University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Comment: International students are a benefit to Denmark

The government's wish to protect the student grant system from international students contradicts the ambition of internationalizing Danish educational institutions. Students from abroad are an important resource and they should be helped to transition to the Danish labor market - not discouraged from coming here.

As two Danish students studying for an international master’s degree, we have deliberately chosen to study alongside students from other European countries and countries outside of Europe. Our degree is interdisciplinary and has a global perspective, which is why the composition of students and professors is a wonderful mix of different academic backgrounds and nationalities.

In our experience this diversity is of high value as different perspectives meet, enrich academic discussions and broaden horizons.

Inspired by this, and as part of our program, we are currently doing ethnographic fieldwork concerning international students’ experiences of living and studying in Copenhagen; factors that play an important role in the process of internationalization that is taking place at higher education institutions in Denmark.

Likewise, there are also initiatives to strengthen the outgoing mobility, that is, Danish students are encouraged to go to other countries and universities in order to upskill their qualifications.

One-sided debate

In the debate following the government’s presentation of the so-called “2025 plan”, the focus has mainly been on the consequences for Danish students – a debate conducted in Danish where the voices of international students have not been represented. However, in the plan there is one point that is of significant relevance for this group – with regards to both its content and wording.

Point number six in the 2025 plan says: “Our student grant system is under pressure from a rising number of foreigners applying for the Danish educational support grant” and “because of this, there is a need to make the student grant system more resistant to pressure from outside”. (our translation)

With that we assume that the government is referring to full-degree students from EU-countries as it is predominantly this group that is eligible for applying for the Danish student grant (SU).This is an important point because the wording of point number six and the overall narative in the debat, has seemed to sugest that all international students are eligible for applying for SU, which is not the case.

Following the presentation on the 30 August 2016, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen went on a tour to inform the public about the 2025 plan. At an event on 2 September we got the opportunity to ask him about these proposals, which we problematized based on the fact that the government also has an ambition of internationalizing Danish higher education. We also mentioned that a 2013 rapport devised by the DREAM-group (independent semi-governmental institution which conducts a variety of statistical and descriptive analyses of the Danish economy) on behalf of the Danish Agency for Higher Education (belonging to the Ministry of Education), showed that recruiting and retaining international students, overall, is a socio-economic benefit for Denmark.

We pointed out that EU-citizens are required to work during their studies in order to attain the right to apply for SU. As a response to that, the Prime Minister painted a scenario that all it takes is “working one evening a week in the coat-check in Jomfru Ane Gade” (our translation – J.A. Gade is a well-known Danish party street) to get SU on the same conditions as Danish students. However, the fact is that European students, who receive SU due to their status as migrant workers in accordance with legislation of the European Union, contribute to society by working 10-12 hours a week in a regular employment situation. Neither was this important requirement mentioned at any point when Ulla Tørnæs, Minister of Higher Education and Science, on 13 September was featured in a debate on the Danish TV program, ‘Deadline’.

Support as opposed to cutbacks

on the same show, The University of Aarhus researcher Lisanne Wilken highlighted that the possibility of receiving SU in itself is not decisive as to whether European students choose to come to Denmark. Based on our general conclusions from conversations and interviews with international students so far, neither does it seem like SU is the main attraction, since a substantial number of the students are not even aware of it before coming here. On the contrary, the students have many different reasons for choosing Denmark and the vast majority hope to stay and contribute to the Danish labor market after they graduate – if they have the possibility to do so.

During the event the Prime Minister even mentioned the fact that, due to demographic challenges, we need more well-educated young people in the future Danish labor market. Consequently, we wonder why the government with its wording and proposed cutbacks signals that international students are “unwanted” when it would be a benefit for Denmark to attract and retain this group.

In the 2025-plan, the government have also proposed an employment allowance for graduates that stay in Denmark in order to work here. While this initiative may be fine, it is not much of a help if one struggles to get a foothold in the labor market, e.g. due to a lack of a network or difficulties getting an internship. Instead of trying to govern through a “carrot and stick” approach, the focus should be on constructive initiatives that can help ease the transition for international students’ from studying in Denmark to working in Denmark.