Denmark has emerged as an attractive country to pursue higher-level education in recent times, and retaining international students is considered important as their studies are funded by taxpayers, with about half receiving additional grants.
“Employers have also not always… done enough to reach out to international students”
“Not enough [students] are using their education in the Danish labour market afterwards, and therefore represent a large cost to Danish society, as they are educated for the benefit of labour markets in other countries,” said the government at the time of the study.
Providing funding grants of between DKK 500,000 (£57,000) and DKK 1 million (£114,000), each of the newly announced projects will run for several years, with participants being required to share their findings with institutions across the country.
According to reports, the five selected projects were selected from 16 applications and will include instruction of the Danish language, use of mentor models, focusing on the relationship to the workforce and on practice while studying and in jobs alongside studies.
One of the successful bids, ‘biotech job preparations’ from University College Absalon, will prepare international students to live and work in Denmark through job-oriented activities such as mentorships and collaborations with local companies.
“In the first year, the students are offered a course ‘Danish with job hunting’ and access to a student job portal where Absalon can distribute student job listings from the local community,” project manager, Lene Beck Mikkelsen, told The PIE News.
“In the second and third year, a mentoring program will be established with mentors from the business environment in Kalundborg and the surrounding area.”
Retaining graduates in engineering and related fields – which are popular with international students – is particularly desirable.
At the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), for example, 40% of all MSc students are international.
“There’s a significant lack of engineering graduates in Denmark, and we are trying to bridge that gap,” Morten Overgaard, head of international education at DTU, told The PIE.
While Overgaard maintains that people “cannot expect all international graduates to remain in the country”, he added that “a majority of DTU’s international students wish to stay upon graduation”.
“So far we have not prepared them in an optimal way, and the employers have also not always been aware of the opportunity or done enough to reach out to international students,” he said.
“We think that as a university we should do more than just educate excellent graduates. We must facilitate their transition into employment, especially international students who need special preparation.”
A lack of Danish language skills, difficulty integrating into society and few local connections also play a role in the number of graduates leaving.
“Coming to a small language area like Danish, most students hesitate with [learning] the language until they know if they want to stay,” Helene Fast Seefeldt, a business consultant at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), told The PIE.
“Most students hesitate with [learning] the language until they know if they want to stay”
While jobs are available for those that don’t speak Danish, Fast Seefeldt believes it is important to emphasise learning the language as it is “key to the social part of being in Denmark”.
“It is during the lunch break and the small talk you establish relations, share informal knowledge and become aware of opportunities,” she explained.
Better integration can also help international students consider Denmark a place to stay long-term, whether this is done by joining associations and clubs, doing volunteer work or finding a Danish boyfriend or girlfriend, which Fast Seefeldt suggested is “by far the most efficient way of retaining people”.
“As one international student said about Danish society, [we] are like pineapples – stiff and rough on the outside, but once inside it is sweet,” she said.
Full project list:
- Biotech work preparation (University College Absalon)
- Career management course for international full degree students (Copenhagen University)
- Career management skills for international students (University of Southern Denmark)
- Communication, student life and internationalisation: The road towards employment through early career encouragement of international students (VIA University College)
- From international students to value generation in Danish businesses (Technical University of Denmark)