DENMARK: Ministry limits foreign exchange students

The Ministry of Higher Education has instructed higher education institutions that the number of foreign exchange students in Denmark must not exceed the number of Danish students going abroad. Only exchanges through reciprocal agreements between universities will be counted for budgetary awarding.

Danish higher education institutions say they will have difficulty enforcing this decision from 2011, with some claiming that the ministry is smuggling the new regulation in by the back door.

The rationale for the regulation is that Danish taxpayers should not have to pay for educating foreign students in Denmark.

Rune Skov Hansen, head of section in the Danish University and Property Agency, a 170-staff organisation under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, said:

"Internationalisation and student exchanges have high priority, but at the same time we have to ensure that Danish taxpayers' money does not to an inappropriate degree pay for foreign universities' educational programmes.

"Over the last years an imbalance has occurred, and we have therefore informed universities that this cannot continue. We hope that new initiatives will stimulate more students to take a study period abroad."

The ministry is implementing a regulation in the university law of 2003, which demands parity between exchange students at Danish universities. Full-degree incoming foreign students will not be affected.

Lise Richter, a journalist for the Danish newspaper Information, which has been investigating the new development, told University World News: "Universities will have to reject a significant number of foreign exchange students already from this year."

Higher education institutions will not get the so-called 'taxameter' allocations for the number of foreign students that exceeds the quota, which is set as the number of Danish students taking up a study place abroad negotiated by a bilateral agreement of cooperation, Richter added.

"I do not think that the general election later this year will change this," Richter said, "since the ministry is using the regulation in the law of 2003, which was endorsed also by the Social Democratic party [now in opposition]."

Danish universities are not happy with this new development, which they regard as a break with the internationalisation policy highly prioritised by an agreement in parliament between the government and the opposition.

Under the so-called 'globalisation package', 40 billion DKK (US$7.3 billion) or 0.5% of gross national product, has been allocated to internationalisation activities for Danish education and research for the period 2006-12.

Poul Bonde, former senior international officer of Aarhus University, told University World News this was an example of cost-benefit thinking and failing to look beyond the short-term. "Our recent history is scattered with examples of unsuccessful planning using these two parameters too strictly."

John Edelsgaard Andersen, director of international affairs at Copenhagen University, said: "The requirement of an economical balance between incoming and outgoing students is included in the law, but has not been strictly enforced until now.

"It looks like the Ministry of Finance is behind it, since the Ministry of Education has been an ardent supporter of student exchanges for many years."

Copenhagen University will be hit by a considerable budget reduction of about three million Euros if forced to balance in-going and out-going exchange students in 2011.

In 2009-10 there were 6,100 foreign exchange students at Danish universities and 4,500 Danish students going abroad. In addition 13,500 foreign students were studying for a full-degree in Denmark.

"It is pointless to turn away these foreign students which we have worked hard for through international collaboration arrangements over the years," Andersen said. "In particular since we have an open market for EU students."

Magnus Pedersen, president of the Danish Union of Students, said he understood that the minister was proposing that Danish universities set up more exchange programmes to avoid paying tuition fees for international students, or they will charge tuition fees where this is not possible.

"This will destroy the international student milieu in Denmark, since fewer students will come to Denmark to study. It might also lead to more exchange programmes, which the Danish universities cannot control for quality. Therefore it might lead to even fewer Danish students going abroad, because they fear for the quality of their exchange programme," Pedersen said.

"We fear that this might lead to cancelling of exchange programmes, so that Danish students will have fewer opportunities to study abroad."

He said there was also a danger that the new move would lead to tuition fees being charged for Danish students studying abroad, in countries where education today is free for Danish students, for instance Norway and Sweden.