Editorial | School or education?

February 21st, 2013

This article is more than 10 years old.

Grant reform should encourage students not to dawdle, but it shouldn’t punish those using time to get a real-world education

Ask any job applicant in this country – particularly those who have just arrived here from abroad – and they’ll tell you that it isn’t just what you know, but who you know that lands you a job. 

While that axiom applies in just about any society, in this country it approaches the level of HR dogma. And for students at universities, vocational schools and other post-secondary schools, meeting professionals in their field is done, by and large, through study-related jobs and internships. 

For the fortunate few, these jobs and internships are paid, but for the vast majority, they are a part of the time-honoured tradition of offering free-labour in exchange for gaining valuable experience. Up to now, students have been able to continue to collect SU benefits when putting studies off in order to do unpaid work. 

That would change under the proposed reform. For those who have completed their studies and hold a job, or who managed to complete their studies abroad without a luxuriant state handout, the government’s proposed reform of the SU system is common sense. Young Danes take a long time to finish their studies, and encouraging them along would, the logic goes, make them available to work and pay taxes sooner. 

But seen from the student’s perspective, the prospect of starting a career without practical experience (the same practical experience that the higher education minister himself gained during the four-year gap in his own studies) must be worrying, given a society that emphasises on-the-job experience. Making matters worse is that today’s graduates will compete for jobs against applicants with decades of experience who find themselves unemployed – the victims of the poor economy. 

Employers, too, ought be in favour of giving students time to combine the newest theoretical learning with the practicalities of daily operations, both because it brings a fresh perspective to their business, but also because it results in better applicants.

As with any good university question, the solution is neither black nor white. Even with its merits, the reform is incomplete without a clause that would allow students to receive a form of internship payment from the state, equal to their SU rate, should they engage in legitimate activities that make them more attractive to employers upon graduation. 

The benefit, to a degree, defeats the purpose of the form, but in the grand scheme of things, paying a student benefit to someone seeking to improve their employability while they study is cheaper than paying them full unemployment benefits after they graduate without ever having learned anything about the way the real world works.


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