University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


We are not good at keeping international students in Denmark after graduation

Retention — Why do so few international students want to stay in Denmark after they have completed their degree programmes? We need to do better, says Tanja Villumsen, chairman of the union Pharmadenmark.

When I went to Pharmaschool at the University of Copenhagen in the 00’s, there were a few students from the Nordic countries. But apart from them, we were all Danes.

I now teach the elective course ‘Clinical Drug Development’ every year, and here the course is full of students with many different nationalities. I really appreciate that.

But where do they all go when they graduate? Is it not cool to stay in Denmark when your student life is over?

Apparently – no. More than every second international student has left Denmark three years after graduation.

This is a shame, because there are many opportunities for both Danish and international talented graduates here. Not least in the Danish life science industry, where there are exciting opportunities if you wish to use newly acquired academic skills within, say, drug development and medical products, or in innovative biotech companies.

When you, like I do, work in drug development, it’s absolutely crucial that we take on an international perspective.

We need staff with multicultural backgrounds

Medicine has to be tested throughout the world. Culture, demography, and the country’s health services can play a major role in the clinical trials you have to carry out. That’s why my international colleagues offer insight and knowledge that would be difficult for me to gain on my own. This is how you, from the outset, design solutions that work across national boundaries, and which ultimately decide whether we will succeed in creating new knowledge about the treatment of diseases.

But the same applies to many other areas also. It is always rewarding and challenging to put people together from different backgrounds – with all the benefits this might offer.

On a grey, rainy day in Copenhagen, it is not hard to understand that life is very different in Chile, India or Greece.

We need to take good care of our international fellow students and colleagues. When so many of them opt to pursue careers outside Denmark, I think we can do better.


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I am ashamed to say that I myself, without thinking, have spoken Danish to my colleagues in the cafeteria, even though there was a colleague present who was not yet able to speak Danish. This is not inclusive behaviour, and we need to do better.

Social network is key

At Pharmadenmark we recently did a small survey among current international students and found that social network in Denmark is key to get a job quickly after graduation.

In our study, only 27 per cent of international students say that they to a high degree are part of the study environment at their university. At the same time, a large part of the respondents want more insight into the Danish labour market, including the Danish collective bargaining system, and Danish work culture.

This tells me that we need to be better at building bridges between the English-language master’s degree programmes and the study environment at our universities.

In the government’s new proposal for education reform, we are not in agreement on everything. But we are pleased to read that they want to increase the number of student places for international students.

This is good. But an increase in study places will be useless if we do not also take the best possible care of our talented international students while they are here, so that they also want to stay on in Denmark after graduating.

As a trade union, we are happy to enter into dialogue with the universities about how we can help students settle down here.