Steep increase in foreigners receiving student support

The number of European citizens eligible for Danish student loans and grants soared tenfold from 2012-13 following a European Court of Justice decision against Denmark in the ‘LN’ case in February last year. The court ruled that European Union citizens should have the right to student support if they had worked in Denmark.

The rise in numbers was from 256 in 2012 to 2,651 last year.

However Morten Østergaard, then minister for science, innovation and higher education, said the rise was not dramatic because a backlog of cases pending the court ruling had taken effect after the court decision in 2013. The increase would level out, he added.

In a cabinet reshuffle last week, Østergaard became minister of taxation and Sofie Carsten Nielsen, chair of the Social Liberal Party, was appointed minister of science, innovation and higher education.

A survey undertaken by, a Danish website reporting on politics and society, found that a majority of Danes were against student support being given to other European Union citizens, fuelling a political debate over ‘welfare tourism’.

The 2,651 approved applications for student support based on the LN ruling were among 2,565 applications from citizens of the European Union and European Economic Area, or EEA, meaning that only 14 cases were not approved.

Three quarters of the applicants, or 1,950, had started their education in Denmark before 2013, and among the rest there could have been people who had entered the country before 2013 but had not yet registered for studies.

Last month the ministry for science, innovation and higher education provided statistics on student support applications and eligibility. The letter is referred to, along with several other documents on ‘welfare tourism’ in (Danish only).

The number of foreign citizens receiving student grants and loans support – called SU – rose from 4,714 in 2008 to 10,879 in 2013, but only half of these (5,405) were EU-EEA citizens. The ministry said that the increased allocations to foreign citizens was beyond the DKK200 million (US$36 million) agreed by political parties in parliament in 2013.

UniversityPost at Copenhagen University reported that Danish SU to foreign citizens increased from DKK548 million to DKK1.022 billion in 2013 and now accounted for 5% of total student grants and loans support.

Last year 449,600 school and higher education students received support, including 28,600 who did not have Danish citizenship. Of these 11,200 were from the EU-EEA countries. Both foreign citizens from Europe and from outside the EU-EEA doubled in numbers between 2008 and 2013.

A political issue

In the survey of 1,016 Danes conducted by A&B Analyse in January 2014, 72.3% believed that SU should be more reserved for Danish citizens and that SU regulations should be changed to reduce the number of EU citizens eligible.

Also, 67.5% of those surveyed agreed that, in the face of significant growth of young people from other countries participating in higher education in Denmark, there should be a limit on how large a proportion of non-citizens should be admitted.

On 26 February the ministry published an open letter describing the benefits for Danish society of attracting students from abroad and having them stay after graduation. This is a core issue in the ministry’s new internationalisation strategy, a new version of which is due soon.

Danish political parties have taken different stands on the issue.

Bendt Bendtsen, spokesperson for the opposition Conservative party, told that it was working on a proposal to change SU from grants and loans to an exclusively loan-based system, in order to have international students stay in Denmark to work after graduating.

The ministry is sharpening control over the working requirements of non-Danish recipients of student aid, and will claim repayment if these rules are violated.

See the rules on residence and work as an international student in Denmark here.