German students to get higher grants from winter 2022

The German Bundestag has voted to increase the Bafög allowance and loosen the criteria for applying for student grants.

Students at Heidelberg University sit in a lecture hall.
Students at Heidelberg University sit in a lecture hall. Photo: picture alliance / Uwe Anspach/dpa | Uwe Anspach

On Thursday, the Bundestag voted through a 5.75 percent increase in Bafög – Germany’s grant and loan system for students – alongside an increase in both the housing and the childcare allowance for students.

From the start of the winter semester, the basic Bafög entitlement will increase to €452 per month and the housing cost supplement for students who don’t live with their parents will increase from €325 to €360.

The maximum support rate including the housing cost supplement will thus rise from €861 to €934 – an increase of more than eight percent.

Bafög recipients who don’t live with their parents will also receive a one-off subsidy of €230 to help with rising energy bills. According to official statistics, about three quarters of Bafög recipients live away from home. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

As well as raising grants, the government is also widening the eligibility criteria so that more students and trainees will be eligible for full Bafög payments.

Previously, grants for students whose married parents earned more than €2,000 a month were reduced to factor in their parent’s income. From October, however, payments will only be reduced for people whose parents earn a combined income of €2,400 or more. 

Students under the age of 30 will also be able to claim the full amount of Bafög if they have less than €15,000 in assets, while students over the age of 30 can hold assets of up to €45,000. 

“The previous support system excluded too many people,” said Federal Education Minister Betting Stark-Watzinger (FDP). “We are reversing this trend.”

There are also plans for an online application system to make it easier to apply for support in future.

‘A drop in the ocean’

The traffic-light coalition had originally planned a Bafög increase of five percent but later revised this to six percent to compensate for the rising cost of living.

However, student representatives and the German Student Union still say the current increase is too low. 

“Unfortunately, this is only a drop in the ocean,” said Kristof Becker, Federal Youth Secretary of the DGB Youth. “In view of the current dramatic inflation rate, you don’t have to be a maths genius to see that the increase is not enough.”

Speaking in parliament ahead of the vote, the Left Party politician Nicole Gohlke said the changes were “purely cosmetic” and accused the government of being out of touch.

The American Memorial Library in Berlin

The American Memorial Library in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

“Inflation will eat up the Bafög increase entirely, there’s nothing left over,” he said. 

However, the government pointed out that an additional €2 billion would be made available for Bafög reforms in the coming years. The current law is only the first step, they argued. 

The bill to raise Bafög and increase the number of eligible students was passed with the combined votes of the three traffic-light coalition parties and the Left Party. The opposition CDU/CSU parties and the far-right AfD voted against the reform.

“Education is an opportunity, but not a state-guaranteed human right for everyone,” AfD education policy spokesperson Götz Frömming said.

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

The new Bafög rates and rules: 

Bafög grants: The basic Bafög rate for students will be raised from €427 to €452 per month. Those who no longer live with their parents can also receive €360 instead of the previous €325 for rent. Students who have their own health and care insurance and no longer live with their parents will receive higher supplements.

Allowances: In order to increase the number of Bafög recipients, €2,415 of monthly parental income will be exempt from grant calculations. Previously, just €2,000 was exempt. Other allowances will also be increased, for example for married people and students with children.

Protected assets: Those under 30 can hold up to €15,000 in assets, and those over 30 can hold up to €45,000 in assets, without this being counted towards Bafög. Previously, all assets over €8,200 were counted.

Part-time jobs: Students should be able to earn €330 in a part-time job without this affecting the Bafög grant, up from €290. 

Childcare allowance: Students with children will be able to receive a childcare allowance of €160 per month instead of the previous €150. The money is intended for babysitters, for example, when classes are held in the evenings.

Age limit: In future, students who want to take up a course of study later on will also be able to receive Bafög. The age limit will be raised from 30 to 45.

Pupils and trainees: Pupils and trainees who live away from home can in future receive €632 instead of the previous €585.

READ ALSO: Germany boosts funding for EU’s Erasmus student exchange programme

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EXPLAINED: Bavaria’s plans to introduce tuition fees for non-EU students

The German state of Bavaria could soon join Baden-Württemberg and Saxony in introducing tuition fees for third country nationals - but there is already pushback from student groups. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Bavaria's plans to introduce tuition fees for non-EU students

What’s happening?

The southern German state of Bavaria is facing a fierce backlash after it set out plans to introduce tuition fees for students from non-EU countries. 

Bavaria’s governing Christian Social Union (CSU) party originally drafted the proposals for higher education reform in the Higher Education Innovation Act (Hochschulinnovationsgesetz) back in 2021, but the plans were then shelved for several months.

In June this year, a second draft of the law, including the plans for tuition fees, was put to the state parliament. It is now expected to be finalised by the start of the summer recess in August. 

In a short paragraph on the option to charge fees, the draft law makes clear that, “for activities financed by the state (in particular, the education of German and EU students and their equivalents), the higher education institutions may not exercise this right”. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Can foreigners apply for student finance in Germany?

“However, this opens up the possibility of charging fees for non-EU foreigners, among others,” it adds. 

There are currently no firm details on how much universities would be allowed to charge. In Baden-Württemberg, where a similar policy was introduced in 2017, students from third countries have to pay €1,500 per semester – equating to €3,000 per year. 

Currently, students in Bavaria don’t pay set tuition fees to study at universities or higher education colleges. However, people who study part-time alongside their jobs in a so-called “Berufsbegleitendes Studium” are expected to cough up €2,000 per semester.

How does the fees system normally work in Germany?

In Germany, each of the 16 federal states is free to set its own tuition fees – but these have to be “socially manageable”, meaning state governments can’t set them so high that some people are unable to afford them.

In reality, all of the states offer free tuition for German and EU students doing a Bachelors or Masters degree, with the vast majority also offering education free-of-charge to non-EU nationals as well.

A handful of states opt to start charging students who draw their degree out over several years, and some also charge students to do a second degree or study part-time.

Others simply leave it up to the universities to set their own fees for things like second degrees or part-time study. To get an idea of which states charge students for various types of studies, this chart offers a good rundown

What are people saying? 

Unsurprisingly, students are furious at Bavaria’s plans to introduce tuition fees, arguing that the move would widen inequality. 

“Tuition fees are a social hurdle to university access; they are poison for equal opportunities,” said Matthias Anbuhl, the secretary general of the German Student Support Association. “There is a broad consensus on this in society and politics.”

In 2013, the state parliament voted to abolish general tuition fees after Bavarians voted overwhelmingly in favour of the move in a referendum, Anbuhl pointed out. 

“It is therefore all the more incomprehensible that the Bavarian state government now wants to resort to this instrument for the group of international students from non-EU countries,” he added.

READ ALSO: German students to get higher grants from winter 2022

Speaking to Migazin, an online migration news portal, Vanessa Gombisch of the Federal Association of Foreign Students also hit back at the proposals.

“With this step, Bavaria is doing a disservice to educational justice,” Gombisch said. “In addition to the already high cost of living in Bavaria, tuition fees at the discretion of the universities will add another financial hurdle that will push social selection even further”.

Meanwhile, Daryoush Danaii from the Free Association of Student Unions said the fees for non-EU students would create a “two-class system in the lecture hall”.

‘We need you in Bavaria’

In light of the the severe skills shortages in the country’s labour market, many federal states look to international students as an important resource for the future. 

Germany is the fourth most popular country for foreigners to study in – and the top non-English speaking destination – after the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. 

According to a study by the German Council of Economic Experts, 70 percent of international students also want to stay in Germany after successfully graduating from university. Around 350,000 foreigners come to study in Germany each year. 

This means that hundreds of thousands of skilled workers who have passed through the German education system go on to use these skills in the German economy. 

In a 2011 brochure aimed at attracting foreign talent into the state, the Bavarian Employment Agency targeted international students directly, using the slogan: “We need you in Bavaria.” 

However, research from Baden-Württemberg, where fees were introduced five years ago, suggests that the blanket introduction of fees can deter international students from applying to university in the state.

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

Students listen to a lecture at Hannover University. International students are believed to play an important role in bridging skills gaps in the economy. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte.

A study by the Action Alliance against Tuition Fees (ABS) revealed that applications from foreign students plummeted by 36 percent in Baden-Württemberg between 2016 and 2021 – at the same as figures were rising in other German states.

The results of the study led to a U-turn by North-Rhine Westphalia, who had previously been mulling a similar move.

However, the model being considered in Bavaria is more similar to the one adopted in Saxony, where universities and colleges are free to choose whether they adopt fees for non-EU students or not.

According to reports in Migazin, just two music schools in the eastern state have chosen to introduce the fees.