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The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Denmark

Thousands of international students come to Denmark every year to study at universities across the country. Here are the words and phrases you'll need to navigate Danish student life and make the most of your time here.

The essential words and phrases that explain student life in Denmark
Students graduating in Copenhagen. Photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Intro week

When you first begin at university, the term starts with rusugen. This the equivalent of a fresher’s or orientation week at UK or US universities, where the new students are initiated into university life. Rusugen is sometimes given the more straightforward name introduktionsugen (introduction week).

The origins of the word ‘rus’, which is used to describe the new students (and therefore translates to ‘fresher’ or ‘freshman’, are unclear. It can sometimes cause a little confusion for new international students, given the plural (rusere) sounds very similar to the Danish word for ‘Russians’ (russere).

The week itself involves a range of events organized by mentor students, typically known as tutorer, encompassing both information meetings, guest lectures and social events, which range from ‘stille og rolig’ (calm and relaxed) to full-throttle parties.

New students in Aalborg in September 2019. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Semester start

Exactly as you’d expect, semesterstart marks the beginning of the term proper.

At this point, you’ll begin following a skema – the weekly timetable of forelæsninger (lectures), undervisning (lessons),  læsegruppemøder (study group meetings) and seminarer (seminars).

You’ll also be given a pensum (course syllabus) of required reading, while the content of your programme of study and your course and exam structure will be set out in a studieordning, which is approved by the studienævn (board of studies).

You can approach this board if you want to appeal paper grades and exam results throughout your time studying in Denmark, but it’s always best to first consult a studievejleder (student counsellor): a fellow student, usually in one of the senior years, who is assigned to your programme and will be able to advise you of study and exam options.

All students should familiarize themselves with the akademiske kvarter (academic quarter of an hour), a tradition that means most lectures or events start at 15 minutes past the hour. This Scandinavia-wide custom dates back to a time when the hourly church bells served as a warning that students had 15 minutes to make it to class. In other words, your skema might say you have a lecture at 12pm, but you don’t actually have to arrive until 12:15.


Finding student accommodation (studiebolig) sounds daunting, but many higher education institutions offer international students a spot in a kollegium (student halls), or at least assistance in finding a room to rent.

Should you take a room in a kollegium, you’ll probably live with a mixture of Danish and international students, although the halls offered to internationals are often the less popular ones without long waiting lists, so you might find yourself a bicycle ride from town or uni.

Students in Danish kollegier live in private rooms (you won't have a roommate) and share kitchens with other students whose rooms are on the same corridor.

Skjoldhøjkollegiet in Brabrand on the outskirts of Aarhus, in a 2011 photo. File photo: Martin Ballund/Ritzau Scanpix

Friday bars

Student life wouldn’t be student life without the chance to drink a beer or three with fellow academics, and Denmark is no different. The fredagsbar (Friday bar) is a weekly event on most courses: volunteers run pop-up bars set up somewhere on campus, usually close to where lessons are held during the week (or sometimes in large classrooms).

The bars are non-profit and beers are usually sold for the student-friendly price of 20, 15 or even as little as 10 kroner per bottle. Mixer drinks are also often available.

The bars usually begin in the afternoon on a Friday – as teaching is finishing – and start out as relaxing socialization before turning into something more festive as the evening wears on. They are often given weekly themes and it’s not rare to see bar volunteers in costume.

Despite their amateurish appearance, these weekly bars require considerable work to set up, with permits to sell alcoholic drinks, (alkoholbevillinger), deals with suppliers and permission from the university amongst the things required before they can get off the ground.

The biggest and most raucous student social event in the country is probably Aarhus University’s kapsejlads (boat regatta), which takes place at the end of April each year. Although kapsejladsen is technically a boat race, it couldn't really be much further from Oxford vs. Cambridge. 

Tens of thousands of people gather at University Park for the day-long event, in which different study disciplines pit their rowing strength, beer-chugging prowess and dressing-up silliness against each other in pursuit of a trophy called the gyldne bækken (golden bed pan). It has to be seen to be believed, quite frankly.


As a student, there are savings to be made. Look out for the magic words studenterrabat (student discount) to cut costs on everything from books to concert tickets.

To be eligible, you may well need a studiekort (student card) accompanied by an indskrivningsbekræftelse (confirmation of enrolment), usually a piece of paper which can be printed via the student log-in you will be provided with by your university.

You'll probably want to download payment app MobilePay if you have a Danish phone number and bank account: this allows you to send money to other app users, whether that's when you're splitting the bill with friends or buying secondhand furniture at a loppemarked (flea market).

The app is so widely used in Denmark that it has become a verb, as in vil du MobilePay’e mig? (can you send me the money via MobilePay?)

Spend any amount of time in the company of a Danish student, and sooner or later you’ll hear the acronym SU. It stands for statens uddannelsesstøtte, the second word a delightful compound with no fewer than four double consonants. The phrase translates to ‘state student grant’.

The grant is a monthly sum paid by the state to all Danish students in higher education and is just about enough (subject to personal opinion) to cover the most basic living costs. Many students take out a studielån (student loan) or work a studiejob (student job) to give themselves a bit of economic breathing space. Many complain about their tight finances, but the vast majority also recognize the privilege of a free universitetsuddannelse (university education).

Nationals of other countries can sometimes be eligible for SU when they study in Denmark. The rules for this are complex and we won’t cover them here (although we may in a future article), and are subject to political contention. You can start here if you want to find out more about this.


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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.