‘The work-life balance in Denmark is amazing’

After becoming disillusioned with life in the UK, British teacher Stephanie Lambert spent a year backpacking before deciding on her next move. She met a Dane and like many before her (and no doubt after) she decided to move to Denmark with him.

'The work-life balance in Denmark is amazing'
Stephanie Lambert says she's had a hard time adjusting to 'only' working 40 hours per week. Photo: Submitted
Whilst Lambert enjoyed teaching she was very frustrated with her career in the UK and was lucky enough to land a job teaching the nursery class in the relatively new European School in Copenhagen
“As a primary school teacher in the UK I was working a 60 hour week, with a to-do list that was never ending. I spent many sleepless nights worrying about whether certain children would reach their targets, irrelevant of whatever maybe happening in their lives outside of school,” she said. 
“We could not afford the time to take a holistic view of the child, they needed to reach their ‘age related expectation’ and pass the exams so that we could prove we were doing our jobs well,” she continued. “We could teach only the core subjects (maths, reading and writing) but as long as the children passed then the council would be happy.”
Since starting her job in Copenhagen, Lambert says she has noticed a huge difference in the model of teaching and the approach to children here.
“Working within a kommune [municipality-run, ed.] school in Copenhagen, the focus is completely different. To start with, the recent government reforms in education mean that I can legally only work a 40 hour week. This has taken a lot of getting used to for the expat teachers in our school, with many of us finding it difficult to close down the computer and go home after just eight hours,” she said. 
Lamberts using some of her newfound free time to make friends with a royal guard. Photo: Submitted
Lamberts using some of her newfound free time to make friends with a royal guard. Photo: Submitted
“The Danish education system, alongside the European Curriculum, is not at all prescriptive. This leaves the teachers able to plan topics that interest the children and are at an appropriate level for the class that you teach.The education and child care systems in Denmark are hugely child-centred and this leads to well-rounded and enthusiastic children,” Lambert enthused. 
Another thing that came as a surprise to Lambert, given Denmark’s reputation as an expensive place to live, was how affordable it actually is to live in Copenhagen.
“I find that the cost of living here is so much more affordable than life in England. The wages are higher, even after taxes, and the cost of renting or buying is far cheaper than where I am from. The public transport is also less expensive and more reliable – even though the Danes say otherwise,” she joked. 
Although she comes from a similarly rainy country, Lambert says she has had to make some weather-related adjustments to her life (and wardrobe), but she doesn’t mind.
“I actually enjoy being outside in all weathers; back in the UK I would just hop in the car, turn up the heater and never need to spend time outside in the rain or occasional snow. Here I love that no matter the weather; you chuck on your waterproofs and head outside without worrying about getting strange looks for your attire.”
But of course there are some downsides to living in Denmark. One that concerns Lambert is the concept of hygge and its connection with the consumption of cake.
Hygge seems to require cake, even at work, which involves me trying to implement my already weak self-control. You would think that all cycling would counteract all cake but as a notoriously clumsy person cycling will never be my forte. Although I am trying to embrace both cycling and self-control, I think it will be a long uphill battle.”
On a serious note, Lambert, like many expats, struggled with the housing situation. When she moved to Denmark the only rental she could find for a tenancy longer than two months was a small apartment far out in a Copenhagen suburb south of the city. 
After six months there, she and her boyfriend were told they would have to move out. 
“That should be plenty of time to find somewhere to live, unless you are in Copenhagen. Faced with the prospect of moving every few months we took the plunge and bought a flat, one of the only ways to ensure consistent housing in Copenhagen.”
Finally, what are the benefits of living here for Lambert?
“The work life balance here is amazing, after work I still have time to go out and socialise, attend Danish classes and even read a book.”

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English-language programmes at Danish universities face cuts

Denmark's government has agreed on a plan to significantly reduce the number of courses offered in English in the country's universities.

English-language programmes at Danish universities face cuts
Life sciences faculty hold an open house at Copenhagen University. The university is now expected to reduce admissions as part of a plan to decentralise higher education in Denmark. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt / Ritzau Scanpix

At the end of June, the plan aims to reduce the number of English-language higher education programmes while also expanding educational opportunities outside of Denmark’s major cities.

The exact number of courses to be cut – and where they will be cut – depends on the future employment of graduates.

Cuts to English-language programmes

The reduction of English-language programmes at institutions of higher education is rooted in an effort to reduce rising costs of state educational grants (SU) in Denmark. Despite attempts to reduce SU expenses, the cost is expected to rise to 570 million kroner by 2025, far above the cap of 449 million kroner set in 2013. 

There are a number of cases in which non-Danish citizens are entitled to SU, from moving to Denmark with one’s parents, marrying a Danish citizen, residing in Denmark for more than 5 years, status as a worker in Denmark, and more.

The reduction is targeted at English-language programmes where few English-speaking students find employment in Denmark after graduation, according to Denmark’s Ministry of Education and Research. 

Among the targeted programmes are business academies and professional bachelor programmes, where 72 percent of students are English-speaking and only 21 percent find work in Denmark after completing their education. 

However, programmes where higher proportions of English students enter the Danish workforce, and those that have a unique significance on the regional labour market, will be exempt from the reduction. This amounts to 650 education institutions around the country. 

In 2016, students demonstrated against cuts in SU. Photo: Emil Hougaard / Ritzau Scanpix

The agreement also establishes a financial incentive for institutions that graduate English-speaking students who remain to work in Denmark.

According to a June 10 analysis from consulting firm Deloitte, EU students who receive higher education in Denmark contribute an average of nearly 650,000 kroner to Denmark’s public coffers over a lifetime. 

However, the report notes, a student’s positive or negative contribution depends on how long they stay in Denmark. Although students who leave Denmark shortly after graduating constitute a cost to the Danish state, the analysis found that the contribution of students who stay in Denmark to work offsets the cost of those who leave.

The analysis expressed concern that reducing opportunities for English-language higher education could “have a number of unintended negative consequences,” including deterring students who might stay in Denmark to work from moving in the first place. There’s also the risk that it will become more difficult to recruit foreign researchers to Danish universities, which could impact education quality, the analysis claims.

The UCN professional school in Thisted is expected to open one new training program as a result of the decentralisation plan. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Decentralisation of Danish education

The plan to decentralise higher education in Denmark not only expands educational opportunities outside of Denmark’s major cities, but it also aims to reduce enrollment in higher education within major cities by 10 percent by 2030 (but not more than 20 percent).

For example, a law programme will be established in Esbjerg, a medical programme in Køge and a veterinary programme in Foulum.

Minister of Education and Research Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen said the goal was to offer students educational opportunities regardless of where they live within Denmark and strengthen the economy outside of major cities. 

However, the Danish Chamber of Commerce, Dansk Erhverv, expressed concern that the decentralisation plan doesn’t factor in labour demands within Denmark’s major cities.

Mads Eriksen, head of education and research policy at Dansk Erhverv, said it was “unwise” for programmes to reduce acceptance rates to in-demand fields in that particular city. 

“They are trying to solve a problem with labour in the countryside, but at the same time they are creating labour problems in the cities,” Eriksen said. “The English-language programme cuts are far more aligned with the demands of the labour market.”

Denmark has utilised unemployment-based admission for higher education since 2015. Programmes whose graduates experience unemployment consistently 2 percent higher than average are subject to a 30 percent admission cut.

Eriksen thinks it shouldn’t be a matter of reducing admissions across several universities by

“For example, we have five philosophy education programmes in Denmark, each of which have high unemployment rates among graduates,” Eriksen said, referencing a recent Dansk Erhverv analysis

He would prefer to see resources concentrated into making a couple of those programmes the best they can be and closing the rest, versus reducing admissions in all five programmes. “We have to be ready to close programmes that continue to have high unemployment, not just reduce them.”

In 2018, the University of Southern Denmark closed one English-language program and converted two from English to Danish. Photo: Tim Kildeborg Jensen / Ritzau Scanpix

Opposite impacts on provincial institutions

Gitte Sommer Harrits, vice chancellor at VIA University College, shared concern that although the decentralised education aspect of the plan aims to increase the number of students at provincial universities, the reduction of English-language programmes is likely to have the opposite effect.

A report from the organisation Akademikerne in early June found that international students have played a significant role filling educational institutions outside of Danish cities. Nine of the 10 educational institutions with the largest proportion of English-speaking students are outside the country’s largest cities. 

The University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg has the highest proportion of international students; 40 percent of its 628 students are not affiliated with Denmark or other Nordic countries. 

While significantly larger with nearly 37,000 students, Copenhagen University has 5.2 percent international students.

Already in 2018, the University of Southern Denmark closed one English-language programme and converted two others from English to Danish after the Danish government ordered universities to reduce the number of international students.

Harrits said she found the possible closure of English-language programmes drawing international students to provincial areas to be puzzling when paired with the intention to decentralise education.