The state of science in Denmark

Last Thursday, we had a visit from the leader of the Head of Department of Chemistry. It was the usual deal with everyone introducing themselves and then he gave a brief spiel on what he wanted us to do or concentrate on.

One of the things he mentioned actually surprised me a bit. He said that we (as in the Department of Chemistry) needed to increase our number of students. In the past year, the first year intake for Chemistry has been about 50 students, whereas Physics intake is about 150 students. He said that the reason for high school students not to take Chemistry was that it is viewed as a hard science where you will be stuck with research, i.e. it didn’t lead to a “real” job.

Contrast this with, say, Australia, where Chemistry is undoubtedly more popular than Physics, precisely because it leads to more job opportunities. I also had a chat with a Swedish friend who confirmed that Chemistry is generally more popular there as well. I wonder if the Danes take up more Physics than Chemistry because of the legacy of Hans Christian Ørsted and Niels Bohr, who have undeniably changed (and improved) our understanding of electromagnetism and atomic physics.

Also last week, there was an interesting article in the Department Newsletter. The article states that job security for hard science graduates (is) untouched by financial crisis. This also surprises me. Coming from Australia where these hard sciences constantly face budget cuts, which is compounded by plans to further cut A$2 billion from the whole university sector. Although, now that Julia Gillard is no longer prime minister, who knows if this plan will still go ahead or not.

Danish bureaucracy

I guess every country has its own idiosyncrasies. Denmark is no exception. Every long-term resident in Denmark needs to have a CPR number, without which nothing else can progress. You will need a CPR number if you want to get a bank account, mobile plan, utilities, housing, etc. In my case, I had to wait almost a week in order to get my CPR, as the people at the International Citizen Service could not register my CPR until I had a proper (i.e. non-hotel) address. I am fortunate that I have been arranged an accommodation before I arrived in Denmark. I have no idea what I would have to do had I not have anywhere to stay.

Speaking of the International Citizen Service, it is actually a very nice service where you can register your CPR, get a residence and health cards, and also meet a tax person. It’s a one-stop solution that every country should adopt, in my opinion.

Back to the CPR, it is basically a number that consists of your date of birth, plus four random digits at the end. A health card therefore can act as an ID, as it has your address and date of birth embedded in it. You will need this card to go and see a doctor, which I think is free (Danes, correct me if I’m wrong). The caveat is, you are assigned a doctor based on where you live. So you can’t just go to any doctor. You have to go to a specific one, unless if it’s an emergency, I guess.

If you are a new foreigner into Denmark like me, then the next step after getting your CPR is to get a bank account. I chose Danske Bank because they seem to have lots of branches. As it turned out, not all of those branches handle cash! I was surprised when I went to one and found a very corporate-looking office with no customers. The receptionist assured me that I was at the right place, though. I was assigned a financial consultant (I guess) who helped me set up my account. I was actually very impressed by his patience and thoroughness in going through everything and basically help me understand the deep interlink between all the centralised systems.

Now, this is where things get interesting. Remember that everything depends on your CPR? There is also a single log-in system linked to the CPR that the Danes have adopted: NemID. This system allows you access to your online banking, register a new address, and access other government services. The NemID system consists of a username (your CPR), a password, and a one-time password distributed via a printed card. So it is supposed to be very secure.

Front and back of NemID.
Front and back of NemID.

Another component that works in conjunction with CPR, NemID, and bank account is NemKonto. Basically, it is an account that you nominate to become your NemKonto. Think of it as an alias. So instead of typing the full account name and number, a company can just type in your NemKonto, which is linked to your bank account and CPR (of course!).

There is another component that is somewhat not too critical, but is also very useful. We are assigned a digital mailbox where official letters from government institutions and other institutions and companies (e.g. University, utilities companies) will be delivered to.

I do like the Danish system. Everything is centralised and linked. I know that some people don’t like that the government is collecting all these information about its people, but it does make life a bit easier. For example, if I want to move places, all I have to do is log in to the government website (e.g. the City of Copenhagen’s website) via my NemID, and the change will be propagated to all services that use my CPR. They will even send the new health card to my new address.