Tenfold rise in grants and loans to EU students
From August 2014 to the end of December alone, 833 people were granted Danish SU funding, either as ‘EU migrant workers’ or ‘self-employed’. According to the OECD, Denmark has the most favourable student financing system in the world, where the grant is DKK5903 (US$900) per month for 12 months. There are no tuition fees at Danish universities.
The right of EU citizens fulfilling certain conditions to be eligible for Danish SU funding was granted following a ruling of the European Court of Justice in early 2013. The regulations, however, are very strict – these students may not work more than 12 hours per week.
Danish newspapers in January 2015 reported that up to 900 citizens from EU member countries had been found violating the regulations, and had received a letter from the SU Office claiming the money back.
After the EU court ruling, an agreement was reached in Parliament between the political parties that up to DKK200 million (US$30 million) should be allocated to the SU for these EU migrant workers, and that this agreement should be re-negotiated if this amount was reached. In August 2014 a figure of DKK196 million was reached, up from DKK18 million in 2012.
In September 2014 the Ministry of Higher Education and Science sent out a note on “The status for the development of recipients of SU from the EU-EEA countries”, dealing with the SU funding for EU migrant workers, the increased need for administration and control, and the development of English taught degrees at Danish higher education institutions.
In this letter the Ministry reported that approximately 500 EU or European Economic Area, or EEA, citizens had had their SU funding stopped or re-claimed, and that 650 others were under investigation for violation of the regulations.
The Ministry also reported a significant increase in students admitted to English taught degrees, from 4,653 in 2009 to 7,376 in 2014.
“SU support is now withdrawn from EU citizens not only if they have worked too much, but also if they have worked too little,” Copenhagen University Post reported.
One Romanian student said that they had not understood the rules and regulations: “If I had been told right away that I am not entitled to the money, I would have looked for another solution,” he told Copenhagen University Post.
Several of the students who are having to pay back money have approached lawyers to challenge the decision, but the regulations are crystal clear.
The 2015 SU regulations state: “If we grant you equal status because we find that you have genuine, effective employment, we will regularly check that you meet the conditions of having a status as an employee according to the EU-law. The control will be carried out automatically based on the information we receive from the tax authorities.
“If you are a self-employed trader, we will regularly ask you to send us documentation for being continuously financially active including information about turnover, VAT payment and annual accounts.
“If you are unable to document that you continuously fulfil the conditions, we will stop your SU and demand that you pay back any SU you may have received in excess.”
Director of Studies at Aalborg University, Preben Sørensen, said to the newspaper Information that there is great interest in preventing misuse of the Danish SU support since, in the agreement between the political parties there is a clause that if DKK200 million is exceeded, the parties have the right to ask for a re-negotiation of the agreement.
“We do not suspect people to speculate on the regulation, even if such people might exist,” SU Officer Peter Nelsen said to Information. “But if you are from Bulgaria, Romania or Lithuania you do not perhaps understand that in Denmark we have the opportunity to control very closely that regulations are followed, by cross-checking public data archives against each other.”
Preben Sørensen said that at Aalborg they received 373 applications from students in Eastern Europe in 2012 and 110 were accepted, and 797 in 2014 and 190 were accepted.
Several Danish universities reported that they had a feeling that admission to Danish universities from several Eastern European countries was now being handled by agents, claiming lucrative fees to guide potential students through the rules and regulations.
The influx of students is not only coming from Eastern European countries. In January 2014 Member of Parliament Mads Røring, from the Liberal Party, asked the Minister to specify the nationalities of EU citizens receiving Danish SU support.
She reported that they came from Germany (2,342), Poland (1,118), Sweden (902), Romania (814), Lithuania (765) and the UK (732). These figures included both EU migrant workers and EU citizens accepted as students to Denmark.