IN STATS: Fewer international students join German universities amid pandemic

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of foreign students starting their studies at a German university has dropped significantly, official statistics showed on Wednesday.

IN STATS: Fewer international students join German universities amid pandemic
Students at a university in Stuttgart are advised to disinfect their desks before leaving the room. Photo: DPA

In the winter term of 2020/21, about 99,400 (or 21 percent) less foreign students were enrolled, according to statistics released by Germany’s Statistical Office in Wiesbaden on Wednesday. 

In contrast, the number of German first-semester students at both the bachelor’s and master’s level rose slightly by two percent to 389,200. 

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

“The exceptionally sharp decline in foreign first-year students is largely due to the Covid pandemic, as a result of which it was considerably more difficult for students from abroad to take up studies at a German university,” the Federal Office explained. 

It has stated that a total of 488,600 first-year students enrolled at a German university for the first time in the last two semesters. 

The number fell by four percent compared to the 2019 academic year.

Which fields are the most impacted?

With a drop of 42 percent compared to the previous year, the Federal Office recorded the largest decline in foreign first-time enrollments in the humanities. 

According to the report, most international first-time students enrolled in engineering and law, economics and social sciences. Even in these fields, inscriptions fell significantly, by 17 percent and 16 percent respectively.

Since the 2016/17 academic year, the number of foreign students attending university in Germany has constantly risen, climbing from 358,895 students five years ago to 411,601 students last year. 

Most foreign students study in North Rhine-Westphalia, followed by Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Berlin and Hesse. 

While most foreign students come from non-EU countries like China, Turkey, Russia and Syria, many are also Italian, Polish or Croatian. 

For them, moving to Germany and commencing their studies was much easier during the pandemic than for their non-EU fellows.

READ ALSO: In numbers: Who are Germany’s international students?

Member comments

  1. Maybe this is because of how poorly German universities have managed the pandemic. Personally, I found it a bit ridiculous that international students were expected to travel to the universities just to take exams because even after one year of pandemic universities did not have a plan to do examinations online. Compared to how other universities around the world have managed I was really disappointed with 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.