The writing’s on the wall for free Danish lessons

Proposed national tax cuts spell disaster for newcomers wanting to learn Danish for free. The International investigates.

In a bold move the government in February reached an agreement with the Danish People’s Party that will see the country’s tax income slashed by billions. Amongst the measures the government intends taking to make up for the shortfall is a tightening-up on social welfare laws for foreigners. This includes a clamp-down on unemployment support for expats living in Denmark and the highly contentious end to free Danish lessons for foreigners.

No more free Danish lessons
“The recent tax agreement between the government and their supporting party, the Danish People’s Party will require self-supporting foreigners to pay 12,000 DKK to learn Danish. The new user fees are not the first time that tighter rules have been imposed on this particular group of foreigners,” says a statement issued by The Copenhagen Language Center, who is concerned that this will have implications for integration and retention of foreign talent. Lars Skov, Principal of Danish at Studieskolen says that all students will have to pay for their Danish education from 1 July 2018. “There will no longer be completely ‘free’ Danish lessons for self-supporting foreigners. Since our students mostly study or work in Denmark, most of them will have to pay the fee,” Lars explains alluding to how the new scheme will work. This will affect in particular language schools under contract with the municipality. Lars expects the price will be around 2,000 DKK per module. “As there are five or six modules in the Danish education system, the total price will be between 10,000 and 12,000 DKK,” he says. The language school estimates that about half of the potential Danish education student cohort will struggle to pay for their Danish education.

“The first step to integrating is learning the language, but if students have to pay excessively I think that more of them will choose not to learn the language, thus having disastrous consequences for communication between Danes and foreigners.”

Students rise up
In opposition to the proposed cuts to the language learning subsidy, 1600 students signed a petition and delivered it to Copenhagen City Hall on 21 March. The memorandum outlined their dissatisfaction with the kommunes’ decision to drop the collaboration with highly qualified language schools, such as IASprog and the likes. “We just want to keep our school, which has taught Danish to foreigners for 30 years, from turning away needy students,” explained IASprog Chairman of Student Council Qayssar Jalil. After meeting with students, Badar Shah, a member of Alternativ, speaking on behalf of the committee on the Employment and Integration Commission of Copenhagen Municipality, said that he would bring up their protest at the next committee meeting in April. He also expressed support for their wishes, but did tell them that the decision had already been made last year and that it would be difficult to change at this stage.

Can you afford not to speak Danish?
When foreigners enrol to learn Danish it is mostly to qualify for better jobs and to better integrate into Danish society at large. It is the concern of languages schools across the country, and their students, that if it becomes too expensive to learn the basics, students will not qualify for decent jobs and become even more of a drain on the welfare system. “We find it counterproductive that students will have to pay to learn Danish because students who cannot get their courses paid by their employer will be delayed in their Danish education or completely drop out. There is a great lack of certain academic candidates and skilled workers in certain industries in Denmark. If foreign students don’t learn Danish during their studies here, there is no hope that they will stay in Denmark after graduation. Something that Danish authorities shouldn’t wish to happen,” implores Lars. “It will no doubt lead to a weakening of the importance of the Danish language, and as a result fewer foreigners will want to learn Danish. If part of the élite doesn’t master Danish, the language will lose its status.” Qayssar agrees saying that the new cuts will decrease motivation to learn Danish. “I mean, why would people want to learn a language that only five million people speak if it is going to costs too much,” he asks? Qayssar is also concerned that these new measures will bring about parallel societies in Denmark, diminishing efforts by government and civil society in attempts to bring about greater integration. “The first step to integrating is learning the language, but if students have to pay excessively I think that more of them will choose not to learn the language, thus having disastrous consequences for communication between Danes and foreigners.” “I believe Danish lessons should continue to be free because most of our students already have a hard time making ends meet, and learning Danish will improve their chances of getting a well-paying job. 2,000 DKK per module is simply out of reach of many students,” concludes Lars. Are you a student currently studying at a language school? Share your thoughts on this funding conundrum with us.