Free tuition in Germany not attractive for all foreigners

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.

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.

Fear of student debt

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.

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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