New report documents net value of international students

Stakeholders hope that a new report, showing that the socio-economic contributions of international students who graduate and stay on to work in Denmark far outweigh the money spent by government to support their studies, will be taken on board by political parties currently negotiating a new government.

The Danish Society of Engineers’ (IDA’s) report Value of International Graduates for the Economy: With focus on technology and natural science graduates, conducted by DAMVAD Analytics, analysed the economic contributions of nearly 20,000 graduates between 2007 and 2016.

Based on public administrative data from Statistics Denmark, it found that non-Danish students who stayed on in Denmark for at least nine months after graduating contributed a total amount of DKK26.4 billion (US$3.7 billion) to the country, which amounts to DKK2 million for each international graduate after all costs for education, health, state educational grants (SU) and social benefits are deducted.

Calls to reverse English-taught course cuts

The findings of the cost-benefits analysis have led to calls for political parties, currently negotiating the formation of a government in the wake of 1 November elections, to reverse the 2020-21 cuts to English-taught study programmes.

“Scrap the limit over the number of international students,” former head of Universities Denmark Anders O Bjarklev stated via Twitter. “International students are not a burden; remove the barriers,” he stated (with the number of international students having been cut by 3,900 in 2021-22).

In a Linkedin video clip, Aske Nydam Guldberg, the acting head of IDA, which has 140,000 members, said: “Now we have it in black and white: Foreign students are a huge gain for the Danish economy … When our youth cohorts are getting smaller and the business community is short of manpower, it makes NO sense to cut back on and cap the number of international students.”

Damvad Analytics’ Asbjørn Boye Knudsen, the author of the report, told University World News: “We find that international students are a significant contributor to the Danish economy and that the cost for education and SU are minor in comparison to the benefits. We hope that the report will give some perspectives to the ongoing debate.”

Political negotiations

The intervention from IDA in the form of the report, together with several newspaper articles and social media posts, seem poised to have a potential impact upon the complex negotiations around the establishment of the new government.

Former prime minister Mette Frederiksen, who led a social democratic minority government from 2019 to 2022 with the support of the Liberal Party and the Socialist People’s Party, is now trying to establish a government with other parties in parliament, including the right-wing Danish People’s Party, which means that Denmark might have a “red-blue” majority government.

On 23 November, the Red-Green alliance and The Alternative announced they had left the government negotiations, leaving the following parties to negotiate: the Liberals, the Moderates, the Socialist People’s Party (Green Left), the Liberal Alliance, Conservatives, Radical Liberals and the Danish People’s Party. Frederiksen said that negotiations still might take some weeks.

The Danish People’s Party, which has been eager to limit the number of students from the European Union that receive Danish study support, lost 11 seats in the parliament and now has only five, while the new right-wing party the Denmark Democrats landed 14 seats, which makes it difficult to make predictions on the question of Danish student funding for EU migrant students.

A broad-based government might be more open to the needs of the Danish industry and business which are now pushing to scrap the funding cuts for students from the European Union implemented in 2013 and which have led to the present decline in the international student numbers that is now starting to hurt the Danish industry.

While Universities Denmark published a report in 2019 highlighting the high economic benefits of graduating international students and having them stay on in Denmark, the latest DAMVAD report draws on a much larger number of international students and over a longer time-period.

More graduates are needed

According to Guldberg, analysis shows that Denmark will be short of 13,000 graduates in technology, engineering and IT by 2030.

“This will demand a much higher intake of students in these fields but that is not realistic with the fall in Danish youth cohorts,” he said, adding that it is evident that the limitations on international students has to be stopped in the coming governmental platform, or at least suspended for academic fields in huge demand.

Camilla Gregersen, president of the Danish Association of masters and PhDs (with 43,000 members) and deputy president of the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (with 464,000 members), told University World News that more international students are “part of the solution to future challenges in the Danish labour market”.

“Foreign students give a profit – even when you include the expenses connected with having foreign students in the country. They give a surplus of billions in the state treasury in the long term. This is already the case today, when slightly more than one in three foreign university students choose to stay in Denmark after completing their education.

“If we want to create knowledge and research at the highest level, international students are necessary … Therefore, we encourage our politicians to open [the country] to more foreign students. Not the opposite.”

Mads Eriksen Storm, director of research and education at the Danish Chamber of Commerce, told University World News he hoped that the government will look at the latest analysis “and make it possible for more young people to come and study and work”.

Julie Lindmann, chair of the National Union of Students in Denmark (DSF), said international students ensure strong study environments with an international outlook at Danish universities.

“In Denmark, we should focus more on the positives of international students choosing the Danish universities as a place of education. This proves that we have international-class education. The universities are already making a significant effort to get the international students to choose to stay in Denmark when they stand with their diploma in hand.”