It’s a small world: the Danish school empowering children to be global citizens

When you relocate to a new country, it can be a real challenge to find a school where your child will quickly settle – and where the values match your own.

It's a small world: the Danish school empowering children to be global citizens
Photos: Copenhagen International School

At Copenhagen International School (CIS), pretty much everyone knows what moving to a new place is like. That – along with the International Baccalaureate (IB) and teaching in English – helps newcomers to quickly adapt. The diversity of a school with 60 languages also plays a vital role in the broader educational experience.

The Local spoke with two students at Denmark’s top international school – for children aged three to 18 – to find out how it promotes equality, empathy and empowerment.

Copenhagen International School is open for applications all year round and digital tours are available no matter where in the world you are – find out more now

The many benefits of diversity 

“CIS acts as a forum where we can all share our different experiences,” says Hungarian-born Jazmin Seregi, 17. “This is particularly good in a history class when people can tell personal stories about an event from their grandparents or parents.”

The huge range of nationalities and cultural backgrounds represented by the school’s 900 students and 170 staff “allows us to view the world from a different side of things,” she adds. “Our maths teacher Fred even greets each student in their home language.”

The school’s purpose-built waterside campus – featuring modern buildings covered in solar panels – is an eye-catching 21st century addition to the skyline in Nordhavn. Teaching is in English with the option for after school classes at native level in a child’s mother tongue.

CIS was also one of the co-founders of the IB in 1968. Today children can follow the IB Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program and the IB Diploma Program.

The spirit of inquiry and internationalism that goes with the IB is in the school’s DNA, which is one reason why global talents send their children to the school. If you’re a high-flyer whose career takes you from one country to another, it’s the natural choice in Denmark.

Neel Dalela, a French-born 11-year-old of Indian heritage, has been at the school for five years since moving to Copenhagen from Helsinki. “The diversity here makes us more open-minded about different cultures and languages,” he says. 

It has also helped him develop new interests: he gave soccer a go after encouragement from an American friend and took up origami after learning about it from a Japanese student. “Origami has been proven scientifically to be good for the brain,” says Neel of his new hobby.

900 students, 60 languages and one community: learn more about Copenhagen International School 

Jazmin Seregi and Neel Dalela. Photos: Copenhagen International School

Compassion, sustainability and peer support

The school’s core values of integrity, creativity, compassion and inclusion aim to inspire both academic and personal growth. Students are also encouraged to take part in active community service and to engage with topical issues. 

Neel says these values help him think about “the greater good” when it comes to topics such as sustainability, which forms an important part of how CIS teaches the IB curriculum. Articles he has written for the school’s website and social media channel include a piece on how having plants at home during the pandemic could help cut both carbon dioxide and feelings of loneliness. 

Peer review is another important pillar of the school’s approach, helping children to develop skills in listening and self-reflection.

As Jazmin, who secured her place at CIS through a sustainability scholarship, puts it: “The positive peer feedback we get for good behaviour makes you want to do good things even when people are not looking. Explaining our perspectives and reasoning to each other also allows us to develop confidence but also to spot weaknesses in our own arguments – and everyone trusts a person who can do that.”

Neel is also a big fan, saying peer review helps him learn how to collaborate and the art of giving “constructive feedback”.

Photo: Copenhagen International School

A change for the better 

Children who graduate from CIS go on to a wide range of leading universities in Denmark and internationally. The school’s annual fees, which start at 126,000 Danish kroner, ensure a world-class education and applications are open throughout summer and all year round. You can also book a guided digital campus tour, wherever you are in the world. Far from being simply a pre-recorded video with no interaction, you’ll get a member of the admissions team personally guiding you through the campus at your own pace.

Jazmin is hoping to study biomedicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm or pharmaceuticals at Copenhagen University. Wherever she ends up, she says her time at the school has helped her to understand the value of being herself first and foremost. 

“Authenticity is entwined with confidence,” she says. “Here, nobody expects you to be something you’re not.” Furthermore, the teachers “go above and beyond” when it comes to caring about their students’ well-being.

The sense of community is also evident in the unity among staff and students when it comes to raising awareness of topical issues.

Jazmin says the whole school wore denim for a recent sexual assault awareness day and credits a speech by one of the student leaders of the school’s Racial and Social Justice Union for helping her to understand the power of individuals to create change.

If people think they can leave it for others to make a change, they’re really in the wrong,” she says.

Looking for high quality English language education in Denmark? Find out more about Copenhagen International School and its admissions process – and why not even book a digital tour?

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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.