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More international graduates must stay and work in Denmark

August 28, 2018
It makes good business sense for Denmark when international students stay in Denmark and work here after graduation. But a study shows that 4 out of 10 leave the country as soon as they have their graduation papers in hand.

Denmark has become an attractive country to pursue higher level education. In 2004, there were approx. 7,500 international students on English-language programmes in Denmark. In 2016, there were approx. 22,100.

Some programmes saw large retention rates of international students after graduation, where they found jobs in Denmark. But a new study from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science shows that there are also programmes where the majority of international graduates return home.

For example, 42 per cent of graduates from English-language Master’s programmes have left Denmark within 2 years of completing their studies. Only about a third remain in the Danish workforce after 2 years.

These students’ education is funded by the Danish taxpayer and about half of them receive SU grants during part, or all, of their studies. However, not enough of them are using their education in the Danish labour market afterwards, and therefore represent a large cost to Danish society, as they are educated for the benefit of labour markets in other countries. 

Therefore, Minister for Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers, in close cooperation with the educational institutions, will adjust the number of places on Master’s and Bachelor of Engineering education programmes, where many international graduates return home and therefore do not contribute to the Danish labour market. Meanwhile, the minister will also contact the institutions to discover what initiatives they have in place, and intend to introduce, to ensure more students stay in Denmark following graduation and transfer to the Danish labour market.

- International students bring a lot to Denmark. They expand the horizons of Danish students and introduce an international aspect to the work being done in Danish companies. It is important that many international students also represent a highly qualified workforce for Denmark. But we cannot solve the educational responsibilities of other countries. Therefore, we must do more to ensure that talented international students stay and work here following graduation, and we must adjust the number of places of programmes where we see many graduates return home, says Tommy Ahlers.

The Government will also implement several initiatives to improve the quality of English-language programmes. These include examining whether new programmes being introduced by institutions are relevant for the Danish labour market. The English-language programmes will also be a theme of the minister’s ongoing dialogue with institutions.

The number of places on English-language university and Bachelor of Engineering education programmes will be reduced by a total of approx. 1000-1200. The specifics will be determined in cooperation with the educational institutions. Six out of the eight Danish universities will see a reduction in places.

In 2017, the then Minister for Higher Education and Science decided to reduce available places on selected programmes and university colleges and business academies.  The institutions have reduced the number of available places on study programmes by almost 28 per cent compared to 2015 – a reduction of 1700 places.

Fact box: International students’ economic contribution to Denmark

  • Of the international students who complete a whole education programme in Denmark, graduates from university Master’s programmes are the group that contributes most to the Danish economy.
  • Overall, it is estimated that international students from all higher education programmes contribute between DKK 100,000 and 350,000 per student on average to the public finances in their lifetime.
  • There is significant variation because approximately half of international students have left Denmark five years after they begin their studies, and it is first after nine years (from beginning their studies) that international students on average have earned back their costs.  
  • Only one out of three international students contribute positively to the public finances in their lifetime. Two out of three are estimated to be an expense for Denmark.

Fact box: English-language students in Denmark

  • The number of English-language students has increased from 7,500 in 2004 to approx. 22,100 across all higher education programmes.
  • When measured by type of education, the greatest number of English-language students in 2016 were found on university Master’s programmes with 9919 students.
  • The greatest percentage of English-language students in 2016 were enrolled on top-up professional Bachelor’s programmes, corresponding to 32 per cent of all students.
  • The greatest percentage of English-language graduates who left Denmark, were from ordinary Professional Bachelor’s programmes, where an average of 50 per cent had left Denmark within two years of graduation. About 36 per cent of English-language graduates from these programmes had studied a Bachelor of Engineering.'

For further information, please contact:

Ministry of Higher Education and Science: Media enquiries, tel: +45 7231 8181
Head of Division Annemarie Falktoft, tel: +457231 8016, email: anfa@ufm.dk


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