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Tax agreement may cut off an important lifeline for research

Some aspects of the Danish government’s new tax agreement are problematic for Danish research, argues Rector Brian Bech Nielsen.

Recently, the Danish government entered into a tax agreement with the Danish People's Party. According to one provision in the agreement, both internationals and Danish citizens must have lived in Denmark or an EU/EEA country for six of the past seven years in order to earn the right to social security benefits in Denmark.

This means that researchers who take up residence abroad for more than one year in countries which offer world-class research opportunities – such as the USA, Canada or China - are not entitled to unemployment benefit when they get home. This also applies to any accompanying family members.

This provision is antithetical to the global nature of academia. As a researcher, you are part of an international exchange in which the free circulation of knowledge and ideas is a necessary condition for high quality. And because Denmark is a small country, it is particularly vital that we acknowledge the necessity of this exchange. And that we continue to derive the full benefit from our participation in it. This means that we must encourage researchers, particularly early career researchers, to travel and study abroad, acquiring experience and connections in the world’s strongest research groups – many of which happen to be located outside the EU. And we know from experience that many of these researchers will ultimately return to Denmark, where their contributions will strengthen Danish research in decisive ways.

Internationalisation is not a goal in itself. But internationalisation is a necessary condition for achieving the high level of research excellence which a position among the world’s leading universities requires.

This fact is also reflected by the seven norms for recruitment which Aarhus University recently adopted after a comprehensive internal consultation process. The norms make it explicit that we consider experience from strong research groups outside Denmark from all over the world to be an asset.

The recently concluded tax agreement does not encourage this possibility – on the contrary, it may pressure researchers to remain in Europe when planning a research stay abroad. If this happens, it will have pronounced harmful effects on the standard of research excellence in Denmark.