Government does u-turn on SU stipends

Advisory board contends that slashing state-allocated student allowance could backfire

The minister for higher education, Morten Østergaard (Radikale), has for the first time admitted that the government’s forthcoming reform of the state-allocated student allowance, SU, will include cuts to the stipend itself.

Østergaard promised, however, that even with the cuts Denmark would still have the world’s most generous student stipend system. He offered no specifics on the cuts.

“The reform will consist of two components. We want to cut down on delays in students’ educations and we will address the areas of SU in which we are too generous,” Østergaard told Berlingske newspaper. “But it still won’t be the size of someone’s wallet that determines whether or not one gets an education in Denmark.”

The government indicated last year that it would look into generating savings of two billion kroner a year by moving students through their educations quicker. And although the government had previously rejected cutting into the SU stipend itself, it now seems prepared to cut SU in order to make the savings.

Opposition party Venstre and far-left party Enhedslisten have both accused the government of breaking its promise, while student organisations warn that cutting back on SU could result in negative consequences.

“This will significantly reduce equal access to the education,” Jakob L Ruggaard, the head of students' association Danske Studerendes Fællesråd, told Berlingske.

While Østergaard didn't offer specifics, Berlingske suggested that cutting parts of the SU could save up to one billion kroner, accounting for half of the government’s goal.

One of the areas that the government is expected to slash is the sixth year of availability for the SU stipend, an extra year which students can currently use to extend their education. It is a move that the government hopes will encourage students to finish their educations quicker and save the state money.

But disposing of the extra SU year won’t have the desired effect, the education ministry advisory board, SU-rådet, warned. 

“There are no indicators that show that removing the extra SU year will influence student activity. On the contrary, there will be more drop outs and there will be more youths from low-educated homes that decide against taking an education,” Per Andersen, head of SU-rådet, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Andersen is backed up by Preben Sørensen, the administration director at Aalborg University, who doesn’t think that the 600 million kroner that could be saved by cutting the extra year is worth it.

”It will mean more drop outs and extended study times, the opposite effect of what politicians want. Some will stop when they have their bachelor's degree, while others will turn to work, putting them further behind,” Sørensen told Jyllands-Posten.

Danske Studerendes Fællesråd was positive over the warnings from the advisory board.

“I am pleased that the news comes from the minister’s own experts. From today, at least, it is clear that if the government cuts the extra SU year, then it will be a political decision. And one that won’t save any money.” Ruggaard told Jyllands-Posten.