DENMARK: Linking immigration to university rankings

New immigration rules for reunited families should favour candidates who graduate from the world's top 20 universities, the Danish government has proposed.

The proposal has been endorsed by the coalition government and the Danish People's Party, as part of a package of reforms designed to tighten up immigration rules for allowing family reunion, which are expected to be passed by a majority of MPs. It is contained in a bill for the 2011 budget, which includes an appendix listing the world's top 20 universities as ranked by QS.

Birthe Rønn Hornbech, the integration minister, wrote in the newspaper, Berlingske Tidende: "The qualification requirements are aimed at improving integration and making all immigrants ready for work. Improved integration will destroy the vicious circle where children, owing to their parents' weak integration, get a bad start and difficulties in getting an education and later supporting themselves in Danish society."

The current arrangement of allowing people aged over 24 to reunite for a fee of 50,000 DKK (US$9,000) is being changed in favour of a points system where education, language competence (in one world language), work experience and self-sufficiency will count as criteria for immigration.

The fee will also be doubled and people aged 24 and under will be judged on the same points system.

"The family reunion policy is also a policy of values," said Hornbech. "There will in the new policy be an opportunity for spouse reunion for those who have high qualifications, as for instance a degree from one of the top 20 universities [on the international ranking lists]."

There are many clarifications to be made in working out such a points system. In the negotiations between the three parties one basic question was: "Shall a theoretically-based university degree count as much as the competence of a craftsman?"

Hornbech initially said that "a world language at a high level would be sufficient", but she later stated that a university degree would be necessary, before further restricting that to a degree from a top institution.

The proposal provoked an outcry from Danish academics.

Jens Oddershede, Chairman of Danish Universities, told the newspaper Information that the reliability of university ranking lists was uncertain. "And I have great difficulty understanding how people who graduated at the Sorbonne or Heidelberg [not included in the top-20 rankings] shall not contribute positively to Danish society," he said.

But Karsten Lauritzen, integration spokesman for the Liberal Party, defended the use of university rankings. He said it was important to send a clear message to the world that Denmark was "open for qualified applicants, and closed for people that are less qualified, and thereby will be a drawback for our society. Therefore, we have chosen the 20 top universities as our point of departure", he told Information.

The opposition Social Democratic and Socialist parties are not against revising the present immigration reunion family law, but want to discuss which criteria to use.

Kjeld Hansen, the socialist mayor of Herlev commune near Copenhagen, told the same newspaper that the points system gave him the "same uneasy feeling I had when I read about the Reichstag Fire in Berlin, just before Hitler came to power. The mindset is exactly the same".

Robert Phillipson, professor emeritus of the department of international language studies and computational linguistics at Copenhagen Business School, described Hornbech's proposals as "monstrously racist".

"Blind faith in the belief that proficiency in a so-called world language - itself a rubbery, inappropriate term - can be measured objectively, and in ranking lists of 'top' universities all merely goes to show how pathetically ignorant our politicians are,' he told University World News.