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Denmark plan still ignores “huge” international student profit

A new plan for education in Denmark, which aims to boost international student numbers in the country, ignores the fact that “international students are a huge profit” for the country, stakeholders have suggested.
March 15 2023
4 Min Read

A new proposal for education in Denmark includes a raft of measures that will impact international students in the country.

The Prepared for the Future I plan includes an ambitious shortening of some masters degrees, a gradual increase in English language program places and restructuring of the international student loans budget SU.

The previous Danish government had introduced caps on spending on international students in 2021. Students had raised concerns that cuts to English-taught programs to control rising national financial aid expenditure in Denmark would prevent them from graduating.

Under the new proposal, English language program places will increase by 1,100 from 2024 until 2028, with a total of 2,500 being expected to be freed up by 2029. Vocational places will also be gradually increased to 5,000, in which students work part-time in target industries during studies.

The government is also hoping to open new pathways to allow international students to gain post-study work in areas which need more skilled labour.

The current plans, subject to political debate, will begin to be applied as early as next year, but will only be fully implemented by the year 2029.

Yet, stakeholders have warned that the proposals still ignores the fact that “international students are a huge profit” for Denmark.

Post-study work rights for specific industries is something the country’s engineering trade union IDA has been campaigning for.

However, Aske Nydam Guldberg, who is acting chief executive of IDA, told The PIE News that the plan should be taken with a pinch of salt.

“They have good ambition to increase both the number of English language programs, specifically on business degrees, but there are some other regulations that will make that a bit tricky,” Guldberg said.

“It’s definitely going to help, but it is also a political ambition of which the details are not yet in place to make it reality, and make a real difference,” he noted.

After a general election in late 2022, the new coalition government has been quick to announce the plan – however, the shortened masters’ degrees in particular as a method of loosening the SU budget is not a viable option, according to Universities Denmark.

“I think the government needs to address this in a fundamentally different way,” Jesper Langergaard, head of communications at Universities Denmark, told The PIE.

“International students provide a vast financial surplus, more than enough to pay for any increases in the SU budget – so the government needs to approach this differently.

“The shortening of masters programs cannot be of the extent proposed by the government, that would hurt the Danish economy and society greatly,” Langergaard continued.

It has not been specified which programs exactly will be shortened, but it is thought humanities and social sciences will be the first to undergo the overhaul. The announcement also said new business courses would be “flexible”.

Other “highly specialised” masters will be extended to two and half or three years. With the government also saying that shortened masters will be targeted for sectors facing labour shortages, it is unclear what will be implemented where at this time.

The maximum SU budget level the government proposes will be set at 468 million Danish kroner.

It suggests that shortened masters degrees will reduce spending on internationals from 450m kroner in 2024 to 380m by 2030.

The proposed forecast for the SU budget with new shortened master’s (top) and forecast of English language program increase (bottom).

An allocation of 250m for new masters degrees and a further 100m for international students specifically, the government says enough money will be freed up in the budget to alleviate some debt.

Guldberg, however, criticised the tactic, saying that the shortening of masters degrees is “not worth the trade off”, and agreed with Langergaard’s assessment of international student value.

“This focus on the student allowance debt is completely misunderstood. The international students that come to Denmark on average give back more than two million kroner over an eight year period to Danish society.

“If you ask any potential investor, ‘do you want to make an investment?’ and then only tell them about the cost of investing and don’t tell them about all the profits from it, of course it’s going to sound like a bad investment,” Guldberg explained.

The chair of the Danish Students’ joint council also criticised the shortened masters degrees, questioning whether students can “learn everything in half the time”. Others have criticised the moves simply as “cost-cutting tactics”.

“International students broaden the perspective of the national students and enrich the academic environment and our education in a number of ways, however, political meddling is of course a complicating factor and something the universities are wary of,” Langergaard said.

“Because almost all the international students arrive directly on a two-year master program and more than a third of those are employed in Denmark straight afterwards, this is a relatively fast and inexpensive way of increasing the labour force, which is why it could play a key part in decreasing the shortage.”

Guldberg stressed that the fastest way to get more international students into the work force would be to lift the cap on the budget.

“There is a cross parliament agreement on the issue of student allowance, but everyone needs to get on board with loosening that, particularly in the STEM area.

“They haven’t challenged the fundamental issue – and still haven’t opened up to accept the reality that international students are a huge profit for Denmark,” he claimed.

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