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Cuts will be made to the SU grant because it has come under pressure from foreign students, says the Minister for Higher Education and Science. But the costs of foreigners receiving SU are just an excuse to make cuts,according to critics.
The costs of providing SU study-grants (State Education Support) to foreign students is constantly growing and the Danish Government is planning to tackle it by lowering the amount of money that all students will receive. According to the government, the purpose of lowering the study grant is to prevent students from other EU-countries to come to Denmark, get an education while receiving SU and then go back home.
According to the Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs and the Education and Research Committee, the costs associated with foreign students have almost exploded in the last few years: from DKK 415 million a year in 2010 to DKK 939 million in 2015.
DKK 321 million of the amount listed above for 2015 goes to ’migrant workers’, typically EU nationals, who by working alongside their studies automatically become eligible to receive SU.
The rest of DKK 939 million go to foreigners that have become eligible to receive SU by other means, for example by coming to Denmark with their parents before they had reached the age of 20.
It is the group of migrant workers that has grabbed the attention of the Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs.
“DKK 939 million is a big number, but what is worrying is that DKK 300 million is spent on migrant workers from other EU-countries,” says Ulla Tørnæs.
The amount of citizens and students from EEA countries (for example Norway) who are receiving SU is rapidly increasing. This is because of a verdict from the European Court of Justice in 2012 that stated that EU nationals who work between 10-12 hours a week are entitled to receive the SU in Denmark.
»The problem is students who only come to Denmark to get an education and then go back home again.« – Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs.
In January 2013, 546 migrant workers received SU. The number increased to 5,688 In January 2016. The increase is largely the result of the addition of new students from Romania, Lithuania and Hungary.
“The problem is students who only come to Denmark to get an education and then go back home again. It has never been the goal that our education system is supposed to take care of the educational obligations of other countries,” says Ulla Tørnæs, who calls the rapidly increasing SU costs worrying.
»By focusing on foreign students they remove the focus from the most important point: That these SU cuts will affect the purse strings of all students and that is pity.« – President of DM Camilla Gregersen.
However, it is like using hammer a sledgehammer to crack a nut when the government uses foreigners as an argument to cut the SU. That is the opinion of Camilla Gregersen, the president of the trade union, the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM).
“By focusing on foreign students they remove the focus from the most important point: That these SU cuts will affect the purse strings of all students and that is pity,” says Camilla Gregersen.
The costs of EU nationals receiving SU are so small that the problem is being blown out of proportion.
“It is an exceedingly small amount of the entire SU budget that is spent on foreigners: about 2.6 percent, depending on how you measure it. Therefore, this debate about foreigners and SU is proportionally distortionary and it almost seems like they are trying to create an argument based on foreigners as an excuse to cut the SU grant,” says Camilla Gregersen.
Minister for Higher Education and Science, Ulla Tørnæs, does not believe that the government’s SU policy can be seen as a form of collective punishment.
“No, I do not agree with that. The pressure from foreign students is not our only argument for making cuts to the SU grant. Danish students have to become better at completing their education inside the allotted time and what they choose to study should be more focused on the possible career opportunities available to them after they complete their studies. Also, we do not want to be a magnet for foreigners and these three things form the basis of our wish to have a more robust SU system,” she says.
According to the European Court of Justice you are not allowed to discriminate against EU nationals as long as they work alongside their studies. So you will not be able to solve the problem of migrant workers by making cuts to the SU grant?
“Our proposal aims to bring us closer to other EU benefits. My goal is to ensure that fewer people come to Denmark with aim getting a free education while receiving SU and then go back home.”
But do you think that there will be fewer EU nationals willing to come to Denmark because you will be cutting DKK 800 from the SU grant?
“I hope so. And I hope that the foreigners who choose to come here decide to stay. Therefore our proposal also includes tax rebate if you get a job quickly after finishing your studies. It is an incentive to stay in Denmark and thereby contribute to Danish society,” says Ulla Tørnæs.
The president of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), Camilla Gregersen, is encouraging the government to not talk about foreign students who receive SU as a burden:
“A lot them choose to stay here and work, so we should become better at talking about foreign students as a benefit. The academic labor market is international and we should do everything we can to not look at Danish universities as isolated islands where there preferable should not be international interaction,” she says.
In the fact box in on the right corner of the page (or underneath the article if you are using a mobile device), you can see how much money is spent on SU to foreigners, including migrant workers from EU and EEA countries. You can also see where most of the foreign recipients of SU come from.