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Prorector: Students make good immigrants

University needs to help turn international students into future inhabitants

Politicians argue endlessly: Are international students a net contribution to society, or are they a loss? Are they making the country more competitive, or are they just a burden to taxpayers?

Prorector for Education Lykke Friis is firmly on the side of international students being net contributors and she welcomes them to Copenhagen. But Danish universities have a wider role to play in keeping the students, and making sure that Denmark exploits the international student talent that is already here.

“We need to persuade politicians. Show them that students that come to Denmark, they actually stay in Denmark,” she says.

SU no problem

This means making sure that students are more exposed to the Danish working environment.

“This goes in particular for international students. If students leave this country it is a waste,” she says.

In a controversial move the European[ COURT] recently forced to Denmark to allow international students who are studying for a longer period to get the generous Danish SU study grants.

“I personally have no problem with foreigners getting SU in Denmark. But if they all get SU, and then all leave immediately, then we have a political problem,” she says.

Have already chosen Denmark

For a society, students make good immigrants. They are well-educated, and come to the country at a time when they have their working careers ahead of them. Once the studying is over, they are at a phase in their lives where they cost relatively little in terms of welfare.

Yet the biggest advantage to keeping international students here, is simply that they are already here, explains Lykke Friis.

“We need highly skilled labour in this country in order to stay competitive. And it is easier to attract the students that are already here, than a 35-year old who is somewhere else.”

Good degrees, less social distance

Copenhagen is attractive as a study destination. And the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) has more students wanting to come in from abroad, through Erasmus exchanges for example, than it has UCPH students wanting to go the other way.

This is, of course, not just because of the University’s good reputation, explains Lykke Friis.

“Students often come to Copenhagen because it is Copenhagen. They are here because they want to be exposed to Copenhagen.”

“But it is not enough to have Copenhagen if you don’t have the good degrees and the good study environment,” she says, adding that “Copenhagen as a place of study is known for an “egalitarian study environment, for a less formal learning experience, and for not having too much social distance between teacher and student”.

Danish? brilliant

There are barriers to a complete internationalization of the University of Copenhagen. A majority of students are Danish speakers, and a large group of study programmes are held in Danish.

But Lykke Friis has the “ambition that in our student environment it should not be a requirement that you need Danish,” she says.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she says, “It is brilliant if you can speak Danish. And it is part of being somewhere that you learn the culture, the language. And students do come to Copenhagen with this in mind, often because they want to immerse themselves in the culture.”

(This story is the third part of a three-story feature interview with Lykke Friis. See part one here. and see part two here.)

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