Germany has long been a haven for foreign students seeking solid education without the astronomical prices demanded elsewhere, wrote the website of Der Spiegel magazine on Thursday.
Germany’s 186,000 international students currently pay the same as locals – typically a maximum of a few hundred euros a semester, which usually includes the price of a semester transport ticket and health insurance.
Yet when Saxony’s government gave the state’s universities the choice from the beginning of this year to decide whether to demand higher fees from non-EU foreign students, many thought it could pave the way for the initiative to go nationwide.
So far, only one university in Leipzig has taken up the offer, wrote the magazine. From this September, the HMT music and theatre academy will hike up fees for international students from a current €220 per year to €3,600.
“We don’t want to be as cheap as possible, but rather as good as possible,” HMT dean Robert Ehrlich told the magazine. Competing schools in Amsterdam and Madrid are already charging much higher fees to foreigners, he added.
And HMT could become a model for higher education across Germany, with calls for differentiated fees for foreign students growing louder over the past years.
In 2010, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Science Minister Andreas Pinkwart demanded that “wealthy foreigners should pay what it is worth to study in one of the most prestigious scientific nations of the world.”
And in 2012, the Association of Sponsors of German Science called for Germany to follow the Dutch, Swedish and British leads in demanding annual fees of at least €10,000 for foreign students, which would bring in an extra €1.2 billion a year for the German education sector.
Tuition fees are such a highly controversial subject in Germany, however, it remains to be seen whether universities could introduce them – even for foreign students – in the face of at times militant student body.
In 2006, for example, Bonn University tried to ask non-EU students for an extra €150 per semester to cover the cost of German courses and orientation classes. However, the university decided to abolish the fee just three years later in response to continuing student protests.
The rule change in Saxony could prove equally controversial if other universities take advantage of their right to decide whether to charge foreigners, but at the moment the HMT fee is the exception rather than the rule.
Critics fear higher fees would lose Germany valuable foreign students, who are partly attracted by the extremely low fees, and point to the nation’s much-lamented lack of skilled workers and desperate need to attract the best brains from abroad.