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PhD Programs in Denmark

by Alexa Cleasby

There's so much more to the Danes than beer and bacon. Denmark is a country rich in history, architecture, medieval castles and stunning coastlines. It is the bridge between Scandinavia and Northern Europe, making it the perfect base to explore both. But when it comes to research, why should you consider Denmark and what should you expect?

Universities and research bodies offer doctorate level programmes in Denmark, with it being common to find many in cooperation with private companies. PhDs tend to last between 3 and 4 years and primarily involve an independent research project conducted under the guidance of a supervisor. Other responsibilities tend to include some teaching duties, attendance at courses and seminars and networking between other research groups. Denmark is a desirable place to study, ranking highly in research and development expenditure. As such you should be aware that PhD positions can be highly competitive amongst foreign students.

PhD funding and salary

In 2000 Denmark opted to keep their national currency, the Danish krone (DKK) rather than switch to the Euro. PhD positions are fully funded, i.e. no tuition fees, and come with a salary. Your salary is paid monthly and is subject to a pay grade system based on prior working experience since completing your undergraduate degree. As of April 2012 you can expect to take home between 23,800 DK and 30,500 DK before tax. And here's the bad news, tax. Denmark has some of the highest taxes in the world. As a foreign PhD student in Denmark you will lose between 35-40% of your salary in taxes, so realistically you could be taking home a minimum of 14,280 DK a month. This tax will be taken from your salary before it even enters your account so hopefully you'll never even miss it.

In part, Denmark makes up for these heavy taxes by being classed as one of the best places to live in terms of healthcare, welfare, education and environmental responsibility.

Entry requirements and application procedure

To be accepted on a PhD programme, you usually need to have a Master's/Candidatus degree or equivalent. In some cases, a four-year PhD programme is offered to students who have completed a Bachelor's qualification and one year of study at postgraduate level. It is also common to be interviewed either by phone or in person.

A further requirement to study in Denmark is the ability to speak English. An acceptable level is the equivalent of their 'English B' grade in Danish upper secondary schools. Non-native English speakers need documented proof of their English proficiency or will be required to take an English test. The institute's admission office will make the decision on whether a test is necessary. Native English speakers are exempt from this.

Postgraduate courses are advertised as they become available and so carry their own deadlines and requirements for application. The institute will require certified copies of your qualifications, although in some cases they may want to receive your qualifications directly from your old institution – which may take time for you to arrange. Other requirements could include a cover letter, CV, examples of relevant previous work such as from your Master or undergraduate degrees and potentially a written research proposal.

Obtaining a residence permit

For non-EU/EEA citizens, once you've accepted a PhD position in Denmark you'll need to apply for a temporary residence permit. You can only apply for this permit once you have been accepted at a research institute approved by the Danish government. You must complete and submit your application form in your home country. If you wish to bring your partner or family with you, you must prove they can financially support themselves and you must live together once in Denmark. An application fee also applies that will vary depending on your country of origin.

For EU/EEA citizens (and Swiss nationals) the process is a little easier, you will need to apply for a registration certificate at the Regional State Administration (or Statsforvaltningen). This must be done within 3 months of arriving in Denmark.

Once you have a residence permit/registration certificate you will need to register for a CPR number at your nearest Citizen Service Centre (Folkeregisteret). This CPR number gives you access to Danish healthcare and even free Danish language lessons. You will also need this number in order to open a bank account, get a library card, find extra work or enrol any children you have at a school.

In an effort to keep highly skilled foreigners in Denmark, you can extend your residence permit by up to 6 months upon the completion of your PhD in order to find a job.

Living in Denmark

Denmark is one of the most expensive countries in Europe to live in. Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, ranked 9th most expensive city in the world to visit in 2012. This is reflected by the very high standard and of living in Denmark. But don't despair; there are many ways for students to look after the pennies. Communal living, cooking at home, packed lunches, part time work and investing in a bike are all ways you can make your budget stretch.

Students tend to live either in halls of residence, sub-let a room from a Danish landlord or live with friends. These all mean sharing a common area and cleaning, laundry and cooking will be your responsibility. You will need your CPR number to secure a room for longer than a few months and make sure when accepting accommodation you know exactly what is included in your rent, such as bills and internet etc. Roughly rent can vary between 2,500 to 5,000 DKK a month (for a single room), with utilities usually included. Contact your institute before arriving and they should be able to offer help and advice when looking for accommodation.

Many PhD students supplement their salaries with part time work. However, you should note that whilst virtually everyone in Denmark speaks excellent English you will struggle to find work if you can't speak adequate Danish. Making an effort to learn some Danish will also take you a long way with the Danes and making new friends.

The Danish way of life

Denmark has a population of 5.5 million, with the Danes being viewed as both traditional and very liberal. Their relaxed and friendly attitude to life seems in contrast with their high regard for 'the rules' and punctuality. Danes are very proud of their country with its green ethics, architectural heritage and egalitarian society.

Denmark has a big bicycle culture, probably because it is mostly flat. All cities are riddled with cycle paths and only a few kilometres out from the centre you can find idyllic woodlands and green fields. Some cities such as Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg even have free city bikes you can loan if you don't have or want to buy a bike. Biking is something that goes on all year round regardless of weather, which coincidently can be quite wet in Summer and very cold in Winter.

Ultimately the most important part of deciding on a PhD is finding the right project for you, one that interests and ignites your enthusiasm (after all it could last up to 4 years). Location can often come second when looking for a PhD position. However, if you do find yourself in Denmark then you can be happy in the knowledge that you couldn't be better placed for world class research institutes, vibrant cities, amazing countryside and the ability to say you live in a country with more pigs than people.

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