Minister wants all students to take a study period abroad

Morten Østergaard, Denmark's minister for higher education, wants to see all Danish students taking a study period abroad, gathering knowledge and experience outside the country that will enable Denmark to succeed in global competition.

Østergaard told University World News that there is a long waiting list of students who want to go abroad.

“We want to intensify the work securing administrative resources for approvals regarding tuition fees and recognition of study periods abroad,” he said. “We want to make sure that the competencies acquired abroad are recognised with full credit when they come home.”

He said in the medium term, rules and regulations would be simplified.

Separately, in an interview with the Danish newspaper Politiken, the minister said he would discuss with universities how to make it less complicated and more attractive for students to study abroad as part of their course.

Most Danish students choose English language countries. Of the exchange students with support from the government’s Study Abroad Grant scheme, 28% selected institutions in the United States, 27% went to Australia and 15% to Britain. Argentina, with 5%, was the only non-English-speaking country among the five most popular destinations, with New Zealand at 4% the fifth most popular.

Of full-degree students supported by the scheme, 56% went to the UK, 13% to Australia, 12% to the US and 4% to The Netherlands.

“Specifically designed courses should be made for directing students, for instance, to the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China,” the minister told Politiken. “We need students to go to countries where economic growth will take place in the future.”

The Study Abroad Grant scheme allows Danish students abroad to take the allowance given to their institution for that period during a Danish bachelor degree or masters, and for degree studies of up to two years, which can be taken over several study-abroad periods. Only students who pay tuition fees are eligible.

Since this arrangement was introduced in 2008, 3,724 Danish students have used the opportunity, 886 for full-degree study abroad and 2,838 for a study exchange period.

An outgoing Danish student can have up to DKK100,000 (US$17,500) available to pay for tuition fees at a university abroad, in addition to grants for living costs and support for mobility expenses.

The majority of the grant holders both for exchange and full-degree studies were social science students, followed by students in the humanities and arts. Very few students in technological fields and the natural sciences used the scheme.

The minister said in a statement: “The evaluation [for the Danish parliament] demonstrates that the study-abroad grant is a success. The students are glad of the opportunity, and it contributes significantly to more students going abroad during their studies in Denmark.

"The scheme is giving students other competencies than they get at home, and contributes to improving the international competence of the Danish work force.”

There is an imbalance in the number of foreign students in Denmark and Danish students going abroad, which in 2011 made the ministry set a “reciprocal quota” for study exchanges for Danish institutions accepting students from abroad.

Magnus Pedersen, president of the Danish Student Union, said the focus had to be on removing barriers and not making it mandatory for Danish students to go to another country for part of their degree studies.

“If we enforce students to go abroad, we will risk some young people not starting their studies at all, if they for some reasons do not want to travel abroad or if they have established themselves with a family in Denmark.”

Jens Oddershede, chair of Danish Universities (the Danish rectors’ conference), said his organisation agreed with the minister’s goal of more Danish students taking all or part of their degree outside Denmark.

“That is good for the student and for Denmark as a nation. It will also be good that more students go to non-English speaking countries including the BRICs. This is one of the objectives of the recently established Sino-Danish Centre established in Beijing, receiving the first Danish and Chinese students in September this year.

“The challenge in this connection is that there are few courses taught in English in the BRIC countries, and that Danish university students on average are a little older compared to the rest of the world, and therefore less mobile.”