17 Nov Interview with Christina Egelund, Minister for Higher Education and Science, Denmark
What major challenges does Denmark face in maintaining the upward momentum of its economy?
Labor and talent shortage is a significant societal challenge that is anticipated to persist for the next three to three and a half decades. The issue is exacerbated by smaller youth generations. It is imperative we find proactive solutions. To do so we are fostering openness in our education sector, particularly by welcoming more international students to our universities. In June 2023 we initiated a substantial reform to increase the number of available seats for foreign students at Danish universities. We are now extending our reform efforts to encompass the entire education sector. For critical roles in our welfare system such as nursing and healthcare, we are opening educational institutions to foreign students and exploring partnerships to provide education abroad while attracting skilled workers to Denmark. This is a strategic and long-term initiative.
Navigating the process for foreign students entering Denmark involves reexamining regulations, procedures and rights. While we are actively increasing opportunities for foreign students, we must also recognize the importance of addressing challenges faced by newcomers. Language barriers — particularly with Danish being a relatively small language — are acknowledged. We are committed to ensuring that the quality of education in English is well-established and widely known. Beyond the academic realm, we need to acknowledge the softer aspects of integration such as the social reception of foreigners. Having studied abroad myself, I understand the significance of creating a welcoming environment beyond coursework. Although we cannot directly regulate social dynamics, we are initiating dialogues with universities and students to collectively work towards creating an inclusive and supportive community.
Where does Denmark stand in the global arena in terms of research and innovation?
Denmark is actively engaged in various cutting-edge fields, including life science, pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence and the green energy transition. We are making significant strides in these domains, with an emphasis on innovation and sustainability. Denmark is also increasingly involved in the burgeoning field of quantum technology. Our multifaceted approach to remaining at the forefront of technological innovation underscores Denmark’s proactive stance in addressing critical challenges and harnessing emerging technologies for the betterment of society.
As the global geopolitical landscape undergoes rapid changes, the dynamics of international cooperation in research are evolving. While the traditional ethos of science has always been rooted in collaborative knowledge exchange, the contemporary scenario has introduced new complexities. Denmark recognizes the significance of alliances with key players such as the US and European markets. It acknowledges the need for vigilance in navigating this shifting political landscape and the importance of discerning collaboration partners in an era where motivations may vary.
What are the reasons behind the Danish government’s plans to heavily invest in quantum technology?
Quantum technology holds immense significance across various domains ranging from combating climate change to health research, particularly in addressing brain diseases. However, its importance is paramount in the new geopolitical landscape, primarily for security reasons. This is a key motivator behind our ambitious strategy for quantum technology that will unfold annually and extend over a five-year horizon. It involves establishing a center in Copenhagen with test facilities equipped with quantum computers to enhance appeal for foreign researchers and talent. Denmark’s historical association with Niels Bohr, a trailblazer in quantum research, provides us with a solid foundation. Our approach involves building facilities in Copenhagen, educating physics students in quantum physics, collaborating with diverse sectors of the Danish industry for commercialization and attracting global talent. Collaboration with our strategic partners such as the United States in quantum technologies is integral to our approach. International cooperation in the arena is incredibly important.
What role does Denmark intend to take in the global space and aerospace industries?
Our primary international partner in space activities is the European Space Agency (ESA). We have taken steps to enhance Denmark’s commitment to ESA by doubling our contribution twice this year, initially by 81 million Danish kroner and more recently with an additional 131 million Danish kroner added to the budget. Our initial focus on space research was originally focused on Mars but has evolved. Space research profoundly impacts life on our planet. It encompasses smart city innovation and satellite-based sea monitoring and addresses challenges attributed to climate change. Collaborations such as ESA’s partnership with NASA play a pivotal role in advancing these efforts. Our role within the ESA revolves around addressing the green transition and climate change. Denmark has been a pioneer in these areas for decades and boasts a robust and time-honored industry, particularly in wind energy.
As a small country, Denmark takes immense pride in its international achievements such as having a Danish astronaut aboard international spaceships. The entire nation follows and supports these endeavors. Denmark has a small and open economy and fully acknowledges its dependence on international collaboration across various fields, including quantum physics, education and space activities. Our active engagement with the ESA exemplifies our commitment to fostering collaborative initiatives on a global scale.
How is Denmark leveraging its close ties to the USA to foster research and industrial development?
The establishment of innovation centers in the USA, notably in Silicon Valley and Boston, holds significant importance for Denmark. These centers serve as pivotal collaborative hubs for Danish and American researchers and students. By fostering connections with American colleagues, Danish researchers gain access to the market’s extensive research and innovation ecosystem. Reciprocally, these centers facilitate the engagement of American students and researchers within the vibrant academic environment of Copenhagen. Supported by the Danish government, the innovation centers embody a commitment to cross-border collaboration.
In November 2023 the US and Danish Clinical Innovation Summit convened with 180 participants in Copenhagen at the Eigtveds Pakhus conference center. The event marked a crucial platform for collaboration between Denmark and the USA, particularly emphasizing the strength of Danish health research. Our thriving health research landscape benefits from partnerships with private foundations such as the Lundbeck Foundation and the Danish-American Research Exchange. This dynamic synergy involves both government initiatives and contributions from influential private entities with a significant focus on life sciences and pharmaceuticals. Lundbeck’s high level of engagement highlights the positive outcomes stemming from our cooperative endeavors.