Considering a master’s in Germany? You’re certainly not alone. Mansoor Iqbal explores some of the reasons behind the growing popularity of Germany among international graduate students, and talks you through the application process.
Of the 4.1 million students who studied internationally in 2010, 6.3% choose to study in Germany. To put this into perspective, only the US, the UK and Australia could boast a greater share of international students – making Germany the most popular non-Anglophone study destination in the world, as well as the fourth most popular overall.
Figures from Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD – the German Academic Exchange Service) indicate that 70,000 students were studying in Germany at graduate level in the same year, of which 50,000 were on master’s programs. So, what explains the appeal of completing a master’s in Germany?
Universities in Germany
Perhaps we might start with the high quality of universities in Germany, which include more than 40 entries in the QS World University Rankings® 2013/14 – a figure precious few countries can rival. An impressive 13 of these make the elite top 200, so we are talking about some real academic heavyweights here.
As of the 2013/14 edition of the QS ranking, Germany’s top-ranked universities are Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (50th), Technische Universität München (53rd) and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (65th).
Most of Germany’s universities are public, and a spokesperson from the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), identifies some of the governmental initiatives that have supported their development. “With the Pact for Higher Education and the Quality Pact for Teaching, the federal government and the länder (regions) are creating additional university places, recruiting additional staff, and improving study conditions at German institutions of higher education. Flagship programs like the Excellence Initiative are promoting cutting-edge research at outstanding institutions across the country.”
This Excellence Initiative awarded more than €2.4 billion (US$3.1bn) in funding to 45 graduate-level institutions, 43 ‘clusters of excellence’ and 11 cross-university strategies in 2012, with the overall goal being the promotion of high-level research in the country.
This is not the only evidence of Germany’s dedication to education and research. We might also look the €13.7 billion (US$17.8bn) budget reserved for the BMBF in 2013 – an increase of 6.2.% on the previous year. And this is a consistent trend. In total, increases to the ministry’s budget since 2010 alone add up to a total €13.3 billion (US$17.3bn) – equivalent to a whole extra year of funding.
Funding for international students in Germany
For the ambitious scholar, figures like this are extremely appealing, perhaps even more so when you bear in mind that some of this funding is reserved specifically for international students. In fact, DAAD is the world’s largest funding organization for international students.
DAAD spokesperson Ursula Egyptien, discusses the availability of funding for international students in Germany. “There are many opportunities to secure funding for short- and long-term study visits in Germany. International students can apply for scholarships offered by a variety of organizations and institutions. The DAAD scholarship database is a convenient tool for researching various types of scholarships online. The database not only contains scholarships offered by the DAAD, but other funding organizations as well.”
As well as DAAD, other organizations which may provide scholarships for international students in Germany include the DFG (the German Research Foundation) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which provides funding to PhD students. However, Egyptien warns that individual German universities do not tend to offer scholarships on an institutional basis.
Applying to universities in Germany
One student who has benefited from a DAAD scholarship is Camila Florez from Peru, currently studying a master’s degree in environmental governance at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. “My program is considered ‘of relevance for developing countries’, so a number of places have been assigned to DAAD students,” she explains. “There are seven DAAD students in my class, two from Asia, two from Africa and three from South America. The DAAD supports you not only for your day-to-day life but also for an internship period and the thesis field trip.”
Camila adds that studying a master’s in Germany has additional benefits, beyond the quality of the teaching. “It is noteworthy that they have told us several times that we’re not only here to study, but to experience new things, form a network, travel and discover new worldviews.”
In terms of the application process, Camila says this was “very smooth”, and she was even able to send her original transcripts in Spanish without translating them – although it should be noted that not all universities in Germany will allow you to do this. In fact, fellow DAAD scholar, Jose Guillermo Ortiz Tena, describes the process of getting his Mexican degree translated as “kind of annoying”, though in general he speaks highly of the application platform at Technische Universität Munich, where he is studying a master’s degree in industrial biotechnology.
Camilla also mentions that she had to send her paperwork by post rather than online, which added to the cost of application, though as a DAAD scholar, her visa was free. The process to obtain a student visa, she adds, was easy.
As with other European Union countries, EU residents do not need a visa to study in Germany – but simply need to register with the local authority on arrival. Students from further afield may or may not need a visa depending on their country of origin, but will certainly need to get a residence permit. All students also have to prove they have health insurance and enough money to support themselves during their stay. Currently this is set at €8,040 (around US$10,500) per year.
Commitment to internationalization of higher education
The easy application process and ready availability of funding stand as testament to Germany’s commitment to the internationalization of higher education. “All responsible stakeholders welcome international students to Germany very warmly,” Egyptien notes. “The German government is actively involved in the Bologna Process, in the course of which 85% of degree programs in Germany switched to the bachelor’s and master’s system in recent years.” (Germany previously used its own system, which was slightly different).
Another indication of the country’s focus on internationalizing higher education is the availability of courses in languages other than German. “The number of English study programs has increased, especially at the master’s level,” reflects the BMBF spokesperson. “German higher education institutions currently offer about 800 English study programs, more than 700 at the master’s level.”
And it’s not just English, Egyptien adds: “Universities also offer numerous courses in several other languages, including French, Russian, Chinese and Spanish. Although knowledge of German is not usually compulsory for these programs, many universities offer German courses that allow students to learn the language while they study – certainly an opportunity that should not be missed.”
Guillermo and Camila agree, though they both recommend international students should invest in learning to speak some German, despite the fact that many Germans speak English very well.
Post-graduation employment in Germany
Learning German may also prove useful after you graduate, when another aspect of German hospitableness to international scholars comes into play. Since 2007, international graduates of German universities have enjoyed a simplified work permit application process.
This is especially appealing, given that Germany’s economy has emerged largely unscathed (compared to many other European nations) from the financial turbulence of the past five years, meaning that opportunities for employment in Germany are relatively plentiful. Graduates of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are particularly in demand, with a shortage of 100,000 reported in 2011.
So, a fairly robust case for studying a master’s in Germany – and that’s not all; let’s not forget that it’s also a pretty decent place to live! Our student interviewees reflect that they feel safe and happy living in Germany, although with both hailing from warmer climes, they warn that the weather can take some getting used to.
Weather aside, you’re sure to find an environment that suits you in this country of variety, whether it’s fashionable Berlin, multicultural Hamburg, refined Munich, laid back Heidelberg, dynamic Frankfurt, or one of the many other destinations on offer.
This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide 2013/14.