Institutions move to cut international student numbers

Enrolment in Danish business academies and professional universities fell by nearly 28% in 2017 following action taken by the institutions to reduce the number of foreign students, according to a statement by the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.

The fall – 1,765 fewer students – mostly reflects a drop in the number of students admitted from Eastern Europe.

“I have previously said that the intake of students to the business academies and professional universities had to be sorted out since an analysis demonstrated that many of the higher education institutions do not educate primarily for the Danish workforce,” Minister for Higher Education and Science Søren Pind said.

“Now we see that the higher education institutions have reduced the intake [of foreign students] which I appreciate as a move in the right direction.”

The move follows two analyses undertaken by the ministry in the spring of 2017, as reported by University World News, which showed that two years after graduation only 20% of graduates from Eastern European countries were living in Denmark.

The Ministry of Higher Education and Science is going to check how many foreign students who graduated from all bachelor degree programmes and all masters degree programmes at Danish universities more than two years ago are staying on in the country.

Labour union investigation

Parallell to this, Ugebrevet A4 has reported on an investigation by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, or LO, documenting the abuse of Eastern European students in the Danish workforce. The report, drawn up by Steen Scheuer, professor emeritus of the University of Southern Denmark, was published last month.

It documented that international students from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria receiving Danish student financing support or SU – which is conditional upon them working 10 hours but not more than 10 hours per week – were working in restaurants and cleaning floors for an hourly wage of less than DKK100 (US$15) per hour, significantly lower than the Danish minimum wage for this category, which is at least DKK129 (US$20) per hour.

Member of Parliament Mattias Tesfaye from the Social Democratic Party said that this is unacceptable and an attack on the rights of Danish workers that have been established through a long struggle by the labour unions.

“The Danish SU to a large extent is used as a supplement for low salaries for European students in Denmark,” LO said. “At least one third of them work below the agreed upon minimum wages, and this is challenging the wage level in Denmark. This must change,” LO said in a press release.

The report is based on 2,353 interviews with international students in Denmark selected from 9,700 European Union students receiving Danish SU in 2016, up from 400 since 2012, rising after the European Court of Justice ruled that migrant workers from the European Union are eligible for SU in Denmark, as reported by University World News.

In 2011 there were 400 students from EU countries receiving student financing from Denmark and less than five years later this had grown to 9,700, nearly 25 times as many. Similarly, while there were 33 students from Romania receiving Danish SU in 2011, the number rose to 1,452 in 2016, 44 times as many.

In 2016 Danish higher education institutions received more than 700 students from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Lithuania.

According to the Scheuer report, 31.3% of EU students in the survey who were engaged as migrant workers earned below the minimum wage.

The percentage of foreign students earning only 40% of the minimum wage (DKK2,083 or US$324 per month) was 20% of students from Bulgaria, 17.5% of students from Lithuania and Poland, 14% for Latvian students, 11% for students from Poland, 9% for Estonians and Slovenian students and 6% for Hungarians.

Arne Grevsen, deputy head of LO, said that the requirement to work at least (but not more than) 10 hours a week ends up being a bad experience for students since they are poorly paid and often not working the minimum number of hours per week, and are then sent claims for repayment of the SU they have received.

Grevsen said that LO will propose that those employers that have repeatedly engaged EU students who later have received claims for repayment should be barred from employing European students. LO will also demand that EU students work at least 16 hours a week to be eligible for Danish SU. “It should not be too easy [for foreigners] to get SU in Denmark,” Grevsen said.

LO is also proposing to make more information available to EU students on conditions in the Danish workforce, and proposing better control of student work contracts to check the number of hours contracted, stricter demands on what counts as employment, including working for a minimum average time of 16 hours a week, and a reduction in students admitted to English-taught degrees.