Foreign Attraction

(May 9th, 2014) Copenhagen, Aarhus or Odense – ever thought about working in Denmark? To increase the number of highly qualified university graduates, the Danish government has started to give out some appetising treats. But will this bait really lure the best talents?





“We want you!” This catchphrase that the US army famously used to recruit soldiers for their WWI campaign is now widely heard across Europe. But it’s not soldiers European governments are after but highly qualified foreign workers, especially for the academic sector. The Danish government recently announced plans to lure more foreigners to the North and, even more importantly, make them stay. Their calculation is simple: Retaining 1,000 foreign experts in Denmark is estimated to create up to 1,500 additional jobs, also for Danes.

How do they want to achieve this? First of all, employing foreign experts will be made easier and faster for companies. This includes, simplifying and accelerating the complicated registration process that, until now, can take months. A second pillar is financial benefits. Scandinavian countries are infamous for their incredibly high taxes. The Danish government, thus, said it will lower the minimum salary requirement for the special flat rate tax from DKK 70,600 (€ 9,460) to DKK 60,600 (€ 8,120) a month. Foreign experts earning more than this only have to pay 32% of total taxes, instead of up to 52 % according to the regular income taxation. Additionally, the government wants to monitor and control the salaries of foreigners better.

In academia, international PhD and Master students will be encouraged to apply with Danish companies or universities. And a new grant system for non-European students will be installed, since they, in contrast to European students, must pay tuition fees. The grants will free the students from the fees and provide them with about €1,200 per month, enough to cover the costs of living in the expensive country.

However, foreign European students can not apply. This sharpens a latent problem: Danish students are supported by the State Educational Grant and Loan Scheme (SU), granting each student €750 per month, unconditionally. Foreign European students, once again, come away empty-handed. Understandably, many students feel unfairly treated. To make matters worse, often European students, studying abroad, are disregarded by their home country as well, manoeuvring themselves into a gap between the support systems of two countries. Therefore, Europe needs to get its act together and fill the gaps.

Denmark's recently approved action plan is part of an ongoing movement towards greater internationalisation in academia. Although, the country increased its foreign student number by 11% in 2012, they still make up only 9% of all students. That’s far too few and so, Denmark decided to send out Youth Goodwill Ambassadors to more than 60 countries to spread the word that foreigners are more than welcome. The Ambassadors are international students, who want to promote Denmark in their own home country and inspire others to study in Denmark. Just recently, they handed ten recommendations on how to attract, support and retain international talent to the Danish government. Funnily, none of these recommendations involves money – so, obviously promising more money by lowering taxes does not exactly hit the right spot. Furthermore, they say, “Of the 350 Youth Goodwill Ambassadors, 68% rated work-life balance as the primary reason that they will pursue a career in Denmark.” However, this is not on the governmental agenda either. And, many foreign talents consider starting their own business and thus, wish for more support for entrepreneurs.

One of them is Akhil Sasidharan Pillai from India, who is studying Business Administration and Bioentrepreneurship at the University of Copenhagen. Akhil was first allured to the country through the university’s unique study programme and simply could not resist changing residence.

After finishing his studies, he can stay in the country for up to six months, to find a job through the numerous governmental platforms. But there’s a problem, “Basically, there is a gap between what the government offers and what the companies want. They want more competitive people but in the current programmes, everyone with a Master degree can come to Denmark. But then they don't find an adequate job and end up with cleaning or something.“ So, it is not only about getting experts into the country, it is also about getting the right ones for the right jobs. However, Akhil is optimistic and when I asked him, what he thinks he provides to the country, he says, “It is the complete package: Different education, different background, and when I come here and interact with people, obviously we learn from each other.”

Here, his opinion matches 100% with the other side - the employers. One example of a very successful group with an international approach is the lab of Anja Groth at the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre in Copenhagen. Besides her, there is only one Dane in the team, the other scientists hail from China, Japan, Spain, Italy, Slovakia, Germany, Norway, Greece, Austria and France. “Different people complement each other by thinking differently and by looking at a problem from distinct angles. Of course, also cultural and educational differences contribute to this variety, and we want that,” Anja explains. She also thinks that diversity encourages people to stand up and express a different opinion. “Especially in Denmark, we tend to stand all in one line; no one dares to step out. But if everyone is different anyway, it is much easier to show your own position.” And this, in her opinion, contributes to creativity and inventiveness.

And there are more advantages of a multi-cultural environment, finds Biology student, Mira Willkan. “I think young scientists mainly benefit from the creation of an international community. This community does not necessarily have to be located in Denmark but, of course, it makes it easier to get involved as a Dane.” So, going out into the world implies inviting the world into your country. And not only scientists want to spread; also companies want to expand and explore foreign markets. Here, people like Akhil can build bridges, “With my background, I can help companies to move into the Asian markets and through this, strengthen the Danish economy.”

Attracting foreign talents seems to have only advantages: more creative and productive groups, more jobs created by ambitious entrepreneurs with unique talents. Whether the proposed governmental action plan and the goodwill of Youth Ambassadors will really help to raise the number of foreign experts remains to be seen.

Karin Lauschke

Photo: Fotolia/tashatuvango




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