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Sharp minister wins first debate on SU grants

Minister of Education, Morten Østergaard confidently defended the cuts to Danish study grants. He even made students clap and laugh

Morten Østergaard took the stage to defend the government’s recently announced, student grant reforms . The debate was vigorous, and the minister shined as he made the normally critical students laugh.

Hundreds of students with placards, packed the auditorium to the brim. Østergaard was set to face a tough crowd – the placards, which students were carrying, were overwhelmingly condemning of the Minister’s plans to cut the generous grants that they are currently receiving.

»We should really look at why 84 percent of Master’s students use more of the student grant, than their normally two year-long education is designed for«. With those words, Østergaard fired off the debate.

Welcomed with red confetti

»It seems that Morten Østergaard is convinced that the reforms will help future students receive a better education«, responded the Student Council President Gwen Gruner-Widding, tactfully avoiding the cliché of calling the reforms an exercise in penny-pinching.

»We are being pushed through the system faster, but that does not necessarily mean we are getting a better education in the process. I worry about the consequences of financially penalising universities for not pushing students through as fast as possible«, added Danish language student Astrid Høgh.

The minister was initially greeted with red and white confetti, as he entered the auditorium, and the critical placards were plentiful (see our picture gallery), though on the whole students were respectful, and there was no booing and disorderly behaviour, despite clear frustrations. On the whole, it seems that the gamble the minister took by facing off a critical crowd in an open debate paid off, as students kept their cool. Some even stated they respected the courage the minister showed by defending his proposals to those affected by them.

»It is great that he is here to defend the proposals, despite overwhelming criticisms from students«, one student said to, just prior to the debate.

»The reforms won’t be noticed by students«

Some of the questions from the students even echoed a positive sentiment, as the reforms went from »godless frugality«, as some students of theology called the cuts, to »broadly fair«.

Of course, not all sentiments were positive, and some questions were more pointed than others. Maika, who studies Egyptology, believes that it is wrong for the reforms to be based on a mistrust of students.

»This is where the ‘soup thickens’ for you, Morten. You assume students remain in the educational system because they can. It is the structures of the system that are holding us back. In all honesty, being a student isn’t all that much fun«, Maika proclaimed.

»If you are right, then the reforms won’t even be noticed by students. A part of the reform is tearing down barriers holding students back, so they will be able to graduate within the allotted time period«, the Minister shot back.

Too sharp for his own good

Overall the debate lasted exactly one hour, and after a prepared statement for the cameras, Østergaard left the auditorium to applause. He can rest-assured knowing that he has heard the opinions of his constituents, which were, in turn, more accepting of his proposals, than many would have thought.

»If anything, Morten Østergaard was a little bit too sharp«, said one University of Copenhagen student on her way out.

See the picture gallery of the event here. Photos taken by Lars Juul Hauschildt.

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