Taxpayers, universities face bills for foreign students

Danish taxpayers will face a bill of DKK200 million (US$35 million) a year following a European Court of Justice ruling on the eligibility of foreigners to receive student loan and grant support. And Danish universities face fines totalling DKK97.5 million for enrolling more foreign exchange students than they send local students abroad.

The Ministry of Education said in a statement that as a consequence of the Court of Justice ruling, citizens of European Union (EU) countries who have status as a worker – that is, if they start working before embarking on studies or work part-time while studying – could not be refused social welfare and were eligible for Danish student loan and grant support.

Minister of Education Morten Østergaard said the ruling would cost Danish taxpayers DKK200 million a year. “We have found measures within the budget to cater for this year’s expenses,” he told Denmark Radio.

“We are of course glad to have foreign students coming to Denmark. There are pluses and minuses with Danish interactions with the European Union. And we are prepared to follow the ruling by the EU court.”

Østergaard said, however, that he expected the number of foreigners seeking student support to increase.

The calculation is based on the number of EU citizens who have applied for Danish student financing – altogether 342 cases, which had been suspended until the court made its ruling.

Another 271 people received Danish student support in 2012, after moving to Denmark from other EU states as ‘mobile workers’. This was twice the number in 2009, the ministry said, and their student support costs were estimated at DKK28 million.

The ministry also found some 600 older cases in which people had received a negative reply, and they might now re-apply and have to be funded.

“We have to collect experiences on how the development is going to be and act in the yearly budgets,” Østergaard said, adding that student loan and grant support now cost DKK19 billion a year.

Mads Rørvig of the Danish Liberal Party described the cost of supporting students from other EU states as a “huge amount of money”, and the Danish People’s Party’s Jens Henrik Thulesen warned that the calculation might be too low.

Quoting the two politicians, the Berlingske Tidende ran a headline declaring that “Foreign citizens will now flock to Denmark”.

Thulesen said that the court ruling “gives a signal that it is possible to come to Denmark to study, and since a comparatively large number of our courses are taught in English, this will be a haven for people.

“The Danish People’s Party wants the government to act and find some way out of this,” Mads Rørvig told Berlingske Tidende, “so that Danish taxpayer’s money first and foremost goes to Danish citizens.”

People in higher education have taken a different view. John E Andersen, chair of the department of Scandinavian studies and linguistics at Copenhagen University, who for many years headed its international office, told University World News:

“For us working at universities, wanting to attract strong foreign talent, this is a good development. Competition for places on our graduate programmes will be tougher. Remember that the large BA programmes only to a very limited degree are taught in English and therefore will be closed for EU citizens.

Professor Jens Oddershede, head of the Danish Rector’s Conference, told University World News: “I notice with great satisfaction that the proposal has limited economic consequences.”

The ministry is now working on how to revise the regulations in the student support system for foreigners, and said that citizens from other EU states who receive student support will have to document every four months that they are still employees or are self-employed according to EU law.

Meanwhile, it emerged last week that Danish universities will have to pay fines totalling DKK 97.5 million for accepting more foreign exchange students than the numbers of home students who study abroad, according to metroXpress.

“The goal is to get more Danish students to go out on foreign exchange,” Minister Østergaard, told metroXpress.

The Copenhagen Post reported that universities had broken regulations that say the number of incoming foreign students must equal the number of Danish students who go to foreign universities.

Kristian Thorn, deputy rector of Aarhus University, described the punishment as self-defeating. "It is very inexpedient that we are being punished for attracting students from abroad when the national ambition is to make Danish universities more international," Thorn told metroXpress.

Østergaard said he was considering revising the regulations, as they might not be the “right way to achieve our goals”.