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Finances — Danish halt to sixth year of student grant will affect students from homes with low incomes and students who switch study programmes, says think tank Rockwool Foundation.
The government wants to cut the sixth year off the Danish student grant SU system, so that students now only get the grant for their prescribed study period. This corresponds to going from 70 to 58 SU grant portions. An agreement on the SU student grant can only enter into force after the next election, as the current system is bound by a political settlement.
In addition to the government parties, the parties behind the current SU agreement – the Danish People’s Party, the Social Liberals, the Socialist People’s Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Alliance – were summoned to negotiations on Monday 18 December with Minister for Higher Education and Science Christina Egelund (Moderates).
The meeting lasted only half an hour before the Social Liberal Party left the talks.
»We are leaving now because the government has chosen to terminate the SU deal. This means that they intend to impose the cuts to the grant that they have already stated in their government manifesto, Katrine Robsøe, education spokesperson for the Social Liberal Party, told Danish national TV broadcaster DR.
They were dissatisfied in the Socialist People’s Party also. Education spokesperson Sofie Lippert calls the new plan »generational theft«.
»While you give tax breaks to the richest, you cut back on young people’s flexibility. It will hit those that switch programmes hard when there are no longer grant portions in excess of the prescribed time. This is a really bad Christmas present for students who are already under pressure,« she says to the University Post.
The remaining parties – the government, the Liberal Alliance, the Conservative Party and the Danish People’s Party – have agreed to abolish the sixth year of the SU grant for everyone except people with disabilities and single parents. It will be easier to take out final loans for up to two years, and it will be possible to apply for additional clips in the event of, say, illness, Minister for Higher Education Christina Egelund said to media.
When Christina Egelund spoke of the sixth SU year back in April, she told DR:
»When we look at the expenses for higher education, we spend just over DKK 17 billion on support [grants for students, ed.] and DKK 15 billion on actual education.«
The minister announced 19 December that the savings will be channelled back into the education programmes, but it is still uncertain how this will happen in practice.
The Social Democrats’ education spokesman Rasmus Stoklund believes that the Danish SU student grant functions today as a kind of reverse Robin Hood, where the sixth SU year is primarily used by children from well-off families.
»SU for higher education is a kind of Robin Hood in reverse, because it is the only public service that increases inequality seen over a lifetime perspective. Most of the people who make use of the sixth year of SU come from very affluent families, and most get a high income in the labour market,« Rasmus Stoklund writes to the University Post in a text message.
When asked what the SU reform will release in terms of financials, he refers to the Ministry of Education.
New figures from the Rockwool Foundation show that 44 percent of master’s students whose parents have low incomes use the sixth year of SU grants today. The number is also high among students from homes with a high total household income, says research professor at the Rockwool Foundation Jacob Nielsen Arendt to the University Post.
»Between 38 and 40 per cent of the students who come from high-resource homes make use of the sixth year of the Danish SU grant. But we don’t actually know why this is the case,« says Jacob Nielsen Arendt. He refers to the fact that the vast majority of all master’s degree students come from homes where both parents have longer education backgrounds.
»When we put this together with our knowledge from other studies on the risk of drop-out, I’m not so worried about the children of academics. However, there may be a real risk that it affects young people with a more disadvantaged background, because they typically have a higher drop-out rate and switch more often between study programmes, and therefore use the sixth year of SU earlier,« he says.
Chairman of the National Union of Danish Students (DSF) Esben Salmonsen, is also worried about what the cut will mean to students. In his view, the reform will gamble with students who, for one reason or another, take a misstep.
He himself met with Christina Egelund before the negotiations to share the students’ perspective with the minister and point to the biggest sticking points from DSF’s point of view.
»I told the minister that we students are not satisfied with what has been proposed. Removing the sixth year of SU grants will present several major challenges. It will hit those who, along the way, find out that they are on the wrong degree programme, and therefore find themselves forced to take out loans to finance a change to another degree. It is socially unbalanced,« he says and continues:
»But it will obviously also affect students from homes outside the university who may be going through a crisis or take longer to complete their studies in one way or another,« says Esben Salmonsen.
According to a survey from Epinion, which has polled Danes’ attitudes towards the sixth year of SU grants, 39 per cent of respondents answer that the sixth SU year should be cut. 43 per cent reject the cut.