Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
4th Apr 2013

Germany’s new strategies in the race for international students

Germany's post-study work options continue to enable the country to attract a large and ever-growing number of international students, but what kind of new strategies is the nation using to maintain a hold on its position as a strong study destination? ICEF Monitor explores these topics below.

Germany's rise to the top

At a German Federal Education Ministry press conference held in January, a ministry spokesperson took a moment to reflect on Germany's changing fortune as a destination for international education. In the year 2000, 175,000 international students had elected to study at German institutions; in 2011, international student enrolment reached over a quarter million, making Germany the fourth most popular study destination worldwide. And as the number of enrolments has grown, so too has the number of graduates. In September 2012, the Federal Ministry for Statistics announced that the number of international students graduating from German institutions had reached almost 38,300 in 2011 – up 2,900 or 8% from the previous year. By contrast, in 2000, graduating students from abroad had numbered less than 14,000.

Increasing student diversity

Of all the international students who graduated in Germany in 2012, 13% came from China, 7% from Turkey, and 5% from Russia. These three countries aside, international media coverage suggests that the appeal of studying in Germany is spreading around the world:

  • In February of last year, ICEF Monitor reported that more and more Indian students are choosing to pursue their studies in Germany. Additionally, the German Ambassador to India has announced a goal that by 2017, one million Indian students would have learned, at least, basic German. To this end, India and Germany have recently signed two agreements: one aimed at promoting the German language in India, and the other to strengthen cooperation in education and research (the two countries will commit EUR 3.5 million each to promote research in education).
  • Due to the instability of some economies in Europe, Germany is rising in esteem as a path to more secure employment.
  • This past January, journalists from the UK's Telegraph investigated a growing tendency among British students to enrol at German institutions.

Why international students choose Germany

In a recent article that probed the reasons why Chinese youth chose to study in Germany, the Deutsche Welle learned that many students from China would have preferred to study elsewhere, but settled for Germany. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), reached similar conclusions in a summer 2012 poll of 6,000 international students from non-EU countries. Classic destinations such as the US or UK will always top an international student's choice, however, low or no tuition fees has often been cited as one of the reasons for Germany's appeal, as well as post-study work rights for foreign students. The German government is eager to attract immigrants to the country to offset a shortage of skilled labour, and its implementation of the EU Blue Card scheme introduced last summer plays a role in that.

The Blue Card in Germany

Similar to the US's Green Card, the EU Blue Card "is designed to make Europe a more attractive destination for highly educated persons from outside the European Union. All 27 EU member states, except the UK, Denmark and Ireland, participate in the EU Blue Card scheme." According to the business magazine Wirtschafts Woche, in the first six months since it was introduced, the card has already been issued to 4,126 applicants, outstripping the 3,600 cards that the government had expected to issue in the first year. The top four origin countries for card recipients are India, China, Russia and the US. Many of the applicants had previously graduated from German higher education institutions, thus the card serves as a clear student pathway to employment.

The DAAD's “Strategy 2020”

Germany will have to further develop its internationalisation strategies in order to remain an attractive destination.

According to an estimate by the DAAD, Germany needs to attract 350,000 international students by 2020 merely to retain its current position.

To achieve that goal, the DAAD recently adopted a new strategic plan for the next decade. The plan, titled “Strategy 2020,” consists of several measures aimed to improve Germany's position as a centre of learning and research, including:

  • Scholarships for the best German and international students;
  • The development of programmes that will help German universities raise their profile internationally;
  • Improvement and expansion of the DAAD's network of branch offices, information centres, and German studies language assistants around the world;
  • Educating staff to increase understanding about foreign cultures and education systems to help build international partnerships.

Transnational partnerships to promote German higher education

The first of these measures, which aims to support international collaboration, was launched in February. According to the DAAD,

"German higher education institutions can receive up to EUR 250,000 per year from a new DAAD programme aimed at strengthening their international profile. A first selection round has produced 21 projects which will be funded for a maximum of four years. The programme supports these projects in building up strategic partnerships and thematic networks with foreign universities. Higher education institutions from 29 countries are involved in the selected projects. The USA and China are particularly well represented. The programme 'Strategic Partnerships and Thematic Networks' is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education, which is providing almost EUR 3 milion in the first year alone."

The programme is expected to foster scientific and academic cooperation and promote Germany as a destination for study abroad.

Present appeal and future promise

Germany's implementation of post-study work rights, as well as the DAAD's “Strategy 2020” appear likely to attract greater student numbers and to increase the profile of German higher education – and perhaps even to help Germany become an attractive destination in its own right, rather than a prudent second choice. Editor's note - The original version of this post incorrectly reported Germany's international enrolment at 75,000 for the year 2000, whereas it was in fact 175,000. We regret the error and have corrected the enrolment figures reported in the post – and have also revised other related aspects of the article – to more accurately reflect the current and historical market conditions in Germany.

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