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In numbers: Who are Germany’s international students?

According to the latest official data, international students now make up nearly 15 percent of Germany's student population. Who are they?

In numbers: Who are Germany's international students?
International Student Day at the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) in 2015. Photo: DPA

Based on the latest official enrollment data, the number of international students attending German universities has increased to 393,579 as of winter semester 2018/19, reports

The highest number of international students was recorded in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, with 12,882 foreign students who enrolled in the former, and 10,472 in the latter.

The top countries from which Germany's international students hail are China, Turkey, India, Italy, Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, and France.

International enrollment has greatly expanded recent years following the abolishment of international fees in 2014, and the latest data show no change in this trend.

Where do they study?

According to the latest official statistics provided by Germany's national statistical agency Destatis, there were 393,579 non-German students as of the 2018/19 winter semester studying alongside their local peers at German universities.

Compared to the number of all higher education enrollees in Germany, it means overseas students account for 14 percent of the total student population.

Most of these students were studying at universities (257,089) including 90,879 first-year students, whereas another 122,625 students were studying at colleges (Fachschule).

The statistics reveal a slight gender disparity, with male students comprising 53 percent (206,961) of the total numbers compared to (186,618) female students.

What do they study?

Engineering remains the most attractive subject to study for international students in Germany.

As of 2018/19, German engineering schools counted a number of 32,373 non-German students. The number of male students in engineering-related degree courses is still higher compared to that of females.

Chinese university students on an exchange program with the Hasso Plattner Institute for engineering and IT in Potsdam. Photo: DPA

However, statistics reveal a slight increase of the later (from 8,965 to 9,140) between two successive winter semesters, 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Law, business and social sciences are also very popular, as there were 26,997 international students studying for a university degree in one of these subjects as of winter semester 2018/19.

In contrast to engineering, in law, business and social sciences female students are the dominant group in the international student population.

Given that, statistics show that last year 16,008 foreign female students were studying for either a law, business or social science degree in Germany.

Humanities, mathematics and natural sciences also appear to be attractive. Enrollment data collected as of 2018/19 winter semester shows that there are 11,688 international students seeking a degree in humanities, and 8,622 in mathematics and natural sciences.

'Alongside the best in the world'

Destatis’ preliminary annual statistics show that the majority (59,723) of current first-year international students are studying at universities, while the rest of 28,259 freshmen are enrolled in vocational training.

In many key global university rankings, German universities stand alongside the best in the world.

SEE ALSO: These are the German universities with the best global ranking

On one hand, there are low or no international fees applied at all, and on the other, the cost of living in Germany for international students is very affordable.

Germany is building a strong standpoint in the international higher education competition as it is continuously attracting ambitious and talented students from all across the globe.

Moreover, Germany proudly stands among the top five most popular study destinations in the world.

These along with many other reasons make studying in Germany very good value for money.

By Granit Sadiku from Studying In Germany

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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.