Minister moves to deter EU students who do not stay on

Forty-two per cent of foreign students from European Union or European Economic Area, or EU-EEA, countries who receive Danish student financing, or SU, leave Denmark within the first two years after graduation. Only 38% are working in Denmark, Minister of Higher Education and Science Ulla Tørnæs said.

“These numbers mean that Denmark is not harvesting the profit of having invested in a great number of foreign students receiving free higher education [without paying tuition fees] and receiving Danish SU. This is a great problem,” Tørnæs said.

“It has never been the intention in the Danish higher education system with the EU single market arrangement that students should come to Denmark for a free education and then go home afterwards.”

She said not enough EU citizens who receive Danish student financing and a free education are staying on to work in Denmark and political action is required.

“It is also in this light that we have to see the government proposal for a reduction of the Danish student financing system,” Tørnæs said. “This could help reinstate a balance. The bottom line is that this is a question of fairness and justice.”

To meet the challenge, the government has revised the SU model, making it “more robust”.

Also, the government has started an investigation into the vocational training programmes – erhvervsuddannelse – that are drawing most of the foreign students from other EU-EEA countries, to check to what extent they offer courses in English and if there are strong enough eligibility criteria for admission of foreign students especially to the Danish professional colleges.

The ministry is also looking into possible incentives to encourage foreign graduates to stay and work in Denmark, for instance through tax rebates.

The total expense of the Danish SU for foreign students increased from DKK415 million (US$61 million) in 2010 to DKK939 million in 2015.

The present intervention by the ministry is related to several ongoing discussions on international students in Denmark in general, but is particularly about how international students should be encouraged to stay in Denmark upon graduation.


The think tank Kraka earlier in 2016 produced an analysis, How do we keep foreign students in Denmark? (in Danish), and the think tank Europa in May published Students from other EU countries is good business.

Both have made several recommendations to the government, including diverting the recruitment of the EU-EEA students from social sciences to technological and natural science studies, where there is a much greater demand for graduates.

Kraka also said that Scandinavian students recruited by the EU-EEA mechanism had a greater tendency to return to their homeland upon graduation, and that Denmark therefore should target recruitment more towards Eastern Europe since they have a greater tendency to remain in Denmark upon graduation.

Europa said: “Danish politicians should not make students from other EU countries scapegoats for something that is good business and gives a surplus. But Denmark ought to analyse the area in order to become even better in exploiting the potential of foreign students”.

Universitetsavisen, the Copenhagen University student newspaper, in September characterised the government’s desire to reduce the SU as a “blame game”. It said the minister’s argument for cutting the SU because of foreign students is “a bad excuse”.

“By focusing upon foreign students you are shifting the focus from the most important question,” Universitetsavisen wrote.

“This cut in SU will hit all students, which is very troublesome,” chair of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs, or DM, Camilla Gregersen said. “The ministry is thereby shooting sparrows with canons.”