University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Opinion

Comment: Policies do not live up to 'international' rhetoric

Danish universities brag about their internationalisation, but if they are to attract the brightest global minds, their government should address the realities of the student experience

Internationalisation is a key priority of the University of Copenhagen. Its website, annual reports and media are full of statements emphasing its ability to attract international researches and praising its strong international environment. The University reports that it has 4,000 international students out of a student body of 40,000.

This international image is a key element in ensuring the university is recognised as leading global institution.

While much of the focus in this internationalisation agenda focuses on the number of international exchange students the university welcomes each year, or the number of students participating in the Erasmus program, few statistics reference the number of fee paying students from countries outside the EU and Nordic countries. In fact, the statistics breaking down the origins of international students on the University’s own website specifically exclude fee-paying students.

New policy, same old problems

I am one of these students, and while I loved every moment of my student experience in Denmark, it was markedly different to that of my peers. In 2012, I arrived in Copenhagen as one of its new international students. A full-degree, non-Nordic, non-EU, fee-paying Masters student in Landscape Architecture to be precise.

I love Denmark. More than anything I would love to have been able to stay and work and contribute to society in the country that I love after finishing my studies, but for me and many students like me, rigid visa requirements made it impossible to do so and I sadly left Copenhagen to return home to Sydney, Australia in December 2014.

“… on the date you apply for your visa, you must have a bank account in your name, with enough money to cover all of your expenses for the next 2.5 years. That’s all your meals, textbooks, bus fares, tuition fees, Distortion armbands – the lot …

Just a month later in January 2015, the Danish Government announced major changes to visa arrangements that were designed to make it easier for international students like myself to stay in Denmark and find work at the completion of their studies. Sadly, there are many harsh realities of the situation that the policy failed to take into account that make it near impossible for the majority of international (non-EU) students to afford to use either the establishment card or green card visa programs.

The realities of life as a non-EU international student

The challenges of life as a non-Nordic/EU international student in Denmark begin WELL before even applying for admission. For me, they began 2 years before I submitted my application. To apply for a student residence and work permit to enter Denmark to study, applicants like myself have to document that they have sufficient funds to support themselves for the duration of their stay in Denmark. Leaving out the costs of flights to and from Copenhagen, this means that on the date you apply for your visa, you must have a bank account in your name, with enough money to cover all of your expenses for the next 2.5 years. That’s all your meals, textbooks, bus fares, tuition fees, Distortion armbands – the lot – for the entire length of your stay in Denmark.

Needless to say, I saved as hard as I could while working full-time for the 2 years before I arrived in Copenhagen to save enough money to be eligible to even apply for my visa. It was hard, but more than worth it for the opportunity to live and study (my program) in Copenhagen.

Something that many of my fellow students were always amazed about was that I paid tuition fees to study at the University. My 2 year masters program cost me 210,000kr in tuition fees alone. Textbooks, local and international field trips, student union fees and my architectural materials were all additional costs on top of this.

“Non-EU international students have made an enormous commitment to come here already, and for the 2-2.5 years we have been here we have not taken a krone from the State, other than medical treatment under the Yellow Card.”

Changes that allowed EU students to claim SU – rightly – do not apply to non-EU students. Nor do other forms of financial support including Boligstotte and a-Kasse. In fact, it was a condition of my visa that I accepted no financial support from the Danish Government during my stay in Denmark. The only support that students like myself are entitled to is health care under the Yellow Card. This is as it should be, and I am not complaining, but when you think about the financial costs involved, it is important to recognize that there is no support and no-back up plan for us. As an Australian citizen studying outside my home country, there was no governmental scholarship from my home country either to help me to cover my significant expenses – I was completely on my own.

What about a job to help cover our living costs as we study? For Non-EU students, rigid work requirements of the student residence and work permit allow only 15 hours per week of work (full time during summer holidays). This restriction continues to apply for the six months post-graduation where we are allowed to stay and find work. In these 15 hours a week (if we are fortunate to secure a paid job, which is uncommon), we are supposed to continue to support ourselves, and also save an additional 80,000kr that is required to apply for an Establishment Card to allow us to stay in Denmark at the end of our studies.

It doesn’t add up

Where does the Government think that young people, students, studying full-time and working only up to 15 hours a week (if they are lucky), are getting this kind of money? It’s just not realistic! There’s no boligstotte, a-kasse, nothing for non-EUs (and that’s as it should be) – but there’s not a money tree either where we are supposed to find this limitless cash while barely working, and after paying so much already to study and support ourselves.

Non-EU international students have made an enormous commitment to come here already, and for the 2-2.5 years we have been here we have not taken a krone from the State, other than medical treatment under the Yellow Card. These are the people Denmark should be welcoming and encouraging to be part of their society. These are people who contribute to the international environment that the University prides itself on and relies on to promote its international competitiveness.

This new visa isn’t the solution, it’s the continuation of a real and significant problem for many foreign students. If Denmark is serious about attracting the brightest global minds and providing opportunities for them to stay on after graduation and contribute to Danish society, it is vital that the governments policy response addresses the realities of the student experience.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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