University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Danish government to cut English-language programmes with more than 1,000 students

Adiós — Three months after graduation, 26 per cent of all international students have left Denmark. The Danish government wants to cut down on the programmes where the fewest international students find jobs in Denmark.

26 per cent of all international graduates leave Denmark within three months. This is according to the Magisterbladet magazine, based on data from Statistics Denmark. After 21 months, 38 per cent have said their goodbyes to the Danish labour market.

Now the Ministry of Higher Education and Science is to cut 1,000-1,200 student places in English-language university and engineering programmes. It will do this in programmes where a large proportion of the English-speaking students leave the country and in this way do not contribute to the Danish labour market.

Education and science minister Tommy Ahlers says in a press release that “we cannot fulfill the education obligations of other countries. We need therefore to do more so that talented international students stay, and work here, after graduation. And we need to adjust the number of places on the programmes where the students quickly slip back home”.

Ministry of Higher Education and Science’s proposal:

Admission to English-language programmes will be cut by 1,000-1,200 places

New master’s degree programmes only if they are relevant for the Danish labour market

International employees are to be offered relevant language courses in Danish and English

Danish is to be supported as a living subject and language of communication

Inspections to ensure the quality of English-language programmes

UCPH takes a hit

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is one of six universities that will be hit by the Ministry’s new proposal. Just how the proposal will play out in practice, is something that is to be discussed with the university. But according to a press release from UCPH, the plan requires that the University of Copenhagen should admit 120 fewer international students in 2019.

In 2017 there were a total of 3,873 students from a non-Danish University who took a study programme at UCPH. A further 1,789 foreign students took part in a shorter exchange programme, summer school course, or semester abroad at UCPH.

A quarter of the foreign students on full degree programmes come from the Nordic countries, while about half are from other countries in the EU/EEA. The remaining international students come from universities outside the EU. Here, one third of the students pay for the programme themselves.

According to Rector Henrik C. Wegener, the international students are an asset to UCPH. He is therefore disappointed with the new proposal:

“The University of Copenhagen is already working on getting more international students to find jobs in Danish companies. But the university’s English-language programmes are part and parcel of being an International university with international top researchers that can research and teach for the benefit of Danish students. The English-language programmes are a key part of partnerships with the best universities around the world,” he says in a press release.

The plan will not only hit the University of Copenhagen’s domestic campuses. Danish students who are going abroad, will be negatively affected, according to the rector:

“Denmark and the University of Copenhagen must be able to receive and teach students in English if Danish students are to have the same opportunities abroad.”

Danish People’s Party gets its way

The Danish People’s Party (DF) was the first to comment on the Magisterbladet figures. Education spokesman Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl (DF) stated to that it is completely unacceptable that so many foreign students go home after they have received their master’s diploma. The party suggested limiting the English-language programmes or making it compulsory to take courses in Danish on all programmes.

The new proposal from the Ministry of Education and Science is precisely focussed on limiting English-language programmes. In the future, the new English-language master’s degree programmes need to be relevant for the Danish labour market before approval, and a strict supervision of existing English-language study programmes is to be put in place.

In addition, the universities are to offer relevant language courses in both English and Danish to employees. And the universities are to support Danish as a living subject and language of communication.

Fantastic ambassadors

Public Health is one of the departments at UCPH, which receives a large number of international students. This is is primarily due to the master’s programme in Global Health, which deals with health in relation to global inequality and development.

The international students are fantastic ambassadors for Denmark, and this aspect is completely left out of the debate

Steffen Loft, Head of the Department of Public Health

Department head Steffen Loft says to the University Post that the international students are extremely valuable, and necessary, for the study programme to maintain its global vision.

For the head of department, it is not only something negative when graduates leave Denmark: “it is not necessarily a problem that international students go home after they have completed their education. The international students are fantastic ambassadors for Denmark, and this aspect is completely left out of the debate”.

He emphasises that students from outside the EU are an important resource for Danish and international companies who want access to graduates with strong international skills.

For him, the socio-economic calculations of the value of international students are too restricted. They do not include the value which the students contribute to both the study programmes and to Danish society. Or the obligation that universities have to contribute to the international exchange of knowledge and students.

Students make a profit

Last year, the Universities Denmark interest association concluded that international students generate a net socio-economic surplus. They did with on the basis of a report from Damvad Analytics.

According to their calculations, the Danish treasury earns DKK 779.000 on an average foreign graduate after eight years in the country.

But new figures from the Ministry of Education and Science show that an international student only contributes with between DKK 100,000 and DKK 350,000 to public finances over a lifetime. Because more than half emigrate from Denmark after five years, only one third of the students actually make a positive contribution to the economy.

The English-language programmes are a key part of partnerships with the best universities in the world

Rector Henrik C. Wegener

To the news site, Lars Nørby Johansen and Anders o. Bjarklev – respective chairmen of the Rectors’ Conference and Universities Denmark – say that Denmark should keep international talents instead of scaring them away. This requires that you talk about international students as a benefit for Denmark.

At the Department of Public Health they already have a strong focus on keeping international students. It does this by working with organisations and other institutions to increase the students’ employment opportunities.

Department head Steffen Loft believes, however, that more should be done to keep students in Denmark. This could be, for example, by changing the residency regulations in Denmark after graduation, and by expanding links to outside the university in order to hold on to more foreign students.