Germany’s universities are not only steeped in a rich heritage and historical past, they are also the seats of world-class education and innovation.
Over the last decade, Germany has emerged as an attractive higher education destination for students from across the world. After committing itself to the Bologna Process in 1999, Germany has shown genuine interest in the internationalization of its education.
It has restructured its courses on the European model of higher education and the German Magister and Diplom higher education diplomas are being phased out to be replaced by bachelor's and master's degrees.
Germany has also introduced a points system accepted by universities across Europe to allow result and course comparison with other countries. “Internationalization is high on the agenda of most German universities,” says Jean Schleiss, Director of International Cooperation and Student Exchange International Affairs, Ludwig-Maximilians- Universitaet (LMU), Munich. “Sending students abroad, as well as welcoming international students, is equally encouraged."
German graduate programs
With 355 officially recognized higher education providers, spread across 165 areas in Germany, and offering more than 10,000 courses, international students are spoilt for choice. To further help interested students navigate through the vast choices, the CHE rankings have been assessing German education institutions since 1998 and have recently started to internationalize the ranking, allowing for participation of foreign education players as well.
There is also great emphasis being placed on the promotion of top research. The German government’s Initiative for Excellence aims to provide funding to education institutions in order to encourage “internationally visible research beacons in Germany”. It also includes the funding of nine universities within Germany to promote the future concepts of research.
Graduate visa applications
There are two types of visas available to students. Those who intend to enrol on a short-term course, will require the Schengen-Visa, issued for a maximum stay of three months once every six months. For a long-term course, such as a master's or a doctoral program, students will need a National Visa for the purpose of studying.
EU passport holders do not require any visa formalities. The Language Course Visa is an easy option for those students visiting Germany to learn the language. However, this visa is only valid for the duration of the course.
Students are permitted to work after the completion of their degree. “Career services at universities, and an increasing number of career fairs offered in Germany, support students in finding job opportunities upon their graduation,” says Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch of Universität Heidelberg.
Graduates can extend their residence permit up to twelve months in order to find a job in Germany.
Fees, scholarships and living costs
Germany is an attractive place to study because of its very low tuition fees (if any at all) in comparison with other countries, and the fact that international students generally pay no more than what the home students are paying. A tuition fee at Heidelberg University, for example, is €500 per semester; admission and social fee is €106.50 per semester.
The cost of living in Germany is on a par with any European country, and international students should be ready to pay anything between €625 to €675 per month. Much of the expense is taken up by accommodation. Therefore, international students are advised to do advance booking of their accommodation with the university or at an affordable place nearby. As an alternative, students can flatshare with others to save money.
There are a number of scholarships available for international students, details of which can be found on the German Academic Exchange Service website, DAAD. LMU’s Schleiss says: “There are various scholarship schemes for both national and international students as well as the student loan scheme, BaföG. The latest scholarship scheme, is the “Deutschland-Stipendium”, to which all enrolled students - in Germany - can apply.”
German language ability
At degree level, students coming for university education in Germany have to clear either TestDaF (Test of German as a Foreign Language) or DSH which stands for German Language University Entrance Examination. While most undergraduate courses are taught in German, more and more masters and research level programs are being taught entirely in English. Ulrich Marsch, from Technische Universität München, says for masters and graduate students, language is not a problem.
“More than 20 of our master's courses are held completely in English and another 27 BSc and MSc courses are partially held in English,” he says.
However, a basic course in the language helps for a smooth life in Germany. “International students coming to Heidelberg should keep in mind that even though there are classes and courses offered in English, a sound proficiency of the German language is sometimes indispensable, and in general, it makes their stay in Germany a much more rewarding experience if they are willing to learn the country’s language,” a spokesperson from Heidelberg says.
The German higher education system
The German higher education system offers learning through three types of institutions: universities, universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) and colleges of art, film and music.
Universities focus on the study of subjects such as humanities, biology, philosophy, and law while universities of applied sciences focus on programs which prepare students for specific industries. These programs keep a tab on the market demands and focus on practical training.
Colleges of art, film and music prepare students for a creative career in fine arts, filmmaking, dance, producing and directing. The academic year in Germany is divided into two semesters: the winter semester begins in September, while the summer semester begins in April. Deadlines for graduate courses at each of Germany’s educational institutions do vary so international students are advised to refer to their particular program of study for details.
Popular graduate courses
Germany is famous for its research-based programs and attracts international students interested in research related to a variety of subjects. At Technische Universität München, for instance, more than 20% of international students come to study a masters or PhD course. The most popular masters programs include Land Management and Land Tenure, and Computational Mechanics.
Meanwhile, Heidelberg University has a distinguished reputation in the fields of medicine, the life sciences and law, thereby attracting most applications from international students to these particular fields. At the Ludwig- Maximilians-Universitaet, Munich, international students are attracted to the Faculty of Cultural Studies, with subsequent popular course choices including medicine, law, economics, and business administration.
Without a doubt, Germany’s higher education system certainly provides international students with plenty of choices.