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Student allowances in Denmark, a model to follow?

The health crisis that we have just gone through leads us to collectively question the model for financing studies. The most precarious young people, especially those who have to work alongside their studies to finance them, are those who have potentially been the most affected by the health crisis.

Read more: “A youth, youths”: can we really speak of “Generation Covid”?

This situation concerns a large number of students, since in France 23% of students carry out a remunerated activity during the university year unrelated to their studies (calculations based on the study published by the Observatoire de la vie student in 2020).

Contrary to the French model in which students do not pay registration fees – but neither are they financially assisted up to the cost of their studies by the State – there are two other models for financing studies. On the one hand, we find the liberal model, which characterizes Anglo-Saxon countries (United States, England, Australia, etc.) in which students must pay high registration fees, where they can indebted to finance their studies and in which there are both scholarships based on social and academic criteria. On the other side, we find the social democratic model in which students do not pay tuition fees and receive allowances to finance their studies.

Pay-as-you-go model

In these two models of financing higher education, liberal and social-democratic, the rates of access to and success in higher education are relatively higher than in the countries of the so-called conservative model, characterizing France in particular. The share of expenditure devoted to higher education is also higher there (measured as a percentage of GDP, public and private expenditure combined).

Finding itself caught between two antagonistic models, one based on collective funding and intergenerational solidarity – notably via income tax – and the other on individual student contributions – notably via the use of credit – the model French does not manage to guarantee chances of access and success for students similar to those of the countries of northern Europe.

If France has recently chosen to introduce registration fees in several establishments and selective courses, as well as for non-EU students, it is possible to follow the example of what is done in the Scandinavian countries to put in place introduces a pay-as-you-go higher education funding model – by analogy with the pension system and as opposed to a capitalization system.

Read more: Attracting the “best” foreign students: genesis of a selective policy

Such a societal choice was made several decades ago in Denmark. Until the early 1960s, funding for training courses was reserved for deserving students from a disadvantaged social category, which was then made up of scholarships and loans of modest sums. The system experienced a first upheaval in 1970 with the creation of a national agency in charge of scholarships and loans.

In the 1980s, following the abolition of subsidized loans in 1975 (which were subsequently reintroduced in 1982), student debt and the duration of studies increased significantly. To reduce failure at university and all the problems linked to the increase in debt, the government decided in 1988 to set up a system of universal scholarships. These are accompanied by conditions of success.

From 1993, the amount of the allowance depends on the student’s living conditions but is independent of the parents’ income. This system is combined with state-subsidized loans and the abolition of bank loans. Although this system has subsequently undergone many reforms, its philosophy has remained unchanged.

Equal opportunities

If the student’s income does not exceed 1820 euros, they receive a grant (paid for 12 months) of an amount ranging from 130 to 362 euros per month if they live with their parents and 840 euros if they no longer live with their parents (figures from Eurydice – 2021). Supplements are granted to students who become parents, to those who are single parents or to those with disabilities.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen.

Historically, the calculation of the allowance issued to students has been made on the basis of the actual budget of students taking into account the needs of students in many areas (housing, food, clothing, insurance, sports, telephone, etc.) .

As proof, during the health crisis, students were entitled to an additional scholarship of 130 euros paid in October 2020. In addition, students benefit from numerous reductions in public transport, for culture, for expenses for health and insurance, tax deductions, places in university residences, etc.

Such a system then allows students to devote themselves fully to their studies, without having to work alongside their studies to pay for them. Funding for higher education in Denmark allows students to find their way by emphasizing autonomy and equal opportunities. It allows young people to better project themselves into their future.

Contrary to a logic in terms of individual investment leading to monetary benefits, education is seen in this country as an investment which benefits society as a whole and whose benefits are not only individual, but above all collective. The students themselves participate in this collective financing insofar as their scholarships are subject to taxation.

Is such a system transposable to France? First of all, it should not be forgotten that the demographic characteristics of the two countries are not the same, Denmark having less than 310,000 students in 2019, when France had more than 2,685,000. the feasibility of such a model in the French case in financial terms. If the cost that this would represent for public finances is significant (24 billion euros per year), it is first and foremost a societal choice.

Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the characteristics of the higher education systems of the two countries are different. On the one hand, there is in Denmark a selection at the entrance to the university. And, on the other hand, the scholarship is issued under conditions of success. These two safeguards should not be overlooked if we wish to bring the idea of ​​a study allowance for students into the French public debate.

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