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University of Copenhagen
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University of Copenhagen: No wheelchairs, please

Disabled students beware. University of Copenhagen is not for you

International students with disabilities should think twice before considering the University of Copenhagen as an accessible place for exchange.

Eva Petersen, a housing officer in the International office, says that they deliberately don’t encourage students with very severe disabilities to come study in Denmark, as the students have to take care of many things themselves.

»They’re much more on their own here than they would often be in their home countries,« she says.

Read Copenhagen was a shock for disabled student here

The disability service that the universities in Denmark have is bound to the Danish grant system – SU in Danish – so if you are not eligible for SU, you are not eligible for the university’s disability services.

»In Denmark it’s a different system; we think differently. A university is a university, and it has nothing to do with your life in the private sphere,« Petersen says.

She explains that even if international students were eligible, it is only for matters related to what is needed to study – In Denmark a university’s service is not related to life in the private sphere, such as students’ housing.

»There is nothing wrong with the system as such; it is just that it is not geared to suit the needs and expectations of some international students,« she says.

Europe-wide problem

Copenhagen is not alone in its problems with accessibility. The issue has reached the attention of pan-European groups.

A new joint project between the Erasmus Student Network and the European Disability Forum, is hoping to sensitize educational institutions’ awareness about conditions for students with disabilities.

Their project – Exchange Ability – provides practical tips to university administrations about how to improve the experience of these students.

In their report, they note that only a minority of students who choose to go abroad have disabilities. The project cites data from the European Commission, showing that during the academic year 2006/07 over 140 students with disabilities participated in Erasmus, less than 0.1 per cent of all Erasmus students.

More disabled students should be able to take a year of exchange, the new project argues.

Housing is difficult

In Denmark, the university has no responsibility to help students find housing, but the International Office makes an effort to place incoming students and find something suited to those students with special requirements.

Petersen estimates that they receive an application from a student with a severe physical disability once in every two years.

She urges students’ home universities to notify the International Office at the earliest possible date of their nomination, so that they can begin using their Copenhagen residence hall contacts to find suitable housing.

»We do forewarn the student that housing might be difficult, and we don’t make any guarantees,« Petersen says. »But to this date, we have always been successful in placing them.«

Extortionate prices

Due to limited availability of housing, incoming internationals may face high prices and limited flexibility.

Tumu Johnson, an international student from Leeds University (see separate article) was shocked at the DKK 6,200 rent she paid each month for her ground-floor apartment with wheelchair access.

»It’s absolute extortion, the prices I’m paying to live there,« she says. »But it’s the only option I have because of access.«


Despite the barriers, Petersen is optimistic that exchange students could still enjoy their time abroad in Copenhagen.

»If somebody is really eager to come, and has assistance and a lot of stamina, then they can have a really good experience« Petersen says. »I’m really proud of the students who can do it.«