A DISPUTE which threatened an agreement on student mobility between the Nordic nations days before it became effective has been defused - but only until the end of the year. Norway's minister of education, Reidar Sandal, has backed down in a row with his Danish counterpart, Ole Vig Jensen, over the number of Norwegian medical students who will be allowed to study in Denmark during the next academic year.
By the application deadline on March 15 1997, several hundred Norwegian medical students had applied for places at Danish universities. This would have resulted in between 200 and 350 of Denmark's 956 medical student places being occupied by Norwegians - at a cost of DKK30,000-50,000 (Pounds 2,715-4,525) a year each. This would leave fewer places for Danish students.
Last year, Kresten Philipsen, the chairman of the association of county councils in Denmark, which are responsible for hospitals, called the agreement unacceptable: "I can't understand the minister signing this agreement if it leads to a lack of Danish doctors."
In May, to break the deadlock, Denmark gave Norway a quota of 73 student places (61 medical, seven dental and five veterinary medicine), which the Norwegians felt to be too few. Mr Jensen said: "Primarily, there must be places for Danish applicants so we can meet the demand here in Denmark. If the Norwegians can't find a solution to their own lack of places we must annul the agreement."
Mr Sandal could not accept that Denmark limited the number of Norwegians studying at Danish universities. He believed that Denmark, as a member of the European Union, could not sign an agreement on the free movement of students, which also applies to Norway as a country associated with the EU through an EES agreement, and later limit those movements.
The Danish minister of education said that the agreement cannot be considered as binding for the 1997/98 educational year because it was signed six weeks after the application deadline for medical studies in Denmark. Without the agreement Norway would be allowed only 13 places in Denmark for medical students. Mr Jensen says the quota gives Norway a good deal. Mr Sandal said that if Denmark annulled the agreement there could be no consequences before the 1998/99 educational year. Norway proposed that its current applications be processed and approved on the basis of their qualifications, irrespective of the number.
Following an ultimatum from Denmark, however, Mr Sandal accepted the situation - for this year. If new negotiations about the number of Norwegian students do not resolve the problem by mid-November, the Danes will tear up the agreement.
"The idea behind the agreement was never that one country should be able to exploit another country's educational system. In future, the agreement's text must state that there are special rules for medicine," Ole Vig Jensen said. He thought the limit should be 60.