Minister rejects switching from student grants to loans

The government has announced that it is not going to make any changes to the Danish system of student funding known as SU, rejecting a plea by the Danish Chamber of Commerce to switch from giving grants for masters degree students to awarding loans.

It has been claimed that such a switch would free up DKK3.5 billion (US$530 million) to invest in other higher education priorities, which some political parties backed.

But Minister of Education and Science Jesper Petersen, in an interview with Akademikerbladet on 18 January, said the current government is not going to make any changes.

“I think that we fundamentally have a really good SU system in Denmark that gives everyone, independent of social background, an opportunity to take higher education.

“This is something we shall ringfence. The Venstre [Liberal Party] earlier proposed to convert parts of the SU grant to loans, but that is not the government’s policy,” he said.

The Danish Chamber of Commerce made its proposal in March 2021 in a report titled “A future-oriented higher education system that is lifting all”.

It argued that investments in SU could be released from supporting masters students and refocused on addressing long-held disadvantages for children of lower social classes, and into measures to redress gender discrimination in higher education.

CEPOS, a think tank for political studies, in 2021 published the report [in Danish], “Danish SU is almost three times higher than in Sweden: How a reduction in SU can lead to an increase of 12,000 new jobs.”

Several political parties picked up on the arguments from these proposals, with for instance the Social Democratic spokesperson for higher education, Bjørn Brandenborg, telling Jyllands-Posten: “I do not see that we are going to propose converting the SU into a loan, but there is a need for an open discussion [about] alternative proposals.”

He also said that his doubt was informed by an analysis by the Rockwool Foundation (in 2018) titled “Pay-off of higher education: Benefits for the society and for the individual,” which found that despite the introduction of the SU in 1970 the level of social mobility is approximately the same today as it was in the mid-1940s.

In the discussion in 2021, Brian Mikkelsen from the Danish Chamber of Commerce said that “there is no evidence” that fewer Danes would take a masters degree if they were funded by a loan instead of a grant today.

Students welcome the statement

The statement by the minister has been met with enthusiasm by students.

“This is a rather clear statement from the responsible minister, and it sounds like the government does not intend to change this system, which is a more positive statement than we have heard before,” said Mike Gudbergsen, president of the National Union of Students in Denmark, which represents 165,000 students.