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A new study says Germany is an exception with its free higher education. But while free tuition brings lots of foreign students here, it’s also keeping some of them away.
“Only Germany still offers university tuition with no fees,” reported many media outlets on Thursday. Given that 2017 is an election year, such a statement has the potential to reignite a long-standing debate about tuition fees in Germany.
But upon closer inspection, the headlines about “cheaper education” proved to be misleading. They are based on a study commissioned by the Hamburg-based Körber Foundation and carried out by the Boston Center for International Higher Education. According to the study, Germany is “the only country where politics is committed to free public university education for almost all students.” However, the study only compares 13 countries, including 10 G-20 countries.
In reality, other countries also succeed in providing tuition-free education. In France, students only have to pay a matriculation fee, Austria only collects fees from non-EU foreign students, and in the Czech Republic, only those who want to study in English have to pay. In Norway and Denmark, tuition is free for citizens as well as students from EU countries.
In Germany, higher education is free, except for semester fees that cover administrative costs. In some states, only long-term students have to pay an extra fee. Still, the situation is vastly different from the United States or the United Kingdom, where tuition fees can reach up to 40,000 euros per year.
No other German university has more foreign student’s than the Technical University of Munich
Fear of student debt
Brigitte Göbbels-Dreyling, deputy secretary general for the German Rectors’ Conference (a voluntary association of higher education institutes) says the reasons Germany has free tuition are tradition and a “totally different understanding of the role education plays.” People in Germany see higher education as “a public good, a way to train specialists that then benefit the public.” In the Anglo-Saxon world, people tend to see the “individual benefits, such as better career prospects and a higher income,” she said.
The university in the city that hosts one of Germany’s largest parties, Karneval, comes in tenth place. The relaxed attitude of the locals make it a popular destination with international students as does its proximity to other major European cities – it is a train ride from Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris.
The university is named after German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, just in case you were wondering. Frankfurt, which is often called “Mainhattan” because of its skyscrapers, is one of the country’s ethnically diverse cities, and its banking sector offers a lot of opportunities.
With 37,000 students, the University of Duisburg-Essen is one of the largest higher education institutions in Germany. The university is a result of a merger in 2003 by the Universities of Duisburg and Essen. Studying in this region puts students in Germany’s most densely populated region, the Ruhr Valley.
Founded in 1386, it is the oldest university in Germany. Bearing that title makes the university one of the most attractive destinations for foreign students, not to mention the appeal of Heidelberg – a city with one of the most charming and intact old towns in Germany.
It is one of the oldest universities in Germany. With notable alumni including Otto von Bismarck, Heinrich Heine, Robert Koch and African American activist WEB Dubois, the university also has a great reputation.
Berlin isn’t only popular with tourists. Students love it. Apart from being known for its high ranked engineering program, Technical University of Berlin’s location in the German capital is advantageous because it the cost of living is lower than other large western European cities.
RWTH Aachen university is located in the city it’s named after, which lies on the German border with Belgium and the Netherlands. As Germany’s largest technical university, RWTH’s motto, “Zukunft denken” (Thinking the future) , also clearly reflects the university’s reputation in the country.
The Bavarian capital is also home to another world class institution – the Munich University of Technology. In 2013, just under one in five students were foreign, according to the university’s figures.
Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) is in Munich, which was ranked “the world’s most livable city” by Monocle magazine in 2013. It is one of Germany’s oldest and most prestigious universities – 34 Nobel laureates are associated with LMU.
The Free University of Berlin (FU Berlin) was founded in 1948. Its name is a reference to West Berlin because of its status as part of the “free world” unlike its counterpart in then Soviet-occupied East Berlin, Humboldt University. FU Berlin is among the 11 institutions in the German Universities Excellence Initiative.
Author: Chiponda Chimbelu
Germany is also committed to free tuition because of its goal of making a university education possible for children from low-income families. “In the 1960s and ‘70s in Germany, there was a discussion about widespread access to higher education, in conjunction with support for free tuition,” said Göbbels-Dreyling. She adds that many people in Germany are fearful about going into debt for their studies – something that is almost second nature in the United States and Asia, where families are prepared to save for university or take out student loans.
Lots of Master’s students from the US
Does free tuition make Germany an attractive destination for foreign students? Yes and no, says Göbbels-Dreyling. “It’s an important argument in our favor when it comes to attracting international students,” she said. Many international students list free tuition as one of the reasons for choosing Germany.
On the other hand, she said that many so-called high potential students who can afford to go to the US or Britain will choose to do so. “The high tuition fees give them the impression that the education is better there,” she said.
Grothus: ‘We have a lot of Americans who come here to do their Master’s degree’
But many of Germany’s international students come from the US. “We have a lot of Americans who come here to do their Master’s degree,” said Ulrich Grothus, deputy general secretary of the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD. “But at the same time, there are a lot of very good students who say, there are better alternatives, and I can afford them.” Particularly in Asia, there’s a widely held view that publicly financed higher education can’t possibly be any good.
Attractive for foreigners, controversial in Germany
Grothus doesn’t believe that free tuition is the biggest factor for international students when choosing to come to Germany. He says university rankings are more important. “Together with France, we are the most important non-English-speaking host country,” said Grothus.
He also emphasizes that German universities are more than able to accommodate international students, partly because of the quota system for non-EU students. “They are not taking spots away from German students,” he said. “And often it’s the case that foreign students are more interested than German students for those subjects for which Germany has a good reputation, namely engineering and natural sciences,” said Grothus. And such graduates will have their pick of jobs, not just in their home countries, but in Germany, too.
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