Jan Petter Myklebust: Denmark: Fees part of broader reforms

Jan Petter Myklebust: Denmark: Fees part of broader reforms

Tuition fees for foreign students from outside the European Union and the European Economic Area were introduced in 2006 and form part of a broader globalisation strategy for Danish universities as well as a desire to strengthen market mechanisms in higher education.

The number of foreign students in full degree programmes and student exchanges had grown significantly in the first years of the new millennium. The number of full degree students grew by 141% in just six years, while the number of exchange students went up by 80% in the same period.

But after the introduction of tuition fees, the number of new full degree students from outside the EU fell from 1,366 to 753 in two years while the percentage of exchange students grew by 11% The total number of foreign students in Denmark reached an all-time high of 15,262 students in the academic year 2007/2008.

Until 2006, universities were strictly government-funded, receiving a negotiated fee per registered student regardless of their nationality. The situation was the same in Sweden and on paper it made these two countries a very attractive target for non-EU students. In practice the language barrier and very high costs of living limited the influx of foreigners.

Universities are now encouraged to set fees for non-EU students at or above the level of government support for fully funded students. No upper limit is set, but universities no longer receive public funds for these students.

The processes that govern tuition fee setting and the availability of scholarships are not transparent. Prospective students thinking of studying in Denmark have to do their homework because conditions are prone to change quite abruptly. It may, however, still be more attractive to study in Denmark as elite universities in the US and the UK typically charge considerably higher tuition fees.

The language barrier has become less of an issue as today there are more than 100 masters programmes taught fully or partly in English and some attractive cross-scientific degrees. The cost of living, however, is still high.

The normal annual fee for such programmes is around EUR6,000 per year but fees can go up to as much as EUR24,000 for experimental clinical subjects.

One priority for the government is to have foreign students to remain in Denmark after graduation. Today, less than 30% of foreign students still live in Denmark one year after graduation.

University World News asked Danish Science Minister Helge Sander if he was satisfied with the introduction of tuition fees for foreign students.

"We feared that with free education also for students coming to Denmark from outside Europe, the Danish universities would risk being flooded by non-EU/EEA citizens and that this would put a massive strain on the state educational expenses," Sander replied.

"But although Denmark introduced tuition fees, we secured the opportunity of studying for free in Denmark for highly qualified students by introducing a scholarship scheme. Through the funding for this scheme, the Danish state can control expenses associated with educating foreign students in Denmark."

Sander said that about the same time as tuition fees were introduced, the government had initiated a major national initiative to promote the country as an attractive study and career destination for international students. The national campaign, which started in 2007, helped ensure Denmark continued to attract highly qualified international students from all over the world, despite the introduction of fees.

"So yes, I see the introduction of tuition fees for students from countries outside the EU and EEA as successful. In fact, I can tell you that Sweden right now is also considering the introduction of tuition fees and for that purpose they are looking at our Danish model," he said.

Integrating the issue of tuition fees with a new privatisation drive, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation has proposed an arrangement where private companies pay foreign students a salary during their studies while the government covers the tuition fees. Students participating in this scheme will then have to commit themselves to work in the Danish company for at least two years after graduation.

University World News, 24/01/10