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Foreign enrolment in German universities reaches record high

Germany is well on its way to an ambitious goal of hosting 350,000 foreign university students by 2020. The latest figures released this month by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) reveal that 300,909 foreign students were enrolled in German universities in 2013/14, representing roughly 10% of the total higher education enrolment in Germany this year. This compares to 282,000 international students in 2013, and is up from 246,000 students a decade ago.

This growing enrolment base places Germany among the top study destinations in the world, after the US and UK certainly, but contending with China, France, and Australia for the number three rank among major global destinations.

”Germany is an exceptionally attractive place to study and research. This is also the result of our global information and marketing activities for higher education in Germany,” said DAAD President Margret Wintermantel. DAAD maintains a network of 70 branch offices worldwide and supports a wide network of lecturers and German studies centres as well.

DAAD reports that engineering degrees and graduate studies are some of the areas of greatest demand. Roughly 55% of Germany’s international students are from Europe. Another 30% are from Asia and 6% come from North America. The prospect of learning German may be daunting for some but the challenge is eased by the fact that as many as 1,600 programmes at German universities are taught in English.

As is the case for other major destinations, China is the number one source of foreign students in Germany. However, German institutions are reporting strong enrolment growth from South Asia – India and Bangladesh in particular – as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Speaking to Student World Online, Chinese student Tianjue Li said, “People enjoy an outstanding quality of life here, with food security, a clean environment, well-covered health insurance, freedom of speech, etc. Yet the reason why a great number of Chinese students go abroad for study is mainly because of their dissatisfaction with the domestic education system, the leading standard of higher education in Western countries, and the globalisation in China right now.”

German Education Minister Johanna Wanka echoes Tianjue Li’s point regarding the importance of internationalisation: “Excellent education needs international exchange and the basis for that are universities which are open to the world and in which everyone from professors to administrators to students provides a welcoming environment.”

A commitment to affordability

Germany certainly qualifies as welcoming. Education News notes that the vast majority of university students in Germany attend public institutions, where tuition fees are either strikingly affordable or non-existent. “A German student at a public university will pay US$300 to US$2,000 in fees,” notes Education News. “A four-year public college in the US will charge US$8,893 for in-state students and US$22,203 for out-of-state students…In Germany, tuition fees are not applicable. In 2005, several German state universities tried to charge tuition fees, albeit small ones, but the public voted it down. The only universities that still charge tuition will stop doing so at the end of 2014.”

Dr Herbert Grieshop of Freie Universität Berlin speaks to the different motivations that German institutions have to build their international student numbers: “Despite the fact that we don’t charge fees in Germany – and therefore don’t have any financial gains from foreign students – we actively recruit internationally, particularly at Master’s and Doctoral level. We believe that internationalisation of teaching, research and of our campus as a whole is a step forward and will also help to solve the demographic issue that universities in Germany will have to face rather soon.”

DAAD notes that even with the minimal fees charged, the economic impact of the sector is nevertheless substantial. Foreign students in Germany spent an estimated €1.5 billion in 2011, and generated tax revenues of roughly €400 million.

Come for the degree, stay for the career

The economic impact of international students in Germany stands to become more significant still as greater numbers of students remain in the country after graduation. A recent survey of 11,000 foreign students found that the majority are planning to stay on in Germany after their studies. The survey, conducted by the Education Ministry and DAAD, found that three in ten plan to stay permanently, and another four out of ten plan to remain for at least 10 years. (A further 7% are planning a short-term stay after graduation.)

“The research also suggests that international students are managing to cover the costs of their degrees while they are studying abroad,” says Student World Online. “A staggering two out of three of the students questioned said they were in paid full-time employment, 7% said they were working part-time, 7% were self-employed or freelance, and only 6.8% were looking for a job.”

Germany has, in recent years, eased post-study work options and immigration opportunities for foreign graduates. More specifically:

  • Students are allowed to work to earn a living for 120 instead of 90 days a year;
  • On graduating, they can stay in Germany for 18 instead of the current 12 months to seek skilled posts;
  • No restrictions will be imposed on employment during the period in which they are looking for permanent employment, and Federal Labour Agency consent will not be required;
  • A permanent resident’s permit will be granted after two years.

To say the least, these policies appear to be having the desired effect of making Germany a more attractive study destination. Respondents to the recent DAAD student survey said the main things that drew them to Germany were the quality of education (89%), the acceptance of German degrees internationally (72%), and the low tuition fees (68%). “For prospective students, [Germany] is becoming known for low cost, high-quality higher education,” notes a recent post from Al-Fanar.

With its progressive immigration policies now in place, Germany will now continue ahead to its 350,000-student target, along with the other priorities identified in DAAD’s wide-ranging Strategy 2020. “The international attractiveness of higher education and research location is measured by how many foreign students are attracted to a country,” said Dr Wintermantel. “The fact that so many of them remain, shows that Germany is attractive for talent from around the world.”

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