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New legislation and new funding to boost Danish student mobility

In Denmark last month, Morten Østergaard, the Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, introduced three new legislative proposals designed to increase the number of Danish students studying abroad.

In 2009-10 Denmark hosted 24,485 international students, 62% of whom were studying for a full degree, while 9,825 Danish students were studying internationally with only 35% of those working toward a full degree.

The first measure proposed by Østergaard calls for increased student loan flexibility and streamlined processing of student applications by the Danish Student Loan Board. He’s asking for DKK 100,000 (US $17,000) to be awarded to any students admitted to a foreign school that requires tuition fees, with part of the award taking the form of long-term, low-interest loans.

The second proposal involves the academic recognition procedure – that is, the recognition and awarding of academic credit in Denmark for studies abroad, which is currently mandatory for every student applying for a study abroad loan. Østergaard wants academic recognition to be issued before studies commence and to be automatically recognised by the home university on the student’s return.

The third proposal calls for the introduction of a quality assurance system among Danish higher education institutions, with the ancillary goal of strengthening their academic recognition of studies Danish students undertake abroad.

All three measures are meant to boost the international mobility of Danish students. Østergaard told University World News:

I have a vision that every student shall have an international part of their degree. We know that students having been abroad have better chances in the labour market.

Reaction to the proposals has been largely positive, however Torben Holm, President of the Danish student organisation Danske Studerendes Fællesråd, commented about long-term loans:

I would urge the government to complement [it] with increased debt advice. Some will have problems with repayments on such large student loans.

Other changes in Denmark

Østergaard’s plan is part of a broader push to improve the prospects and competitiveness of Danish students. The government has announced a dramatic increase in spending on higher education in 2013, raising the budget ceiling DKK 3 billion (US $506 million) to cover additional expenses from a record intake of students.

In addition, DKK 6.5 billion (US $1.14 billion) has been set aside for investment in new buildings, upgrades to research labs, and an increase in per capita allocation for students in humanities and social sciences. The government also intends to use financing from the Globalisation Fund to continue investment in doctoral training.

Still more changes were called for in a policy note published by Danish rectors at the August 2012 Universities Denmark conference. Most of those were related to student mobility and international recruitment. Among the proposals:

  1. Changes that would allow foreign PhD candidates in Denmark on a research visa to stay longer to apply for work.
  2. Allowing applicants to apply for the mandatory biometric identification card after arriving in Denmark (applications currently must be made at a Danish embassy, which some applicants do not have easy access to in their home countries).
  3. Reducing (or eliminating) the amount of tax student researchers must pay on their grants when staying in Denmark more than six months.
  4. Adding English to public self-service systems (which are currently Danish only) in order to better meet the needs of international staff and students.
  5. Reducing application fees for student and researcher residence permits, which are currently higher in Denmark than in other countries.

Language and vocational initiatives

Danish educational authorities are also turning their internationalisation efforts toward certain areas of curriculum. For example, a lack of funding combined with declining student enrolment had caused some universities to scrap selected foreign language programmes. In response, the Education Ministry published a report featuring suggestions for how to promote language studies to students.

The report recommends that post-secondary programmes should offer foreign languages as elective courses for all students, that Denmark should aim for a higher level of language proficiency, that students should learn two foreign languages, and that the level of English should be improved.

This last goal has been stressed by Trade and Investment Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr, who pointed out in an interview with the news agency Berlingske Nyhedsbureau, that “countries such as New Zealand and Australia earn billions exporting education to Asia. They have an advantage because of their language, so we need to make an extra effort to teach in English.”

At the same time, Minister Østergaard is concerned with enticing Danish students to study at schools in the newly emerging economies, which are either non or only partially English speaking. “Specifically designed courses should be made for directing students, for instance, to the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China,” he told the Danish newspaper Politiken. “We need students to go to countries where economic growth will take place in the future.”

Denmark’s vocational institutions are being scrutinised as well. In July 2012, Minister Østergaard and Minister Dyhr, along Children and Education Minister Christine Antorini, wrote an opinion piece for Kristeligt Dagblad, describing the country’s vocational training programmes at university colleges as the sector most likely to spur economic growth.

Later in the year, the OECD published an assessment focusing on the vocational sector’s strengths and challenges, including a comprehensive review of some changes that have been planned by Danish authorities, followed by recommendations of its own. The full version of the OECD report is available online.

Like many other countries, Denmark sees the US $2.2 trillion international education market as the key to a secure economic future. Two-way international mobility is a top priority, as the country seeks to profit from the industry in the financial short term, while in the long run using it to develop the sort of top talent and innovative thinking that drives both social and economic development.

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