EU students turn to Germany as a top study destination in light of Brexit

For years, the UK has been a sought-after study destination for EU students. But a sudden spike in fees expected post-Brexit means they’re shifting their attention elsewhere - namely Germany and the Netherlands.

EU students turn to Germany as a top study destination in light of Brexit
Students taking their exams in Kassel on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

New research from shows that UK universities may lose 84 percent of EU students to continental European universities, with Germany at the forefront of alternative study destinations.

For EU students studying in the UK, Brexit could mean a sudden increase in British university fees of between 75 and 125 percent for some courses for the academic year starting in 2021, as well as lost access to public student loans.

READ ALSO: 10 words that perfectly sum up student life in Germany

In light of this, Germany has already emerged as a popular choice for EU students looking for alternative options.

“Various factors make Germany a particularly attractive destination for students: high-quality education and research; the fact that tuition is free at almost all public universities; high standards of living at moderate cost; and the promising career perspectives with, for non-EU students, and the welcoming post-study work visa conditions,” Gerrit Blöss, CEO of, told The Local.

Lost 'Home' fee status

Last week the UK government announced that, following Brexit, students from the EU would lose their right to their ‘Home’ fee status in England starting the year 2021/22, as well as public student loans.

For now, the announcement applies to England, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland having yet to announce their own plans. 

Currently, EU students pay a total of £9,000 per year to study at English universities. 

Universities on the continent in countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany have already been increasing the number of English-taught courses since the Brexit referendum of 2016. 

Archive photo shows students at the Technical University of Aachen. Photo: DPA

A survey of 2,505 respondents showed that, behind only the Netherlands, Germany has emerged as a top destination for EU students who were previously considering studying in the UK.

The number of international students in Germany was 393,579 as of winter semester 2018/19. In 2018/19 374,600 international students were enrolled in German universities. Western Europeans comprise 19 percent of students abroad in 2018/19, the second largest group of non-German students after the Asia and Pasific region. 

With 36 percent of respondents choosing Germany as a study destination, UK universities are set to lose 84 percent of EU students in total due to the shift in tuition fees.

Universities in the UK rely on tuition fees charged from students coming from abroad.

Adding to an already critical situation in attracting international students because of the coronavirus pandemic, Blöss told The Local that “most universities have been overhauling their marketing and recruitment campaigns for a while. After all, the announcement did not come unexpectedly.’’

New UK campuses in Europe

In addition to further campaigning for British universities to attract lost EU students, Blöss expects to see a surge in UK universities opening branch campuses in continental Europe.

Institutions such as Lancaster University Leipzig, which is seeing its first student intake this September, offer university degrees taught in English in Germany. 

The university will take advantage of the fact that Germany allows international students to work in the country for two years after graduation.

Germany is desperate to attract skilled workers to fill vacancies across several sectors so students being trained up in the country is an advantage.

READ ALSO: International students: How to apply for new interest-free loans in Germany

Meanwhile the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which handles internationalisation in German higher education institutions, has shifted its strategy to include focusing on the success rather than just recruitment of international students 

The question remains how, with an expected surge in international applicants, German universities and support networks for international students such as the DAAD will choose between applicants. 

Blöss also expects that private, fee-paying universities in Germany will benefit from the changing situation in the UK as students who had already expected to pay moderate fees in the UK will now look to Germany. 

In addition, applicant competition is expected to increase for tuition-free programmes at German public universities, meaning that students will look to private universities as an alternative.

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EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

Many Brits may be considering spending time in Germany or even moving for work or to study. Here's a look at the rules.

EXPLAINED: How can Brits visit or move to Germany post-Brexit?

The Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, but it’s been a turbulent few years with Covid-related restrictions, which mean many people may not have travelled abroad since then. Here’s what you should know about the rules for travelling and moving to Germany post-Brexit. 

Can I visit Germany from the UK on holiday?

Absolutely. But you do have to stick to certain rules on how long you can stay in Germany (and other EU countries) without a visa.

“British citizens do not require a visa for the Schengen Member States, if the duration of their stay does not exceed 90 days within any 180-day period,” says the German Missions consular service in the UK. 

You can find a full explanation of the 90-day rule from our sister site, The Local France, HERE, along with the Schengen calculator that allows you to work out your allowance.

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fees: What will change for EU travel in 2022 and 2023

Note that if you were living in Germany before January 1st 2021, different rules apply. People in this scenario should have received a residence permit – known as the Aufenthaltstitel-GB – from the German authorities, which proves their right to remain in Germany with the same rights as they had before Brexit. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

Can I move to Germany from the UK after the Brexit transition period?

Yes. But if you are coming to Germany to live and work, you will need to apply for the right documents, like other so-called ‘third country nationals’. All foreigners from outside the EU who want to to stay in Germany for more than three months have to get a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). 

As we touched on above, citizens from some countries (including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Switzerland) are allowed entry into Germany without a visa and can apply for a residence permit while in the country. You can contact the Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde) in your area to find out how to get a residence permit.

You’ll need various official documents, such as a valid passport, proof of health insurance and proof that you can support yourself. You usually receive your residence permit as a sticker in your passport.

Passengers wait at Hamburg airport.

Passengers at Hamburg airport. Brits coming to Germany have more things to consider after Brexit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

Germany has a well-documented skilled worker shortage at the moment so there are work permit options to consider that may suit your circumstances. 

For the work visa for qualified professionals, for instance, your qualifications have to be either recognised in Germany or comparable to those from a German higher education facility. 

You may also be able to get an EU Blue Card. This residence permit is aimed at attracting and enabling highly qualified third-country nationals to live in the EU. 

It comes with benefits, including the right to to request and bring family members to the country, and shortcuts for applying for permanent residency. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

When applying for a Blue Card in Germany this year, you have to earn a minimum gross salary (before tax) of €56,400 – down from €56,800 in 2021. 

In so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe), where there is a high number of unfilled positions, the minimum gross salary is €43,992 – down from €44,304 in 2021.

Shortage occupations include employees in the sectors of mathematics, IT, natural sciences, engineering and medicine.

If you want to come to Germany from the UK to study then you also need to apply for a visa. For this you may need proof of acceptance to the university or higher education institution of your choice and possibly proof of your German language skills.

Check out the useful government website Make it in Germany for more detailed information, as well as the German Missions in the UK site, which has lots of info on travel after Brexit, and on visas.  

What else should I know?

The German government plans to reform the immigration system, although it’s not clear at this stage when this will happen. 

It will move to a points-based system, inspired by countries like Canada, where foreigners will have to score above a certain threshold of points to get a residence or work permit.

This scoring system will be set by the government, but it will include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account.

Keep an eye on The Local’s home page for updates on the changes to immigration laws. 

Have you moved to Germany – or are thinking about moving – after the Brexit transition period and want to share your experiences? Please get in touch by emailing [email protected]