Cut in study places aimed at culling EU student intake

The Minister for Higher Education and Science, Søren Pind, has decided to cut the intake of business academies and professional universities for higher education courses by a quarter – a cut of 1,600 study places.

The impact will be to reduce the number of European Union students claiming support grants, which has risen steeply because programmes taught in English attract a high percentage of EU students.

The decision follows analysis by the Ministry of Education and Science showing that only 20% of graduates from the English-taught courses at the business academies and university colleges are working in Denmark two years after graduation.

The analysis demonstrated that many international students are leaving Denmark within two years upon graduation and that many of those students staying in Denmark are continuing their higher education towards higher degrees.

Of professional degree holders, 57% left Denmark less than two years after graduation, while the corresponding rate is 31% for the business academy graduates. Of the latter group, 27% are in continuing education two years after graduation.

Danish students, students from the European Economic Area, or EEA, and international students will all be hit by the cut in intake, but the rationale for the cut is to reduce spending on educating international students, particularly those from the EU, who do not stay to contribute to the Danish economy after graduation.

“We now see that the number of international students, coming here to have an education paid for by the Danish taxpayers, has increased significantly over [recent] years. But there are too few that are staying behind and this means that we now have to reduce the intake,” Pind said.

“Higher education should provide graduates for the Danish workforce. The analysis is clearly demonstrating that many of the higher professional degrees do not primarily serve this purpose, and there is a need to sort it out.”

A study covering the period 2007-14 showed there has been a massive surge in English-taught bachelor programmes in recent years, and Denmark by 2014 had the highest representation of English-taught programmes in Europe with 494 such programmes, amounting to 38% of programmes available in Denmark, according to the Academic Cooperation Association.

At the same time, in recent years, according to Pind, there has been a steep increase in EU students studying in Denmark. He said that 1,224 students from EU11 countries graduated in Denmark in 2014, and preliminary figures show 2,283 in 2016 (up 86.5%), and that the number of students receiving Danish SU funding from the EU11 countries increased from 5,694 in 2014 to a preliminary figure of 8,368 in 2016 (up 47%).

In 2016, the Confederation of Danish Industry or DI warned against “international students taking the wrong degree for the Danish job market”. Deputy Director of DI, Charlotte Rønhof, said: “Denmark needs a recruitment strategy to avoid becoming an ‘educational transit post’ and to ensure that Danish businesses are able to recruit the candidates they need.”

The cuts have been agreed in cooperation with the business academies and the professional university colleges. Students at the business academies and the university colleges can study building, design, IT and communication, and several other professional studies.

Heavy inflow of EU students

Minister Pind may now have managed to solve a problem that has been acute for Danish authorities since a European Court of Justice regulation in 2013 decided that EU citizens had the right to Danish student financing if they were migrant workers. This led to a heavy inflow of EU students asking for Danish SU funding, and many Danish companies started active recruitment.

Since 2013, the number of migrant workers and full-time recipients of SU has increased tenfold, from 550 in 2013 to 5,500 in 2016. This year, the SU funding of these students will hit a ceiling of DKK420 million (US$60 million) – beyond that which was agreed upon by a majority of the political parties in a settlement in the Danish parliament in 2013, with a clause for re-negotiation if or when the ceiling was reached.

The 10 EU nations sending the most students to Denmark in 2015 were Romania (1,313), Lithuania (760), Hungary (599), Bulgaria (593), Poland (585), Germany (532), Slovakia (509), Latvia (438), Spain (276) and Sweden (253).

The total expenditure for grants for EU citizens has risen from DKK202 million annually in 2002 to DKK799 million in 2015. The total for migrant workers receiving SU was DKK19 million in 2012 and DKK321 million in 2015.

The educational grant for Danish and EU or EAA students at higher education institutions is DKK6,015 per month, corresponding to €809 (US$857) a month.

Last year the Ministry of Higher Education and Science accused companies of using the SU scheme to secure cheap labour, because in 2013 EU citizens working 10-12 hours a week who at the same time were registered as students, were acknowledged by the European Court of Justice as “migrant workers” under the European Union regulations, and hence were eligible for student financing or SU in Denmark.

The SU system has been described as the most generous student financing system in the world, as reported by University World News.

‘Hurried decision’

In parliament, the chair of the employment committee of the Social Liberal Party, Sofie Carsten Nielsen, said the decision to cut intake had been taken in a hurry and might hurt businesses; and educational chair for the Social Democratic Party Mette Reissmann feared it would cut the supply of Danish workers to Danish enterprises.

But the chair of the Danish People’s Party, Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, said: ”This is the first step to secure that we only accept the number of students taken in from outside Denmark that Denmark really has a need for. It has never been the intention that our higher education system shall educate youths from all over Europe.”

And Bente Sorgenfrey, chair of FTF, the Confederation of Professionals in Denmark, representing 80 member organisations and 450,000 members told University World News that the cut in intake is the best way to address rising spending on educational grants.

“We see that many students from these programmes are not able to find jobs in the Danish labour market after they finish their studies. And that indicates that the labour market needs fewer persons with these qualifications than are currently being educated," he said.

However, Sana Mahin Doost, chair of the National Union of Students in Denmark, told University World News: “The fact that many international students return home after having finished their degrees is no surprise, given that many of them find it incredibly difficult to get a foot in the door in the Danish job market.”

She said instead of excluding international students more effort should be made to integrate the study environment with the job market.

“We see no indication that international students come here for benefits as it is often portrayed by politicians. International students want a top-shelf degree that they can use in Denmark, but unfortunately that is incredibly difficult for them," she said.