PhD Study in Denmark - A Guide for 2023
Written by Kirsty Smitten
There are many reasons to consider a PhD in Denmark, including its welcoming culture and thriving higher education system. Better yet, PhD tuition is free for many students (and very affordable for most others!).
This page covers everything you need to know about gaining a Danish PhD, including an overview of the university system, what your PhD will involve, how much it will cost and how you can apply.
PhD opportunities in Denmark - what's on offer for 2023?
The Danish higher education system dates back over 500 years; it is therefore not surprising its universities have had a hand in a range of inventions and scientific breakthrough, from quantum theory to Lego.
Today the government is investing more into the Danish higher education system, in order to produce highly qualified PhD researchers. Here are a few reasons why Denmark could be the ideal place for your doctorate this year:
- Excellent research and development facilities - Denmark places highly in the world rankings for research and development, making it a strong prospect for PhD study.
- Mostly no tuition fees - Students from the EEA/EU/Switzerland, or other countries who have obtained a residence permit do not have to pay tuition fees.
- Free Danish lessons - Denmark welcomes international students into their country and culture by offering free government-funded language classes to international students.
- Access to post-study employment opportunities - With EU/EEA and Swiss citizens able to work without a visa and extensions for other international students to find post-study work, Denmark encourages you to stay after your PhD.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you may be interested to know that the Danish actor Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), spent worked as a flower seller in Copenhagen before his cinematic career took off.
PhD Study in Denmark - Key Details
||University of Copenhagen (1479)
||None (subject to conditions)
||August/September to May/June
PhD life in Denmark
Want to know more about life for international PhD students in Denmark? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.
The higher education system in Denmark comprises of four types of institutions offering degree programmes. All are fully accredited, but not all offer PhDs.
The Danish higher education system includes the following:
- Business academies offer short-cycle programmes for 1.5 to 2.5 years of study
- University colleges - offer medium-cycle programmes, these are academy profession programmes taken at the Academies of Professional Higher Education
- Universities - offer long-cycle programmes, first-cycle Bachelors, second-cycle Masters and third-cycle PhD programmes
- University level institutions for educations in the arts - these also offer long cycle programmes in Architecture, Design, Film, Fine Arts, Music and Performing Arts
As an international PhD student in Denmark you will find yourself studying at one of the eight universities. Five of these are multi-faculty and three specialise in Engineering, Information Technology and Business Studies.
Danish university rankings
The small number of higher education institutions in Denmark, hasn’t stopped it from competing with other countries in the global rankings, with five out of eight universities featuring in the first 300 in the world for 2020/21.
Do ranking matter for PhD study?
University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.
Denmark university cities
There are only a small number of universities within Denmark, but all of them are situated within major cities, with attractive leisure opportunities and historical sites for you to explore.
The following are the main hubs for higher education in Denmark:
A doctoral degree in Denmark is a third-cycle qualification, in-line with the framework adopted across Europe as part of the Bologna Process.
The Bologna Process
The Bologna Process brings together a range of countries to form the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Members of the EHEA share a common three-cycle framework that allows degrees from one country to be easily recognised within others.
However, despite following the Bologna Process format, a Danish PhD is a distinctive qualification. With many institutions incorporating industrial links into their programmes, students gain a variety of training.
In Denmark there are two-types of PhD programme: the standard university-based research PhD and the industrial PhD.
On a three-year industrial programme, you will complete a project within a company’s field of interest. You will both be employed by the company and enrolled at a university. This scheme has been developed to facilitate networking between companies and universities, as well as to promote research and development in Danish business.
The Danish academic year runs from August/September to May/June and is made up of two semesters:
- Semester one - begins in August/September with exams in December/January
- Semester two - begins in January/February with exams in May/June
You will study your PhD for 3-years as a full-time student
The Danish PhD process
Danish PhD programmes follow a set curriculum that includes specific taught courses as well as independent research.
Within 3-months you and your supervisor will have to come up with study plan proposing your research project. This must be approved by the institution.
The study plan will include courses you must complete, that are relevant to your research project. The courses must correspond to six-months of studies.
In addition, you will be expected to gain teaching experience and / or knowledge dissemination of your research results (through presentations and publications). Institutions offer students teaching courses and guidance.
Finally, you will have to carry out your research project and write a write a thesis. Danish universities often require students to gain experience researching inside and outside of their institution. This may involve going into industry or to another university abroad.
Upon enrolling you will be allocated an official academic supervisor who is an acknowledged researcher within your research project’s field.
Your supervisor will be responsible for guiding your PhD, as well as ensuring you have a study plan and are participating in the necessary courses.
Assessment and examination
Danish PhDs use the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in accordance with the Bologna Process. You must obtain all 180 credits to be awarded the PhD qualification.
You will need to complete a number of things to be awarded 180 credits:
- Study plan - this must be completed and confirmed with the institution within the first 3-months detailing the taught courses you will take and your proposed research
- Write your thesis - your thesis has to show your ability to make use of the subject’s scientific methods and prove your research abilities are at the international standard for PhDs in your discipline
- Pass the viva - this is a public defence in front of an evaluation jury consisting of two academics from outside your institution and one from abroad whom are all acknowledged researchers in your field
Your thesis will become publicly available before your defence.
Within Denmark your ability as an independent researcher is frequently assessed. Your supervisor will submit remarks regularly assessing whether you are following your PhD plan. This will detail any adjustments that you must do to remain on the programme.
Fees and funding
Higher education policies within Denmark make it a very affordable option for international students (particularly those from the EU/EEA).
In addition to low fees, there are various funding sources available, with a number of scholarships specifically for international students.
Your tuition fees for a PhD in Denmark depends primarily on your nationality. For students from the EU/EEA/Switzerland higher education in Denmark is free
You may also be eligible for free tuition as an international student, provided you meet one of the following conditions:
- You hold a permanent residence permit (permanent opholdstilladelse)
- You hold a temporary residence permit that can be upgraded to a permanent one (midlertidig opholdstilladelse mmf varigt ophold)
- You hold a residence permit as the accompanying child of a non-EU/EEA holding a residence permit based on employment
All other students pay tuition fees. For exact fees you should contact your institution, but you will typically pay €6,000-16,000 per year.
As a thriving, economically developed country, living costs in Denmark are relatively high.
It is typically recommended that students have around €950 per month to cover meals, transport, accommodation and other living costs. If you're planning to study in a more expensive city such as Copenhagen, you may need up to €1,800 per month, depending on your lifestyle and choice of accommodation.
Student Cost of Living in Denmark - 2023
|Monthly Travel Pass
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
Accommodation for students in Denmark generally costs between €405 and €670 per month. Utilities are usually included.
There are a number of different funding opportunities available within Denmark, with many programmes and scholarships offered to international students.
- Studentships – advertised by universities, research institutions and businesses for a period of three years.
- Danish Government Scholarships Under the Cultural Agreement - Long-term scholarships for students from Brazil, China, Egypt Japan and South Korea; as well as summer Danish language courses for the previous countries and 35 European countries.
- Danish government scholarship for highly qualified non-EU/EEA students - The government give universities a limited number of scholarships each year to fund highly qualified students from non-EU/EEA countries and Switzerland. Apply directly at your chosen institution.
- Nordplus - Funding for students at Nordic or Baltic institutions to study in another Nordic or Baltic country as part of your degree.
- Fulbright Commission - Funding for US citizens for an entire academic year of study/research in Denmark.
Individual universities in Denmark may also offer funding and support to international students. Check with your institution to find out what assistance is available to you and what the availability criteria are.
Working whilst studying
As an international student in Denmark you will have the right to work whilst you are studying. However the restrictions on working will depend upon your nationality.
Nordic, EU/EEA or Swiss citizens are allowed to work in Denmark under EU rules, with no restriction on the number of hours.
Students from other countries may work up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during June, July and August. However, you must have a work permit sticker in your passport.
It is recommended you apply for a work permit when applying for your residence permit to study in Denmark; however, if you don’t you can apply for one at the Danish Immigration Service.
Make sure you stick to the regulations for working – more than 20 hours a week, or without a work permit as a non-EU/EEA student – may result in the Danish Immigration Service revoking your residence permit. You may also face deportation and a prison sentence.
PhD salary in Denmark
Some universities in Denmark pay scholarships to PhD students in the form of a monthly salary. This means that you will be employed on a contract that will terminate when you submit your thesis. Check with your department to see whether this will apply to you.
Applying for a PhD in Denmark
The application process in Denmark is similar to that in the UK where the you must apply for PhD programmes via advertised projects and scholarships.
Typically, you will either apply for an opportunity with a pre-defined research topic, or you will propose your own research ideas.
As each institution in Denmark is responsible for its own admissions, requirements will vary. However, you will usually be required to have a recognised Masters degree in a relevant subject in order to be enrolled as a PhD student.
There are a small number of programmes available for students without a Masters. In this case the PhD typically takes 4-years, as your institution must make sure you complete a Masters programme during your PhD programme.
For PhD study in Denmark your previous qualifications must be recognised as comparable to Danish entrance qualifications. You can view what your qualifications correspond to in Denmark using an official assessment service.
The Danish higher education system is very internationalised and welcomes overseas students. In fact, 700 degree programmes and 1300 courses are taught in English.
For students studying in English you must show you have the equivalent standard of a Danish upper secondary school English B/A (depending on institution), in one of the following examinations:
- The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) - English B – test score of at least 6.5 and English A – test score of at least 7.0
- Cambridge Advanced English (CAE) - English B – Certificate in Advanced English and English A – Certificate of Proficiency
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) - English B – test score of at 79-93 (internet-based) and English A – test score of at least 94-101 (internet-based).
Native English speakers are exempt from testing requirements.
For students studying Danish programmes you must take the: Danish as a Foreign Language (Studieprøven i dansk som andetsprog), Danish Test 2 (Danskprøve 2) or in some cases Danish Test 3 (Danskprøve 2) to prove a satisfactory level of proficiency in Danish.
For PhD study in Denmark the application process and deadlines vary depending upon your institution, you should contact them directly for exact details.
However, you will typically be required to provide the following:
- Academic transcripts - Certified copies of your transcripts and qualification certificates, with original stamps. Your transcript may have to be translated into Danish and approved by a lawyer.
- Statement of purpose - Referred to as an application cover letter at some institutions, this is a personal statement style document, stating why you want to do the programme, and what makes you a suitable candidate.
- Research proposal - If you are applying to a programme, without a specifically proposed project you will have to write a research proposal.
- Other - Some institutions require you to sit additional entrance exams or provide examples of relevant previous work from your Masters/undergraduate degrees.
- References - You will usually need to provide at least two academic references, who have had experience working with you.
Some universities require your academic documents to be received directly from the issuing institution, this can take several months so arrange this in time.
Some institutions in Denmark require students to have an interview for admission on to PhD programmes.
For international students this is typically conducted over skype, and usually involves 2-3 professors. Some interviewers will ask academic questions related to the project.
Depending upon your nationality you may be required to apply for a study visa to do a PhD in Denmark.
Students from the EU/EEA and Switzerland
You will not need a visa to study in Denmark; however, as you will be studying for longer than three months you will need to apply for a residence document. These have different names depending upon your nationality: registration certificate (EU/EEA citizens) or a residence card (Swiss nationals).
The registration document may be obtained from the Regional State Administration (Statsforvaltningen) within three months upon your arrival in Denmark. You will need to bring:
- Your passport
- At least two passport photos
- A Letter of Administration addressed to the State Administration from your institution
It can take up to three weeks to process a residence document application and issue you your permit
Visa information for UK students in Denmark
UK students will no longer be EU citizens from the 2021-22 academic year onwards. This means you may be considered as an international student when studying in Denmark. You may be subject to different visa requirements and fee rates, unless otherwise stated.
Other international students
Students from other countries (sometimes referred to as ‘third countries’) will need to apply for a residence permit to study in Denmark.
You will need to submit an application at your local Danish Embassy, General Consulate or VFD-station along with the following:
- Identification documents - passport and passport photos
- University documents - a signed Letter of Admission from an institution approved by the Danish government
- Proof of language ability - you will need to prove you understand the language of instruction and have functional command of either Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, English or German
- Proof of finances - proof of scholarship or payment of tuition fee and a bank statement less than 30 days old showing you can support yourself
The residence permit usually takes 2-months to process and there is a processing fee of around €270.
A Danish ID-number (CPR)
When studying in Denmark you will need to obtain a personal ID-number, by registering with the Danish Civil Registration System.
The Civil Personal Registration (CPR) number is used by almost all public authorities in Denmark as an identification system.
You will be required to have a CRP number to register for health insurance or to open a bank account.
You must meet all the following criteria:
- You are legally entitled to stay in the country (proven by a residence document/permit depending upon your nationality)
- You have permanent accommodation acquired in Denmark
- Your stay in Denmark will last more than 3-months
As long as you meet these criteria, notification of your arrival into Denmark must be made at the local municipality of residence within 5-days.
As for PhD study you will be staying in Denmark for longer than 3-months you will have registered with the Civil Registration System.
All international students that have obtained a residence permit and have registered with the Civil Registration System, have full access to the Danish national healthcare system, and are therefore entitled to free medical treatment in Denmark.
Studying for you PhD abroad in Denmark will enhance your CV in various ways. You’ll have demonstrated the ability to work internationally and move outside your comfort zone. The structured nature of a Danish PhD is also designed to generate capable independent researchers who are suitable candidates for a range of jobs.
Can I work in Denmark after my PhD?
Denmark encourages international students to remain in the country after graduation, with visa extensions allowing for international students to seek employment.
There are different restrictions for working in Denmark after your doctoral study, depending upon your nationality.
Nordic citizens from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are free to reside and work in Denmark without a residence visa or work permit.
EU/EEA/Swiss citizens do not need to apply for a work permit; however, you will need the registration certificate you applied for when you began your PhD studies
Non-EU/EEA/Citizens your residence permit will be valid for 6-months after your graduation. This is to allow you to seek employment in Denmark. You may also extend your visa for an extra 6-months providing it hasn’t already been extended.
Our postgrad newsletter shares courses, funding news, stories and advice