Ministry orders cut in international student numbers

The Danish ministry of higher education and science is to cut the number of international students studying technology and engineering by 1,000 to 1,200 in 2019, targeting university programmes where a large share of international students do not stay on to work in the country.

This reduction, announced in a press statement entitled "More international students should stay on and work in Denmark", comes in addition to the cut in 1,700 study places, or a reduction of 28%, of the student intake to English-taught degrees in Denmark in 2017, compared to the intake in 2015, as reported by University World News.

Some 26% of international students leave Denmark within three months of securing their degree, and 38% within 21 months, according to a report in Magisterbladet magazine, based on data from Statistics Denmark.

According to ministry analysis, only one in three international students stay on long enough to contribute more to the economy than the public money invested in funding their education in Denmark.

Minister of Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers said in a press statement: “We cannot fulfil the education obligations of other countries.

“We need to do more so that talented international students stay, and work here, after graduation. And we need to adjust the number of places on the programmes where the students quickly slip back home.”

The ministry will enter into a dialogue with the universities and the university colleges in order to discuss how to improve the English-taught degrees so that these can become more relevant for the Danish workforce, Ahlers said.

“Among the factors we will ask universities to document when applying for [permission to run] a new masters degree taught in English is how this degree will succeed in giving the candidates a relevant job upon graduation," Ahlers said.

While the 2017 reduction in intake was directed towards the professional business academies, the 2019 reduction is hitting the masters degrees at universities that are taught in English.

"Denmark is an attractive study country for international students. In 2004 there were 7,500 English-taught students at Danish universities. In 2016 there were approximately 22,100,” the press release said.

The ministry said that some of these higher education graduates stay and work in Denmark upon graduation, but “in some university degrees the majority of graduates are leaving Denmark after graduation”.

"For instance, 42% of newly graduated masters degree candidates (from English-taught degrees) are not living in Denmark two years after graduation, and only one third are working in Denmark two years after graduation," the ministry reported.

The ministry has calculated how the international graduates are contributing to the Danish public economy compared to the investment costs in the study places allocated, with the international students having to pay no tuition fees and a substantial and increasing number of them receiving Danish student funding (SU), the most favourable such funding in the world.

Two out of three international students graduating today are found to constitute a cost for Denmark and only one out of three contribute positively during their lifetime by working and paying taxes in Denmark.

Of the international students graduating in Denmark, as a group it is the masters degree graduates that contribute most.

Across all fields international students are contributing between DKK100,000 (US$15,700) and DKK300,000 (US$47,000) to the Danish public economy during their lifetime. But there is a great variation between the international students since half of them tend to leave Denmark five years after graduation.

On average it is only at nine years after graduation that the international graduate starts to contribute positively to the Danish economy, when subtracting their investment costs.

It is this picture the ministry now wants to change by entering into a dialogue with six named Danish universities, including the University of Copenhagen. The Technical University of Denmark (DTU) is not included among these.

Lack of highly qualified personnel

Commenting on the ministry’s figures, the Danish People’s Party (DF) said it was completely unacceptable that so many foreign students go home after receiving their masters degree and suggested either limiting English-language programmes or making it compulsory to take courses in Danish on all programmes.

Mads Eriksen, head of education and research policy in the Danish Chamber of Commerce, said it is obvious to everyone that Denmark should not educate a large number of graduates who afterwards leave the country without contributing to Denmark's economy and it was therefore rational for the ministry to analyse how international students behave.

"We think that some of the reductions are meaningful. But also, we lack highly qualified personnel and we would have liked to hear the ministry discuss ways of recruiting differently instead of only looking at reductions," he said.

Hanne Tangen, a lecturer of Aalborg University, argued in an op ed article in that this will be costly for Denmark in the long run and a hindrance for Danish international relations. “Denmark will lose out if the government is cutting English-taught degrees," she wrote.

University of Copenhagen Rector Henrik C Wegener said he was disappointed by the proposal.

“The University of Copenhagen is already working on getting more international students to find jobs in Danish companies. But the university’s English-language programmes are part and parcel of being an international university with international top researchers that can research and teach for the benefit of Danish students. The English-language programmes are a key part of partnerships with the best universities around the world,” he said in a press release.

The university will have to reduce its intake of international students by 120 in 2019.

"This will be in the fields of informatics, physics and climate change, which are exactly those fields needed for Danish industry in building the export of green technology. This will make it more difficult to offer international education as comparable elite universities do," he said.