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Brexit problems: How I was wrongly told to pay €1,500 fees at German university

Brexit problems: How I was wrongly told to pay €1,500 fees at German university
Madelaine Pitt. Photo: www.jmn-photography.de
Receiving a letter wrongly informing me that I would have to begin paying tuition fees of €1,500 per semester due to Brexit wasn’t a very pleasant surprise – in fact it made me feel unwelcome in Germany.

I’m 27 (just), British (reluctantly), and both devastated by and fed up with Brexit. 

I have been studying at the University of Konstanz for almost a year. I came to study in Germany because, having studied German at school and always wanting to spend some time here, my postgraduate studies seemed the ideal opportunity.  

The excellent reputation of the university in my subject area of political science, the strong focus on research methods and independent, practice-orientated learning and the possibility of studying in English all contributed to my decision to study in Konstanz. The charming lakeside location with its stunning Alpine panorama didn’t hurt either. 

My European citizenship meant I could study at the same tuition fee rates as German students – namely none, with just €160 in administration costs to pay per semester.

But Brexit means I, like other Brits, become a non-EU international student, which, under Baden-Württemberg state law, means the university is required to charge me €1,500 semester. Or so they thought.

I was somewhat disbelieving – but not entirely shocked – to receive a letter in January informing me that I had to pay up immediately. I had researched what it would cost me to study in Germany before applying and was aware that, should a no-deal situation occur, British students would have to pay tuition fees.

READ ALSO: 'Goodbye Erasmus': Brits express anger after UK votes against much-loved EU student scheme

What had been unclear, however, was how quickly this would come into force. EU students in the UK are allowed to finish their courses at the rates at which they began them. I had hoped that I might be extended the same courtesy. 

As an already-registered student with just one semester left to go to write my Master’s thesis, it was a bruising experience to be suddenly told to pay a large sum of money to continue the course I was already studying. I felt, more than anything, unwelcome. 

The UK parliament voted not to seek to negotiate to continue the Erasmus student exchange programme after Brexit. Photo: DPA

The letter remained on my desk for a week, covered with other documents and a fair amount of denial. I already had two part-time jobs and was worrying about asking my parents to support me. 

Meanwhile in Westminster, the Withdrawal Agreement was still being thrashed out and voted on. The impact of Brexit on expats even in the short term was highly uncertain. 

After the dust settled on the Withdrawal Agreement, I followed friends’ advice and took to Twitter. I addressed the tweet to the university, tagging the citizens' rights group Brits in Germany as well as the British Embassy. It was a Sunday evening, yet the response was explosive. 

Amid an outpouring of sympathy from strangers, Brits in Germany rapidly tweeted back, pointing me towards the relevant article in the Withdrawal Agreement that would now become federal law: during the transition period, all EU laws continue to apply to the UK and its citizens.

That means we don't have to pay anything at the moment.

After the British Embassy also tweeted back, informing me that the university should continue to treat me as an EU student, the university released an apology saying it had been mistaken.

I reached out and a uni spokesperson told me that the university “continues to warmly welcome all British students and researchers here in Germany and to support our academic staff and students in visiting our UK partner institutions in the future”.

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Mistakes happen, and the university was quick to rectify this one. Yet the misunderstanding shows that, while mine and other expats’ rights may be protected in the short run, the political situation is throwing up a storm of uncertainty. 

The end of our freedom of movement, which many people have heartily assured me is simply a few extra strands of red tape, actually has a direct impact on how we plan and live our lives. 

As a young, multilingual and internationally-orientated person, Brexit has already meant a lot of heartache. And the doubt cast upon my right to continue studying here under the conditions which allowed me to do so is just the start of the trouble.


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