Students at a Danish University (Photo: by Wikicommons)
Currently, the Danish government offers stipends for students enrolled in higher education extending to a sixth year, one year beyond the necessary time. New reforms by the minister for higher education, Morten Østergaard, would reduce the student stipend and possibly the opportunity to extend studies an extra year.
Young Copenhagen students and recent graduates support eliminating the stipend for the sixth year of study. Students in Denmark are offered a generous stipend of DKK 5,662 a month, before tax, for students not living with their parents in order to attend university.
The stipend is intended to allow equal opportunity for higher education, but has become controversial as some students have taken advantage of it.
“At some point, it is too much because some people just exploit the stipend and take an extra year,” said Maje Tellefsem, 25, who is a French and International Relations student in Aahrus.
She feels it would be more reasonable to limit student’s education to five years, “especially considering the economic situation in Europe.”
However, Tellefsem’s friend views the stipend as crucial.
“I entered school studying law but then I switched to studying rhetoric and if I didn’t have the extra year then I would have to pay three to four months of tuition” said Mette Aøjen, a 25 year old recent graduate, who majored in arts and rhetoric.
The stipend is intended for students to live off, but Tellefsem said that is difficult.
“The money normally just barely covers housing and food. Nothing else,” she said, “Everyone has a student job. It would be impossible otherwise.”
Each year, the Danish government spends over 17 billion DKK on education and 300,000 Danes use this higher education funding, according to the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Educational Support. Any cuts made, would have a great impact on young Danes and the government’s pocketbook.
Rasmus Kempf, 27, is a recent graduate of University of Copenhagen. He used seven years to complete his studies, but still supports reductions to the stipend, depending on where students live.
“I think it’s alright to cut the stipend for those living at home but not for those living away on their own,” he said.
Right now, the stipend amount differs depending on whether you live at home or on your own. Students living with their families receive a smaller stipend.
Kempf studied for two years using this stipend, but then switched his area of study, spending an five more years concentrating on his other study. His family supported him financially during the last two years of his study. Despite his own use of the 6th year, Kempf supports cutting the 6th year funding.
For students who switch areas of studies and do not have supportive or wealthy parents, it is possible to take out a student loan that has a low rate. About half of all students make use of state loans, according to the Danish Agency for Higher Education and Educational Support
Tellesfsem took out a loan from the state for personal reasons.
“I borrowed money for my internships and so I could go travelling. It was my choice,” she said.
Because of the current economic crisis, many European governments are considering similar cuts. Malta, a southern European country, spends 20% of their government funds for higher education on student stipends and is reconsidering the necessity for these stipends. Stipends allow students from lower income backgrounds the opportunity for higher education, but the costs to the state may be too high to sustain in countries like Malta and Denmark.
While the solution to students overusing the educational stipend may be not be clear, Kempf agreed that the Danish government needs to make something happen.
“Well, I think they definitely need to change something based on their financial situation.”