International students keep universities in regions viable

To a significant degree, it is international students who are keeping higher education alive in the smaller cities in Denmark, a new study by Akademikerne, the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations, has found.

Only one out of the 10 study places in Denmark with the largest proportion of international students is located in one of the four larger university cities; the nine others are located in smaller provincial cities, the study noted.

The finding casts doubt on the government’s plan to shift 7,500 university study places out of the bigger cities to towns to improve higher education access, as reported by University World News last week.

This is because the shift would be financed in part by cutting English-taught courses and imposing limits on how much universities can spend on marketing abroad, both of which would affect international student numbers.

Head of Akademikerne Lars Qvistgaard said that not only are the international students an important part of the student body at these locations, but they also contribute to ensuring smaller cities can attract a sufficient number of students for their universities to be viable.

“Therefore, it does not fit together when the government wants to finance the moving out of students from the bigger cities by cutting the number of international students,” he said.

He said international students are not a hindrance to securing good higher education opportunities all over the country. “On the contrary, they are now a precondition for many of the regional higher education institutions that the government explicitly mentions as good examples to be able to function,” Qvistgaard said.

According to Akademikerne calculations based on registration data, the top 10 study places with the largest proportion of international students are (with percentage international students indicated in brackets):

1. University of Southern Denmark, Sønderborg (39.49%)
2. VIA University College, Campus Horsens (33.7%)
3. VIA University College, Kasernevej Viborg (28.69%)
4. Aalborg University, Esbjerg (27.14%)
5. Dania Academy, Viborg (26.84%)
6. Zealand Academy of Technologies and Business in Køge (24.7%)
7. Absalon, Campus Kalundborg (23.39%)
8. UCL Boulevarden, Vejle (23.33%)
9. Business Academy Aarhus, Ringvej Syd (23.25%)
10. VIA University College, Campus Herning (22.43%)

English-taught students are students with no bonds to Denmark, and do not include other Nordic students. The data drawn from Statistics Denmark is limited to institutions with at least 100 students and at least 10 international students.

Only one of the 10 study places with the largest proportion of international students is located in a larger city; the nine others are situated in smaller provincial cities.

“New funding for the new study places is needed. It is expensive to start up new study places and that is not a bill that can be left to the higher education institutions. And if you at the same time are cutting the proportion of international students, you are ‘feeding the dog with its own tail’,” Qvistgaard said.

Recruitment risks

Tobias Høygaard Lindeberg, head of development at the Danish think-thank DEA, told University World News that the Akademikerne figures show that if a reduction in English-taught degrees is implemented, it will mean that the study places outside the bigger cities will have greater difficulties in attracting students to their study programmes.

“And, as we have seen an increase in programmes with fewer applicants than places outside the major university cities, there is a risk that it will be challenging to find applicants to replace the international students,” Høygaard Lindeberg said.

Director of Universities Denmark Jesper Langergaard told University World News that Universities Denmark shares the concern regarding the funding of the new study places.

“Sufficient funding is important, both in relation to establishing new study places and to maintain a high degree of quality within smaller learning and research environments.

“The study by Akademikerne suggests that there might be a contradiction between the government’s wish to reduce the number of English-taught study programmes and the recent government initiative to place study places outside the biggest cities,” he said.

“International students in Denmark contribute to our study programmes, our international learning environments and campus life, not least outside the bigger cities.

“Our international graduates are also an important part of the solution to the shortage of qualified labour faced by Danish companies, especially within engineering, health sciences and other STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields,” Langergaard said.

Mike Gudbergsen, president of DFS, the National Union of Students in Denmark, told University World News: “We already know that international students are overrepresented at the decentral campus locations, and as such find it paradoxical for the government to push for both more decentralised education seats and limiting the number of international students.

“Furthermore, we know that international students are a net gain for Denmark as a society – both financially, where international students on average provide DKK100,000 [US$16,400] to DKK350,000 [US$57,400] in taxes during their life, and by providing diversity in opinions and experiences in the study and educational environments.”

Camilla Gregersen, the president of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs (DM), which has 50,000 members, told University World News that DM is concerned about the government’s proposal to cut or relocate from the existing locations.

“It is a pity that current strong professional environments must be weakened in order to create study programmes outside the larger cities in Denmark.

“At the same time, it is important to maintain that international students and English-medium programmes also contribute to Danish society. It strengthens the quality of education by ensuring a greater view of the world. This is important for a small and open economy like the Danish economy.

“At the same time, the international students are a financial gain for Danish society. The gains can be even higher if we in Denmark can get more international students to stay and work after graduation. It is crucial that politicians think carefully before closing English-medium programmes around Denmark.”