Paying Danes to Educate Themselves

First Day of School for Felix — now eighteen years old

My oldest kid turned eighteen this year and here in late summer 2020, he just started his third year of high school. In Denmark, kids start school a year later than most other places. The thing is, now that he is eighteen, the government just starts paying him to go to school. It’s like they place some sort of societal value on our citizens educating themselves or some crazy thing like that.

Every month, the government deposits 2700 Danish kroner in his bank account. That’s

€363 / $432 USD. All he had to do was apply for it online, which took a few minutes, and it happens. The payment is a supplement and it’s certainly not enough to live off of. It’s merely a helping hand while you’re educating yourself. You can get a job to further support yourself but there are rules about how much you can make — if you make too much one year, then you have to pay some of your educational support back. Fair enough.

The system is called SU — a Danish acronym for Statens Uddannelsesstøtte or State Educational Support. The amount you are eligible for varies. The 2700 kroner is the maximum for a kid his age. Some of my son’s friends receive around 900 kroner — €120 / $144 — per month. The factors include whether you live at home or on your own, whether your parents are still together, household income, etc. There are also extra amounts available if you are a parent, for example. Although the average age for having kids in Denmark is 29 years old, so maybe not many people qualify. Still, it’s nice it’s there for those who might need it.

Actually, come to think of it, there might be people who need it, since the educational support applies to anyone who starts an education. If I decided to go back to school — I’m fifty-two — I would qualify as well and, because I have kids, I would get an extra supplement.

A 22 year old who lives on their own, for example, can receive 5750 kroner per month — €772 / $915. Again, not enough to live on, but a helping hand.

Generally, the educational support systems garners little controversy. It’s a given that we should fund it through our tax money. This is Denmark, after all. It’s how it all works. We’re all in this together. Once in a while, however, the question is raised about why the children of very wealthy families should receive the funding when they don’t need it. Again, fair enough. But there are the aforementioned rules in place about how much you qualify for, that level the playing field a bit.

My son will most likely continue to a post-secondary education next year, after high school. The monthly payments will continue until he is done.

The free educational support is one thing. Then there are the state student loans. They are also extremely easy to apply for — this is one of the world’s most digital nations, after all — and they are designed to help students get by during their post-secondary education.

Once you’re finished your studies and it’s time to pay back your loan, the whole system is user-friendly. There is a civilised interest rate of 4%, which can rise to 5% in certain circumstances. You pay off your loan based on what you earn at your post-education job. When I finished studying at the Danish Film School, I had a bartending job and I only paid a certain percentage of that wage. Later, when I started making more money in other jobs, I paid off more per month, but it was always an amount that left enough for me to live a sensible, economic life.

I like a system that encourages people to get an education and pays for them to do so.

More on Life in Denmark:

Lap Dansk — an unexpected life in Denmark — Part 1

Lap Dansk — an unexpected life in Denmark — Part 2

Urban playmaker, designer, host of The Life-Sized City tv series about urbanism. Author of “Copenhagenize”. Impatient Idealist.

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