Demand to shelve cut in international student intake

Higher education and business leaders have united to condemn a government decision to cut the number of international students studying technology and engineering because not enough of them stay on to work.

In an unprecedented move, representatives of Danske Universiteter (Universities Denmark), the National Union of Students in Denmark, the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Chamber of Commerce, between them representing hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and employees and more than 10,000 Danish companies, have issued a joint call for the government to reverse the decision made in August to cut the number of study places by 1,000-1,200 in 2019.

The cut is proposed in the government budget for 2019, which is currently making its way through parliament, supported by the right-wing populist Dansk Folkeparti or Danish People’s Party, whose backing the Liberal minority government needs to pass the appropriations bill.

It follows a 28% reduction – or a cut of 1,700 – in places for international students on English-taught degrees in 2017 compared to 2015.

"Denmark needs international students – they bring us surplus," said Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark; Sana Mahin Doost, president of the National Union of Students in Denmark; Mette Fjord Sørensen, head of research and higher education at the Confederation of Danish Industry; and Mads Eriksen, head of education and research policy at the Danish Chamber of Commerce, in a jointly signed commentary article in Jyllands-Posten.

"The potential for international graduates to work and stay in Denmark is great, but the government has to realise the potential obstacles. From an economical angle we are surprised that the government is trying to block the admission of international students instead of ensuring more of them stay," they said.

They suggested that one way to make more students stay on is to make them take a Danish language course. But the cost of the course – several years ago a fee of up to DKK12,000 (US$1,860) was introduced – makes it difficult for international students to learn the language and needs to be scrapped, they argued.

They also said the chances of staying in Denmark are greater when the student has friends or a partner here. International students should therefore be welcomed with open arms and given the best opportunities to integrate into student life, they said.

"And last but not least, the companies are responsible for recruiting international students. Here the presentation of career options in Denmark should be intensified," they wrote.

"We demand that the government changes course and, instead of reducing numbers, works to ensure more international students stay," they said.

Similar appeal

A similar appeal was published jointly in the major Danish newspaper Berlingske by the chairs of the boards of the eight Danish universities, who described the decision to reduce the international student intake as “shortsighted”.

"At Danish universities we will have to say no to Italian IT-geeks, French physicists and German engineering students, in spite of Danish companies crying [out] for just that competence. We are losing out on a lot of talent. That does not make sense. Denmark has to make itself attractive to the brightest brains from all over the world, not shoot ourselves in the foot," the eight chairs wrote.

University World News asked Minister of Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers if the widespread criticism would make him change his decision. But the ministry said the minister has no comment to make.

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.

In a statement in August, Ahlers said: “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.”

Impact on Danish students

Copenhagen Business School (CBS) is expecting to bear one-third of the 1,000-1,200 reduction in places.

Gregor Halff, dean of education at CBS, told CBS Wire, the CBS newspaper, that the government’s decision will have severe consequences for Danish students.

He said CBS cannot reduce its international intake without reducing the total number of graduate students simultaneously, including Danes. This is due to the fact that the Danish universities have to treat Danish and EU/EEA (European Union/European Economic Area) citizens equally when choosing the most qualified applicant.

“This will mean that CBS most probably will have to reduce their total intake of graduate students, which will also affect applicants from other Danish universities and Danish students who have taken a bachelor degree abroad," Halff said.

Jeppe Ask Tofteskov, president of CBS Students, told CBS Wire: "If the government is not satisfied with the level of employment among international students, reducing the intake of international students is not going to fix it.”

But Professor Jens Oddershede, former rector of the University of Southern Denmark and chair of the Danish Council for Research and Innovation Policy, told University World News that he believes the proposed government budget would most likely have been cleared with the Danish People’s Party, the party supporting the minority government, and finds it “unlikely that the minister would or could backtrack on this – despite the fact the proposal is counterproductive in many different ways".

Sana Mahin Doost, president of the National Union of Students in Denmark, concurs.

She told University World News: "Our clear view is that international students create value for our education. They bring an international perspective and new inputs to higher education and research. It is not only an economic value that they create.”

But, she said, since the cut was a concession to a demand from the Danish People’s Party, she is not hopeful that the government can reverse it.