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New tax package must not be allowed to obstruct Danish health research

Internationalisation is a prerequisite for creating world-class health research. This position is at risk if the Danish tax regulations are not adapted to research.

by Lars Bo Nielsen, Dean of the Faculty of Health, Aarhus University

In the big picture, health research is a collaboration that encompasses all continents. Each researcher makes his or her contribution and adds new knowledge to the bigger jigsaw puzzle that must be solved to create a new and better understanding of diseases and treatment. In this context, Denmark contributes with important pieces, but is heavily dependent on the exchange of knowledge across national borders. Not least for the sake of Danish patients who receive the medicine and treatment that is a result of this research. For this reason, we encourage our researchers to seek knowledge and learning in the strongest research environments wherever they are. This is essential for Danish patients to be able to benefit from world-class health research. We also have something to offer, such as well-educated researchers from a democratic society with few hierarchical barriers and an orderly healthcare sector that has spent decades collecting data for research purposes. In itself something that can be attractive for the best research environments.

In light of this, it appears that the government has forgotten to include research in the recently adopted tax package. The tax package means that you must have resided in an EU/EEA country for seven out of the last eight years in order to be entitled to social benefits. Researchers who travel to undertake research abroad for more than a year in e.g. the USA, Australia or China, will lose their entitlement to Danish unemployment benefits if they become unemployed when they return home. Even if they have paid taxes and membership fees for an unemployment insurance fund in the years before. The same conditions will apply to any accompanying partner who moves abroad with them.

Naturally, moving children away from their familiar life, having a partner quit his or her job and transplanting a family to a foreign culture for the sake of a research year at an international university will cost every junior researcher and his or her family a great deal of discussion, planning and negotiation. The impact of the new tax package; that a family can actually lose their livelihood when they return to Denmark does not count as a plus in an already difficult decision-making process. Because a research career does not necessarily equate to a permanent position until much later on in that career. 

The residence requirement therefore runs counter to our need for internationally mobile researchers. Not as an end in itself, but as a prerequisite for strengthening the academic quality that is required to be among the world's leading universities and to be able to provide our patients with the best treatment in the future. Simply put, it is a fundamental premise for strong Danish health research that we can add knowledge, experience and inspiration from all parts of the research world. Also from parts that lie outside of Europe’s borders. 

It is also appropriate to recall how much health research means for Danish life science and its revenue (DKK 170 billion in 2016) and export (DKK 107 billion in 2016). Despite its size, Denmark has a unique leading position in health research – and we are good at earning money from it. We must not jeopardise this with rigid residency requirements. 

The column was in Altinget on the 10th of April 2018