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INTERVIEW: President of Danish national union of students, Torben Holm

COPENHAGEN – As Denmark currently holds the rotating EU Presidency and the 23rd European Students’ Convention is jointly organised with the Danish national union of students DSF, ESU made an interview with the new president of DSF, Torben Holm. 

– What are the main issues for students in Denmark at the moment?

Our main priorities for the coming year in DSF is to work for a new way of financing higher education, for democracy in the universities, and against tuition fees. Apart from these priorities, the public debates circles around the financial situation of students and their possibilities of getting a job after their studies.

– What do you think the Danish EU Presidency will aim for when it comes to higher education?
The Danish EU presidency will be negotiating a lot of the Erasmus for All-content. The minister of higher educations ambition is to work for an employability benchmark, for further recognition of non-formal and informal learning and for better recognition of prior learning. These are the formal priorities of the ministry. At the same time there as been a lot of focus from the minister of the importance of Danish students doing exchanges at universities abroad.

– What do you think about student mobility in the EU?
The Erasmus program has proven to be very useful for students who wish to study abroad. This is a good example of how a long-lasting student demand can create a real opportunity for many students. We still believe that there is a lot of room for improvements when it come to the Erasmus program and in general when it comes to the recognition of international learning experiences.

– What’s your take on the internationalisation of higher education?
We think it is important for students to get the opportunity to study abroad. We believe it is crucial for a good education to know your surroundings and be able to navigate in different kinds of study environments. We welcome all initiatives to make studying abroad easier for both Danish and European students.

– How many students in Denmark are going abroad for their studies?
Approximately 9000 students which is around 5 percent of the student body, this includes both students doing a semester exchange and students doing a full degree abroad. These numbers frame 2008/2009.

– Do you see change in the government direction after the elections last year?
With a new government we feel that the expectations of Danish studies and students has become bigger. They have shown a greater interest in students, universities and study environments than the former government and have given a lot of promises. Now we just await the fulfilling of all the good intentions.

– What do you expect from ESU in the upcoming year?
With the EU presidency and the upcoming European Student Convention (17 to 20 March) we are already now having a much closer relationship with ESU than before. It is hard and challenging work, but at the same time we already see good results of our cooperation. DSF can push the national agendas in the same direction as ESU does on a international level. This gives us better ground for lobbying, both for DSF and for ESU as well, I hope.

– In which way do you see the so-called political and financial crisis affecting Danish students?
The financial crisis affects us very clearly in two ways: cuts in the public budget for education and a high rate of graduate un-employability.

Denmark is often seen as a model country, anything from thinking green to flexicurity to good education and training that is well connected to the labour market. What do you think when you hear or see such descriptions of Denmark?
The Danish society and the welfare state has been created by many generations hard work and strong courage. Yet the only reason that we for example still have no private universities is that the student movement keeps pushing for improvements. Things are not as perfect as it often is presented. A strong example of this is the fact that if your parents have a higher education degree there is a 5 times bigger chance of you also getting one, than if your parents only have basic education. This number has not improved the last 20 years.– How do you see mergers of universities affecting higher education in Denmark?
Generally, the mergers seem to have lead to increased regimentation or harmonization between educations and institutions. This has boths its advantages and disadvantages – among the latter, many students experience an increased distance between themselves and the decision makers within the education institutions.

– Do you think the Danish higher education institutions are student-centred?
To a certain degree, the universities still see themselves as primarily research institutions rather than education institution. This reflects on the priorities made financially and by the managers and staff.


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