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Building stronger Universities

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the launch of a new scholarship program under "Building Stronger Universities" initiative the 25th of Februar 2013 at University of Copenhagen.

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Thank you to the Chairman of the Danish Rectors’ Conference and Universities Denmark for the invitation. This is a great day.

And I am very pleased to be here. I am pleased to be able to stand here next to my fellow minister for development cooperation in order to launch the new Building Stronger Universities scholarship programme. A new programme launched in cooperation between the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Universities Denmark.

It is a programme that will provide talented students from Tanzania, Kenya, Nepal, Ghana and Uganda with the opportunity to obtain a master's degree from a Danish university. And build stronger ties between young people in Africa, Asia and Denmark.

A Danish company in Africa

The launch of the new Building Stronger Universities scholarship programme – in short BSU scholarship – is indeed worth celebrating.

But let me start by telling a short story about a Danish company selling cold air in Africa. The Danish company Unicool, which specialises in installing air conditioning facilities, have in a few years succeeded in building branches in both Kenya and Tanzania employing local staff.

According to the company’s CEO, the secret to their success lies in the fact that Unicool offers their customers not only installation but also maintenance and reparation of the cooling system. And this is carried out by the local technicians employed by Unicool. Many of their competitors – also companies from other countries – only offered installation of the equipment and left the country afterwards.

Unicool offered specialised training to the local staff. Some of the training took place in Denmark in order to ensure detailed knowledge of the technical components. The lack of highly skilled persons on the labour market of these countries could have posed a challenge to the company’s business concept. But solid investment during the first two-three years in educating the local staff proved more than worthwhile.

Today, the company have many times doubled their turnover and contributes to job creation in both Denmark, Tanzania and Kenya. The success of Unicool came about after the CEO of the company had participated in a business delegation to Tanzania set up by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Confederation of Danish Industry.

I think it is just as likely that that the BSU scholarship programme in the long run will lead to business adventures like Unicool. Students from Tanzania, Kenya, Nepal, Ghana and Uganda coming to study in Denmark may well be returning to their home countries and contribute to developing new solutions: Whether it is capacity building of the public sector, inventing sustainable solutions within climate or innovative solutions to tackle health issues.

Student mobility builds stronger ties between people and countries. And will benefit society.

We have to increase the student mobility

Today too few students from Africa and Nepal study at Danish universities. And too few Danish students go the other way. During the year of 2010/11, only 116 students from Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Nepal studied a full master’s degree at one of the eight Danish universities. And yet, even fewer Danish students spent part of their studies in these countries – a mere 66 Danes to be exact.

The introduction of the new scholarship programme has set out to change this. In a few years, the increase of students from Danida priority countries will rise by almost 50 per cent.

I welcome this increase. Denmark is an open country. The Danish Government believes in the opportunities provided by globalisation and internationalisation. The BSU scholarship is important for three main reasons:

  • The scholarships will provide talented students with an opportunity to acquire skills, knowledge and competences that they would otherwise not be able to obtain in their home country.
  • The scholarships will contribute to capacity building of institutions and governance structures to benefit growth and sustainability of their home countries.
  • And the scholarships and its students will also contribute to the internationalisation of higher educa-tion institutions in Denmark.

We need these kinds of programmes if we are to achieve strong, international learning environments at the Danish Universities. An environment where domestic and international students and researchers interact and cooperate disregarding cultural and linguistic differences.

The students who will receive a BSU scholarship can teach us a tremendous deal while they study here.

  • They will raise awareness of other cultures and ways of doing things among Danish students.
  • They will pass on the wish to gain an international learning experience to their Danish peers.
  • And they will strengthen the Danish learning environments.

The bonds formed between Danish and the international students enrolled in the programme, between the international students, teachers and researchers can turn out to become lasting professional networks. And perhaps even foster new, strategic cooperation agreements.

It is essential to a small economy, like ours, that we ex-pand our businesses and relations to African and Asian economies because it will benefit both parties in the future. And this applies equally to economic, social and cultural relations.

The importance of the scholarships is moreover under-lined by the fact that they are offered to studies within areas that address some of the major global challenges today: climate issues, health issues, democracy and human rights as well as growth and employment. Areas with global challenges that calls for global solutions.

Globalisation means opportunities.

In the near future, I will launch a strategy that sets out to strengthen the internationalisation of our higher education system. It is my ambition that we create the best possible framework that enables our students and higher education institutions to navigate in a global world.

The strategy will address how we get more students to seek experiences abroad and how we attract talented students to Danish higher education institutions. Mobility of students is the keyword here.

But the strategy will also concentrate on how we are to achieve strong international learning environments and how we assure better competences in foreign languages. Globalisation means opportunities.

It is crucial that we seek more interaction with the world. Not less. It is when meeting other languages and cultures that we, and the Danish students, become more knowledgeable about the world around us and about ourselves. We increase our insight through global outlook.

Building stronger Universities and the scholarship programme also support these ambitions. I hope and believe that the BSU scholarships will strengthen the interaction and dialogue between Denmark and the countries involved.

And that this dialogue will develop into a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership between universities and research institutions in developing countries and Denmark.

Thank you.

last modified Feb 26, 2013