IDA's Key Issues

More international students

Denmark should invest in attracting and retaining international students in the Danish labour market. Learn more about IDA's opinions and recommendations regarding international students.

With declining youth cohorts and structural labour shortages in a number of areas for many years to come, it is deeply problematic that international students are kept out of Denmark based on a false notion that they - because of their access to SU - are an expense. On the contrary, a new analysis by Damvad for IDA reaffirms that international graduates are a very good business for Denmark.

The main points of Damvad's analysis are outlined below. It covers all international graduates from Danish universities in the period 2007-2016 and follows them for up to 13 years after they have completed their education. The analysis shows a  positive economic gain derived from international graduates - even when graduates who leave again after completing their studies are included. The analysis also shows that the contribution of international graduates to society has grown significantly in recent years due to an increase in the number of graduates, especially from the EU/EEA.

Based on the analysis, IDA concludes:

  • The more international graduates we get, the greater the profit. Therefore, existing obstacles should be removed so that more international graduates can be admitted. And new initiatives should be taken to attract and retain more.
  • Science and engineering graduates are consistently a better deal compared to all international graduates. At the same time, graduates in these particular fields are particularly in demand in the labour market. Therefore, all new initiatives should have a special focus on ensuring growth in this group.
  • Significantly higher societal benefits in recent years are driven by growth in EU/EEA student numbers. Although this group is more difficult to retain, this is offset by the fact that they can be attracted in greater numbers. Therefore, efforts to attract large numbers of EU/EEA students should continue, while efforts to retain them should be strengthened.
  • International graduates from third countries are better retained than EU/EEA graduates and make a greater contribution to society on average. Therefore more initiatives should be taken to increase the number of international students from third countries.

Main points of the analysis

  • Overall, international graduates have made a net contribution to the Danish economy of DKK 26.8 billion.
  • In a period of up to 13 years after graduation, an international graduate has on average contributed to the Danish economy with DKK 2 million through salary income, taxes, levies - and deducting the costs of SU, education, etc. This also includes those who have left immediately after graduation.
  • Graduates from technical and scientific educations are more likely to be retained and have higher incomes, and therefore consistently deliver a higher contribution to society on average than international graduates in general.
  • The number of international graduates has almost tripled in the period 2012-2016 compared to 2007-2011, with no negative impact of the high growth levels on the average graduate's employment rate or socio-economic contribution. Thus, graduates from 2012-2016 have delivered 10 billion more to the Danish economy over an eight-year period after graduation than the group from 2007-2011.
  • Growth in international graduates is driven by EU/EEA citizens. They have a higher employment rate than graduates from third countries. In contrast, retention is weaker for EU/EEA nationals compared to third country graduates.
  • Retention of international graduates has generally improved compared to. previous periods, and approx. 50 per cent stay in Denmark for the long term. After one year, 65% remain in Denmark; after eight years and more, retention stabilises at around 50%.

IDA recommends

Specifically, IDA believes that the analysis should be followed up by the following policy initiatives:

  • The cap on international student places should be abolished. As a minimum, it should be removed in IT, engineering and science programmes where there is a high demand for graduates.
  • New scholarships for students from outside the EU will be created and tailored to encourage more students to stay in Denmark and work after graduation, for example by covering the education costs of scholarship holders who subsequently find jobs in Denmark.
  • Working group across authorities, education institutions and social partners to propose ways to improve retention.


  • According to a forecast from 2021, in 2030 there will be a shortage of 13,000 with a master's degree in IT, technology and engineering – i.a. to implement the green transition. Enrollment in engineering programs must be increased by 8 per cent. per year to train 13,000 extra in 2035.
  • In 2035, there will be 49,000 fewer young people aged 18-25 than in 2021.
  • Politically, there is a cap on international student places, which means that universities are not allowed to increase the intake of international students. The cap has been in place since 2013. In the 2019 paper between the government and the parliamentary base it is expressed that the cap should be removed:"A new government will seek to retain international students educated in Denmark and remove the cap on English-language programmes", which however did not happen. In 2020, further restrictions came in, though targeting vocational academies and professional schools - but universities are still not allowed to increase the intake of international students.
  • Several universities report that they both can and would like to admit more international students in order to supply important labour to the Danish labour market.