Joint push to increase retention of international students

Five organisations representing Danish university leaders, business leaders, university staff and students jointly published new recommendations for improving retention of international students.

The organisations have formed a ‘Partnership for retaining international students in Denmark’ and have set a goal of increasing the percentage of international students working in Denmark two years after graduating there to 40% or more by 2025, compared to 34% today.

The partnership members are the Confederation of Danish Industry, the Danish Chamber of Commerce, the National Union of Students in Denmark, the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikerne) and Universities Denmark, the Danish rectors’ conference.

Most of the 29 recommendations are directed at the member organisations, making implementation a collective task. There are responsibilities for actions by universities, business, unions, politicians and the student organisations.

For example, Universities Denmark recommends recruiting more international students in academic areas where there is a strong demand in the workforce. The seven main themes of these recommendations are:

  • • Denmark should be a career destination for international students.

  • • International students should have better opportunities to learn the Danish language.

  • • International students must be included in academic and social environments.

  • • International students should have knowledge of and relations with the Danish workforce.

  • • Businesses should have goals to attract more international students.

  • • The potential for starting up companies should be further stimulated.

  • • Legal barriers should be removed.

Today international students are required to pay up to DKK12,000 (US$1,760) to participate in Danish language courses. The partnership is asking for this regulation, introduced in 2018, to be urgently removed. Also, the partnership is asking that such language courses be arranged at time periods outside the ordinary study terms of the universities, and that the universities facilitate these courses through targeted information for international students upon their arrival in Denmark.

Chair of the partnership, Professor Bente Stallknecht, pro-rector of the University of Copenhagen, said that the five organisations in this initiative are taking on a greater responsibility in ensuring that international students find their way into the Danish workforce upon graduation.

She said the partnership will work to ensure that Danish society “gains from the unique competence and perspectives that students from an alternative background bring and which will enrichen the Danish working life”.

Voices from international students and graduates

The publication containing the partnership’s proposals includes feedback from international students trying to settle in Denmark upon graduation. One international graduate in food science said: “In my experience most of the international students are leaving Denmark because they cannot find a job. Otherwise, they would really prefer to stay and work here.”

A student of agronomy said: “It would help to offer Danish lessons prior to the start of one’s studies, so we can start learning and practising Danish from day one.” Another student of agricultural development stated: “I would have loved to stay in Denmark. But it is incredibly hard to find a job in Denmark, not being Danish and having a limited network outside of the university.”

One PhD graduate in electrical engineering said: “The rules regarding foreigners are changing every year; it makes it difficult to plan my life and start a family in Denmark.”

Partners pledge support

Mette Fjord Sørensen who is head of research, higher education and diversity at the Confederation of Danish Industry, said: “We will work actively for more international students to stay in Denmark and seek work upon graduation. We fully support the view that international students are a great gain for Danish businesses and Danish society.”

Johan Hedegaard Jørgensen, head of the National Union of Students in Denmark (DSF), said that international students today face many barriers when studying in Denmark, including restrictive legislation and costly access to Danish language courses. He said that DSF now hopes that the government will remove the restrictions on universities giving courses in English.

Lars Qvistgaard, head of Akademikerne, the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations, said: “We should become better at telling international students and graduates about the attractive wage and welfare provisions and the rights of salaried personnel in Denmark compared to many other countries. Here, the professional organisations will have an important role to play in career guidance in collaboration with the universities.”