December 6, 2023

The Prepared for the Future I plan includes ambitious cuts to some master’s degrees, a gradual increase in places in English-language programs, and a restructuring of SU’s international student loan budget.

The previous Danish government introduced caps on foreign student spending in 2021. Students have expressed concern that cuts to English-taught programs to control rising national financial aid spending in Denmark will prevent them from graduating.

The new proposal will increase the number of English language places by 1,100 between 2024 and 2028, with a total of 2,500 expected to be made available by 2029. It will also gradually increase vocational training places to 5,000, in which students work part-time in target industries during studies.

The government also hopes to open up new avenues for international students to get post-graduation jobs in areas that need a more skilled workforce.

The current plans, which are the subject of political debate, will be implemented as early as next year, but will not be fully implemented until 2029.

However, stakeholders warned that the proposals still ignore the fact that “international students are a huge gain for Denmark”.

Post-graduation employment rights for specific industries is something that the IDA trade union has campaigned for in the country.

However, Aske Nydam Guldberg, who is the executive director of IDA, said this PIE News that plan should be taken with a grain of salt.

“They have good ambitions to increase both the number of English language programs, specifically on business degrees, but there are some other regulations that make it a bit more complicated,” said Guldberg.

“It will certainly help, but it’s also a political ambition, the details of which are not yet known to make it a reality and make a real difference,” he noted.

After the general election at the end of 2022, the new coalition government quickly announced the plan – however, a shortened master’s degree in particular as a way to free up the SU budget is not a viable option, according to Danish universities.

“I think the government has to deal with it in a fundamentally different way,” Jesper Langergaard, head of communications at Danish universities, told The PIE.

“International students provide a huge financial surplus, more than enough to pay for any increase in the SU budget – so the government needs to approach this differently.

“The reduction of master’s programs cannot be to the extent proposed by the government, which would greatly damage the Danish economy and society,” continued Langergaard.

It was not specified which programs exactly would be cut, but the humanities and social sciences are expected to be the first to undergo the overhaul. The announcement also said the new trading rates would be “flexible”.

Other “highly specialized” masters will be extended to two and a half or three years. As the government has also said that shortened master’s programs will be targeted at sectors facing labor shortages, it is unclear what will be implemented where at this time.

The maximum amount of the SU budget proposed by the government will be set at DKK 468 million.

It suggests that a shortened master’s degree will reduce spending on international students from 450 million crowns in 2024 to 380 million by 2030.

SU’s proposed budget forecast with the new abbreviated master’s (top) and English language program increase forecast (bottom).

Allocation of 250 million for new master’s degrees and another 100 million for foreign students specifically, the government says that enough money will be released in the budget to alleviate the debt.

However, Guldberg criticized the tactic, saying that shortening master’s degrees was “not worth the trade-off” and agreed with Langergaard’s assessment of the student’s international value.

“This focus on student loan debt is completely misunderstood. Foreign students who come to Denmark on average return more than two million crowns over a period of eight years to Danish society.

“If you ask any potential investor, ‘do you want to invest?’ and then just tell them the cost of investing and don’t tell them all the profits from it, of course it will sound like a bad investment,” Guldberg explained.

The chairman of the Danish Students’ Joint Council also criticized the shortened master’s degree, questioning whether students could “learn everything in half the time”. Others criticized the moves as simply a “cost-cutting tactic”.

“International students broaden the perspective of national students and enrich the academic environment and our education in many ways, however political interference is of course a complicating factor and something universities are wary of,” said Langergaard.

“Given that almost all international students come directly to the two-year Master’s program and more than a third of them are employed in Denmark immediately afterwards, this is a relatively quick and cheap way to increase the workforce and could therefore play a key part in reducing scarcity.”

Guldberg emphasized that the fastest way to get more international students into the workforce would be to remove the budget cap.

“There is an inter-parliamentary agreement on student allowances, but everyone needs to be involved in unlocking it, especially in STEM.

“They haven’t challenged the fundamental problem – and they still haven’t opened up to accept the reality that foreign students are a huge asset to Denmark,” he said.

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