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Denmark – reverting on internationalisation?

In parallel to growing skepticism in the Netherlands about the blessings of English-medium instruction, Denmark’s ministry of higher education has announced substantial cuts in the number of places on English-taught programmes. Like the Netherlands, Denmark is one of the leaders of this type of provision in Europe. In a press release entitled “More international students should stay on and work in Denmark”, the Minister announced a cut of 1,000 places for foreign students principally in engineering and technology at six Danish universities, which follows on to a cut of 1,700 in the college sector last year ( see ACA Newsletter-Education Europe, April 2017).  
According to Education Minister Ahlers, the reasons behind the move are not at all of an anti-international nature. Ahlers argues with the cost for the Danish taxpayer of educating foreign nationals. Only one third of all foreign students stay on for three or more years after graduation. 26% leave the country within three months of obtaining their degree and further 38% within a period of 21 months. Most foreign students therefore cost Denmark more than they contribute to the country’s economy, because they do not stay on and work in Denmark. As Minister Ahlers is quoted in University World News: “We cannot fulfill the obligations of other countries”.  New English-taught programmes would therefore only be allowed if the university can demonstrate that the graduates are likely to successfully seek employment in Demark upon graduation. 
The Ministers’ announcement received mixed responses. While there was a certain degree of understanding, many missed helpful proposals how universities could recruit students more likely to stay and work in Hamlet’s country.  The University of Copenhagen stressed that it was already engaged with the employers to find positions for international graduates in the country. In fact, like many highly developed economies, Denmark is short of engineers, and IT and physics graduates, to name only some disciplines. The chair of the committee for education and research at the Danish Society of Engineers, Sara Grex, argues that by 2025 there will be a shortfall of 15,000 natural science and engineer graduates.  It is also being pointed out that Denmark introduced fees for non-EU students earlier than any of its Nordic neighbours, and that those are quite high by continental European standards.  

The calculation of the costs and benefits from the study of foreign nationals is anyway not a straightforward matter. We would like to remind readers of a Dutch study some years ago, which found that the expendidure of foreign students while in The Netherlands outweighed the costs of their education. And who knows how foreign graduates from Danish higher education who have left the country still provide advantages for the Danish economy ‘from a distance’. By buying machine tools, or by simply acting as a ‘Danish ambassadors’ abroad. Many years ago, Germany’s DAAD, an ACA member, found that amongst their former scholarship holders, there were hundreds of alumni of German universities who made it to the rank of a government minister or the President of a country. We wonder how this comes into the calculations of the Danish government. 

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