What's it like to study in Germany? – The Guardian

Germany has been named the most attractive country for international students. Here’s what to consider before you make the move
Last modified on Wed 12 Jul 2017 04.15 EDT
Brexit is on its way, and with it come doubts about the ability of students to go on a European year abroad so easily in the future. Whether you want to do a full-time degree, or just get out to the continent on a year abroad while we’re still part of the EU, Germany – named the most attractive destination for international students in a recent survey – could be the place to go. Here’s everything you need to know about studying in Deutschland – and why it might be worth considering if you want a cheaper, grown-up and relaxed approach to education.

Brexit shouldn’t necessarily put you off studying abroad just yet. Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, remains optimistic, saying: “I doubt there will be much immediate Brexit effect.” However, the government’s position is that the UK’s involvement in some EU study programmes “may continue subject to the negotiation”.
Could the referendum result make studying abroad a bit awkward? “I can hardly imagine any negative attitude towards present or prospective UK students at German institutions,” says Georg Krawietz, director of the German Academic Exchange Service, who points out that people in Germany are aware that the younger generation in the UK was overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU.
Monoglots, don’t fret. Although English-taught programmes are rare for undergraduate courses, they are more common for postgrads. At master’s level, there are about 970 courses taught in English and 250 PhDs. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offers a comprehensive database of courses with the option to look for English taught degrees.
But it’s worth making the effort outside of your studies. Daisy Cantalamessa, who lived in Berlin during her year abroad, says not speaking German can be difficult. “I was living with some German people I already knew, but if I hadn’t met them before moving there, I think I may have struggled a bit to make friends and speak the language,” she says.
Tom Hill, on a master’s course at the Freie Universität Berlin, agrees that it’s worth persevering. His master’s was officially taught in English, but around a third ended up being in German, which he says was challenging.
Getting into a German university can be tricky, since they require four instead of three subjects at A-level. But according to David Hibler, the British Council senior advisor on mobility, some students have reported being able to attend a top universities although they may not be eligible for one in the UK.
Qualifications are evaluated according to the standards of the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs in a given German federal state. They are either considered equivalent or conditionally comparable, and you can check this on DAAD’s website. If it’s the latter, you will need to pass an assessment test, the so-called Feststellungsprüfung.
While undergraduate fees are set to rise over £9,000 a year in the UK, German public universities charge just a few hundred euros a year. (Private universities charge a lot more, mind.)
Most universities also include a free city-wide travel ticket as part of the registration fees – which inevitably means that some take advantage of the system. “Lecture theatres are absolutely packed at the start – people can’t fit in – and then they’re empty for the rest of the year,” says Sam James, who studied in Berlin as part of his undergraduate degree. “A lot of people sign on to the course to get the free travel pass.”
Taking time over your degree is the norm in Germany. The more flexible approach was attractive for Hill, who was an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham before moving to Berlin for his master’s. “I’ve been studying for three years now and it’s meant to be two,” he says. “It’s cheaper so you can drag it out, whereas in the UK you’d have to finish – unless you want to get into serious debt.”

Phil Bradfield, who did his BA at Leeds University and is now doing an MSc at Universität Hamburg, says this attitude suits him. “I’m paying just under €300 per semester,” he says. “In theory, [the course is] two years but they are very flexible about how long you actually take to do things, so it’ll probably take me five years to do it. I’m quite happy to stay here and try and find work in between.”Are there many mature students?
It can be hard being a mature student in the UK. Even if you’re still in your 20s, the 18-year-olds around you seem to think you’re weird for even being there. In Germany, however, there’s often a greater age range. “You can get people starting their undergrad in their late 20s and this happens a lot,” says James. “Certainly, it’s not like everyone has just done their A-levels and come out of school.” Hill agrees: “I’m 27, and I think I was youngest person on my course.”
In Germany, most students live in and around the cities, while only around 10% live on campus or in halls. “You don’t have student areas,” says James, who thinks that German students often live a more grown-up existence. “While there is definitely a party culture, there’s not the same kind of organised student drinking.”
So for those who aren’t into the campus life of many UK universities, this can be a genuine alternative. Hill says: “In Berlin, I was always in private housing. It didn’t feel like student life as much as living in a city and experiencing it that way. There wasn’t the same kind of student drink culture that you get at British unis.”
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