Business moots new plan to attract international students

The two largest commercial and industrial organisations in Denmark – the Chamber of Commerce which has 18,000 members and the Confederation of Danish Industry with a membership of 19,000 companies – have asked the Danish government to open the door to an extra 1,000 international masters students per year until 2030 in order to increase the size of the country’s skilled workforce.

In a press release on 19 August, the organisations announced they had proposed to the Danish parliament the establishment of a working group to devise a plan to accept an additional 1,000 international students each year until 2030, an initiative, they claimed, would produce a societal value of up to DKK400 million (US$53 million) each year and increase the workforce by approximately 3,500 persons by 2030.

The motivation behind the proposal is Denmark’s shortage of highly educated people in a long list of work areas, including information technology and other technological fields.

With smaller cohorts of graduates coming through the system, it is expected that certain areas of work will have difficulties recruiting people with the required skills.

The proposal follows the government’s scrapping of approximately 3,900 places in English-taught university courses, primarily in business and professional disciplines in 2021, and the reduction in 2018 of between 1,000 and 1,200 places allocated to foreign students in masters and bachelor of engineering degree programmes – with both cuts geared towards reducing the state student grant (SU) bill.

Knife-edge competition

“We are in a knife-edge competition with the rest of the world in attracting youth with these qualifications. Businesses are in need of them. We already lack experts in many fields, so we must do something extraordinary to attract them,” said Mads Eriksen Storm, head of education and research at the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

“If we sit idle with our hands in our lap, then others will benefit from these talents. That is bad for Danish businesses and what is bad for Danish businesses is bad for Denmark,” he said.

The Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Chamber of Commerce are proposing the establishment of 1,000 new university study places for international masters and business-related masters degree students.

According to the proposal, the degrees will be taught in English at universities and business academies.

The degrees will be strongly geared towards the needs of the Danish workforce and will give Danish businesses greater recruitment options. It is anticipated that each student will enter into an agreement with a future employer either before their study course commences, or during the course of their study in Denmark.

According to the proposal, once working, the graduates will contribute significantly to state funding through income tax which will offset the cost of their education via the Danish SU (governmental student funding) over a period of five to 10 years.

It notes that the initiative offers a solution to the present barriers to students from countries such as the United States, Canada, India and others that will be among countries targeted by the campaign.

Widespread support

Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark, told University World News that his organisation supported the proposal.

“Danish companies need talent, and this proposal is a brilliant idea that we hope politicians will listen to.

“The payoff to society and industry is significant. We need more, not fewer, international students in Denmark. And we have to get rid of the limitations and barriers that exist today to offer education programmes taught in English and thereby attract international talent to Danish universities.”

Anders Buch, director at the Research Center for Quality of Education, Profession Policy and Practice at VIA University College, agreed it was a good idea, but said it was also important to include undergraduate students.

“This sounds like a good initiative. However, it is important that it does not only prioritise advanced masters-level studies. It should also include English-taught bachelors programmes in engineering.”

Mikkel Haarder, deputy director of the Confederation of Danish Industry, was keen to widen the net even further.

“We also have strong and innovative businesses, according to international standards, for instance, within life-sciences, food, and the green economy. These are contributing enormously to our society, and it will therefore be a great benefit for all of us if they get better access to the international students they dearly need … Danish companies are ready to accept international students. Now we are only lacking a green light from the parliament,” he said.

President of the National Union of Students in Denmark (DSF) Julie Lindemann said the DSF “fully endorses” the initiative. She said the 2022 intake of students had been a disappointment for those “rooting for more international students and a diverse student environment in Denmark.

“Denmark is too small a country to insulate itself and we need … more international students in the future. Not only for the quality of our education but also for our study environment and the future of the Danish workforce. DSF therefore fully endorses this initiative by [the Confederation of] Danish Industry and the Danish Chamber of Commerce.”

The challenge of retention

In a press release from Copenhagen Capacity, an organisation working to retain international students in Denmark, CEO Asbjørn Overgaard said he was missing any guidance in the proposal on how to retain international students in Denmark upon graduation.

“Copenhagen Capacity sees it as a really good and needed proposal for meeting Denmark’s challenges around attracting highly talented workers in the future,” he said.

“I am glad the DI/DE [Confederation of Danish Industry and Danish Chamber of Commerce] are working together on this proposal because we are in dire need for more talented international students in Denmark, but I do not see any suggestion on how we retain them here upon graduation. Our experiences show that the limited network they have access to, and lack of knowledge about the working culture in Denmark, are barriers to their staying here for work,” he said.

Asked if he is optimistic that parliament would accept the proposal, Eriksen Storm said: “I am optimistic since we have received positive declarations from both the education institutions and from the minister of education and research.”