to university or other higher education.

Typically, students chose to attend a folk high school for onesemester, which equals 4-5 months, whereas some of them stay for both: autumn- and spring semester. However, there is no limit of taking several courses at more than one folk high school, depending on one’s demands and budget.  Although education is free in Denmark, folk high schools are an exception because being part of it involves costs of accommodation and food as well, payable by the students.

At the beginning of the semester, all students move in and get ready for their exciting højskole-life, somewhat like a boarding school, but not limited to that. In no time, the school becomes a second home for the students where they live, love, and laugh. Life-long friendships are born and community-values are nurtured along the stay.

According to the Ministry of Culture there is a yearly amount of 8000 young people who sign up for folk high school. That is around 3% of the studentswho graduate upper secondary education and in fact, just few hundred less than the amount of PHD students in 2010, for example.

Although 3 per cent does not seem a lot, there are significantly more Danes who sign up for a short course organized during the summer. We should imagine these short courses like a thematic vacation where people of all ages can participate. Some courses address families others attract elderly people, there is no generation that is left behind.

Furthermore, international students are also welcomed by most of the folk high schools whether for long- or short periods. The International People’s College is the one specifically designed for internationals. Something like a “pre-Erasmus Mundus”, if you want. Grants laid down by the Danish Agency for Universities and Internationalization areavailable for students coming from the recent EU member states.

Too good to be true? Even when it might sound like a revolutionary idea for non Europeans, there is plenty of options for bubbly, culturally-curious, and open-minded young people. To find out more about the Danish folk high schools look here.

Hadsten Højskole- One of the 70 Folk High Schools in Denmark. Video by Melinda Visan


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