In graphs: Number of international students in Germany quickly growing

The number of international students in Germany is increasing, with about a 7-8 percent annual growth over the past eight years, according to statistics provided to The Local Germany from

In graphs: Number of international students in Germany quickly growing
International students' day at the University of Viadrinna in Frankfurt (Oder). Photo: DPA

One of the most popular destinations in the world for students from abroad, Germany reached its long-term target of 350,000 foreign students in 2016, four years before it was planned.

It’s not surprising that students from all over the world flock to Germany for all levels of education. As of the 2018-2019 academic year, there were a total of 108 bachelor’s programs, 883 master’s programs and 178 phD programs in English.

As of the winter semester 2017/2018, there were a total of 374,951 foreigners enrolled at a German university. The number of foreign graduates also increased by seven percent between 2016 and 2017, rising from 49,112 to 52,733. There’s been a big boost since 2010, when there were 35,427 international students in Germany.

Engineering among the most popular degrees

While Germany has earned a reputation as a country of ‘Dichter and Denker’ (poets and thinkers), it is also a country of maths and science savvy students, as demonstrated by the increasing number of students receiving bachelor and master’s engineering degrees.

Over a quarter of graduates by the summer semester 2017 received their degrees in engineering. Out of the nearly 130,000 students that received an engineering degree the summer of 2017, 2,560 of them – or about five percent – were coming from overseas.

Among foreigner students, engineering is the third most popular degree, trailing only slightly behind Business Administration (4,187) and Electrical/Electronics (2,728).

Mastering their degrees

The majority of degrees which were awarded to international students were masters degrees, reports Of the 52,733 degrees awarded to international students in Germany in 2017, 25,022 of them were awarded a master’s degree.

In engineering alone, there are more than 350 programs offered in English, according to

But at the same time, 17,874 international students received a bachelor’s degree and 5,279 received a phD.

Chinese students comprised the top group gaining their degrees, with 6,999 graduates in 2017. A total of 4,130 of those were master’s degree students, while 1,796 received a Bachelor’s degree and 807 of them a pHD.

Only students coming from Turkey, neighbouring Austria and Italy were more likely to receive a bachelor’s degree in Germany than a master’s degree.

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EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

Germany has a system of financial support for students known as BAföG. In many cases foreigners are just as entitled to apply as Germans. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

What is BAföG?

Bafög is an abbreviation for a word that would surely be the longest in pretty much any other language expect German: Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz. This tongue twister breaks down to mean Federal Training Assistance Act. 

Ever since the 1970s it has helped Germans from poor backgrounds to take up a place at university to at a training colleague, with the idea being that financial hardship should never prevent someone from entering higher education.

In its current form the law provides for students form poorer families to receive €853 a month, half of which is a stipend and half of which is a loan that you will need to pay back once you’ve entered the workforce. 

The maximum you are expected to pay back is €10,000.   

Some 460,000 students were being assisted with Bafög payments in 2020, the last year for which there are numbers.

READ ALSO: How to finance your master’s studies in Germany as an international student

Who is entitled to BAföG?

There are two basic conditions attached to BAföG: you have to be under the age of 30 to apply and you parents have to be low-wage earners.

There are some exemptions for the age restriction. If you can show that you were not able to start a course of study before your 30th birthday due to health or familial reasons then you might still be eligible later. Also, if you are applying for support for a Masters degree then you can apply for Bafög up until the age of 35.

According to German law, your parents have an obligation to financially support your education. This means that German authorities ask for evidence of their income to assess whether you are in need of state support.

And this applies whether your parents work in Germany or abroad, the Education Ministry confirmed to The Local.

“Income calculation under the BAföG rules takes place regardless of whether one’s parents live in Germany or abroad. This applies both to German nationals and to people with non-German nationality who are eligible for support under BAföG,” a spokesperson for the ministry confirmed.

What about foreigners?

Bafög is by no means only available to Germans. A whole variety of foreign nationals can also apply.

The rules on which foreign nationals are entitled to financial support are fairly complicated. But the following list on eligibility is somewhat exhaustive:

  • If you are an EU citizen, or from an EEA country, and you have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If you are married to, or are the child of, an EU citizen who has lived in Germany for at least five years
  • If your are an EU citizen who lives and works in Germany and whose intended course of study is connected to your current job
  • If you are not an EU citizen but have obtained permanent residency in Germany
  • If you have received refugee status
  • If you have lived in the country for at least 15 months as a ‘tolerated’ person (ie you applied for asylum and weren’t given full refugee status)
  • If at least one of your parents has lived and worked in Germany for three of the past six years
  • You are married to a German national and have moved to Germany.
  • You are the spouse or child of a foreign national who holds a permanent residency permit.

Due to the relative complexity of these rules it is advisable to speak to local organisations that support students such as the Studentenwerk Hamburg, the StudierendenWERK BERLIN or the Studentenwerk München.

READ ALSO: Essential German words to know as a student in Germany

How do repayments work?

The Federal Education Ministry states that you are expected to pay back your loan even if you return to your home country after completing your studies.

Repayment begins five years after you received the last installment of the loan at which point you are expected to pay back €130 a month. Although this amount can be reduced if your salary is low.

If you haven’t paid everything back after 20 years then the rest of the debt is dropped.