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Germany projects year-over-year enrolment growth for winter 2021

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Based on a recent survey, German higher education is projected to have held, and even slightly increased, its foreign enrolment in the current academic year
  • The surprising result is attributed in part to a greater proportion of students continuing on to advanced degrees this year

A December 2020 flash survey conducted by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) estimates that foreign enrolment has actually increased slightly in German universities this semester.

The survey gathered enrolment data from 161 of the 270 member universities of the German Rectors’ Conference, and extrapolates those results across all institutions for the current winter semester (which runs from 1 October through 31 March). The extrapolated survey data projects a total enrolment of 330,000 international students this year, representing roughly a 3% increase over the year before.

A closer look inside the numbers reveals that the number of newly arrived commencing students from abroad declined slightly for winter semester 2021 but still hovered around 78,000 (a -1% decline from the 78,670 reported last year). Not surprisingly, the bigger decline was in the category of exchange students – that is, students coming to Germany for a semester or year abroad. Exchange numbers fell by more than half this year (-54%), from 21,524 in 2019/20 to roughly 10,000 for the current semester.

That decline, however, was almost entirely offset by increased enrolment from degree-seeking students, with the overall effect that total foreign numbers increased from 319,463 last year to a (projected) 330,000 for winter semester 2021.

Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Jan Kercher, a DAAD expert for external studies and statistics, said,

“Germany’s long-term attractiveness as a study location seems to have increased against the background of the Corona crisis; significantly more international students now want to complete their entire degree at German universities than before. I actually did not expect this effect to be so clear.”

Dr Kercher’s analysis suggests that, while enrolment increases or decreases vary by university, the pandemic has actually helped to boost overall numbers in the current semester. This is partly due to a bulge as students who deferred earlier programme starts began their studies in October and partly to the fact that larger numbers of students are opting to continue to advanced degrees in an uncertain economic climate.

“Fewer students completed their studies in Germany and left the university system in the last two semesters than in previous years,” he explains. “That should be another corona effect. On the one hand, there are certainly students who have had delays in their studies due to the corona-related changes in the course of study. On the other hand, I suspect that more Bachelor graduates than usual started straight away with a Master’s degree in order not to have to look for a job in the current situation, as might originally have been planned.”

On-site but most often still online

Based on the December survey responses, DAAD projects that, overall, half of commencing students have already arrived at their universities. Roughly four in ten universities report that nearly all commencing students (90%+) have arrived on campus.

“Entry to Germany seems to have been possible for most of the new students, despite the travel restrictions and the sometimes delayed issuing of visas,” says Dr Kercher who also cautions that, “The fact that the students are on site does not necessarily mean that they can currently also attend face-to-face events at their universities. According to our extrapolation, almost a quarter of the universities currently practice purely digital or virtual distance learning, while the remaining three quarters work with a mixed model of digital distance learning and classroom teaching in small groups or face-to-face exams.”

The German Federal Foreign Office provides regular updates on travel restrictions, including quarantine and testing requirements, for foreign travellers hoping to enter the country.

With some exceptions for travellers from high-risk countries, foreign students are permitted to enter Germany to attend school, pursue higher education, or to join a language course leading to further studies.

Schools and institutions remain largely closed at this writing as the country remains under strict lockdown conditions through 14 February. Press reports this week suggest it is likely that the lockdown will be extended through 14 March.

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