Germany’s Not-So-Free Education: Foreign Students Fear Tuition Fees Damage Diversity

Written by | Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Increased living costs and non-EU tuition fees introduced in 2016 are fueling concern among foreign students in Germany, a popular choice for non-EU students, that used to pride itself on giving free quality education for all. Foreign students worry that the hiked prices encourage exclusiveness and that Germany will no longer be a sought-after study destination.

Being the most popular country for foreign students in the non-English speaking world, Germany’s main attraction are better prospects and “no fees.” However, a recent study comparing data from 2016 and prior, before Germany introduced non-EU tuition fees, found those fees are changing students’ views. “Fees won’t be a problem for students coming from developed countries like the USA,” says Dr. Varunseelan Murugaiyan, an agricultural specialist from India at the University of Bonn, “but students coming from non-developed countries will definitely have trouble in paying the fees.”

Germany’s 16 federal states each set higher education fees individually, with the country’s southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg having passed a law in 2017 requiring non-EU students to pay 1,500 Euros per semester in tuition fees. As a result, Baden-Württemberg has since then seen applications for enrollment from non-EU students decrease by nearly 20%. For example, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology saw a sharp drop from 150 new students from Africa to only 22 newcomers after the tuition fees were introduced. On the other hand, the University of Freiburg bucked the trend because, as its vice president for academic affairs, Prof. Dr. Juliane Besters-Dilger, explains, “we expect that the already observed increase in students from Asia and Africa will remain constant despite tuition fees.”

Still, newly introduced tuition fees and living costs are regarded as the main concerns for African and Asian students in Germany, much more than racism and language apprehensions. “Charging for study may reduce the number of foreign students in the university. This may lead to low diversity,” argues Mr. Demie, an agricultural postgraduate student at the University of Bonn who hails from Ethiopia. While Germany is widely seen as one of the best countries for life science research, there is a concern that the introduction of student fees would make Germany a less attractive place for African and Asian students. As Dr. Avenyo, a development economist from Ghana at the University of Oxford, puts it, “in the long run, the fees may actually harm Germany’s position in the global economy as a diverse country with an inclusive education sector.”

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