'Balance' rules hit Danish exchanges

Lund University Rector Per Eriksson has appealed to the Swedish and Danish ministries of higher education to tackle difficulties impeding student exchanges between the two countries as a result of Denmark's introduction of higher fees and strict regulations on balancing numbers.

The problem affects exchange students taking a part of their degree studies in Denmark for their degree at a Swedish university. Plans for student exchanges in pharmacy between Lund and Copenhagen universities have already been delayed by the new rules, Eriksson said in an open letter to the two ministries.

"From a very good relationship there are now big problems in student exchanges," Eriksson wrote.

"These problems are new, and not helping the cooperation now being built up across the region."

High tuition fees in Denmark and rules requiring a direct balance in numbers on study exchanges between the countries makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to plan.

Examples of exchange schemes that have been shelved include Malmö College exchange programmes with Roskilde University and Lund's pharmacy and metereology programmes with Copenhagen University.

Similar problems do not exist for Danish students who want to study in Sweden, Eriksson said.

A simple solution should be easy to find since Denmark also benefited from Swedish higher education, he added.

"In this connection I would mention that 40% of the Swedish workers commuting from Sweden to Copenhagen probably have a degree from a university in Skåne [the southern region of Sweden]," Eriksson wrote.

He urged the ministries urgently to address the barriers to higher education cooperation.

Professor Jens Oddershede, rector of the University of Southern Denmark, chair of the Danish Rectors' Conference and spokesperson for Universities Denmark, told University World News the problem at the Danish-Swedish border is that students from neighbouring countries have to pay for individual courses at Danish universities.

"This is a well-known consequence of the very strict limit recently imposed on student exchange in Denmark - and the problem holds for any student exchange with Denmark. Unless a Swedish student taking a course in Denmark is balanced by a Danish student taking a similar course in Sweden, the Danish university will have to charge the Swedish student for the course."

He said Danish universities had protested against this bureaucratic interpretation of the 2011 University Act.

"We find it counterproductive for the internationalisation of education that is otherwise so high on the political agenda, and we hope that the initiative from Lund will be a good excuse to remove this rule," he said.

Magnus Pedersen, chair of the Danish Student Union, said tuition fees posed a serious problem and urged the government to abolish them.

"We risk destroying the good tradition of [respecting] higher education as a public good between the Nordic countries, that has secured the principle of equal rights to higher education," he told University World News.

Jens Peter Jacobsen, director of the Danish Agency for Universities and Internationalisation at the ministry, told University World News he took Eriksson's concerns seriously and maintained internationalisation was high on his political agenda.

He said that since the introduction of the University Act, there was a greater range of ways Danish universities could take part in international cooperation and that university collaboration in the Øresund Region "greatly benefits both sides of the sound and obstacles should be minimised".

He said the inquiry from Lund University, and a similar inquiry from the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at Copenhagen University, raised concerns that there was not a "complete overview of the many new possibilities of international cooperation". He has invited Copenhagen University to a meeting to discuss the issue.