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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.

Ludwig Maximilian University
The fountain outside of Munich's prestigious Ludwig Maximilian University. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Andreas Gebert

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. 

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For members


Wohngeld: How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

Many households in Germany could be eligible for increased financial support with their rents and bills from next year. We break down who should apply and how much help they could receive.

Wohngeld: How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

The cost of living is rising across the board, and nowhere is this being felt more than in the home. For over a year, gas and electricity bills have been soaring and people on low incomes have been left wondering how to make ends meet.

While there is support available for people in this situation, it seems that many households in Germany aren’t aware that they could be eligible to apply for Wohngeld, or housing allowance, to help them with their expenses. What’s more, the amount of money people can get is set to rise at the start of next year.

Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly is Wohngeld?

Wohngeld, or housing allowance, is a form of financial aid for low-income households in Germany. It’s intended to help with the general costs associated with housing, such as monthly rents and utility bills.

Even people who own their own homes are able to get support with their mortgage repayments and building management costs (known as Hausgeld). However, they do have to fulfil certain criteria, like earning under a certain amount per month.

Unlike long-term unemployment benefit, which also includes a stipend for rent and bills, Wohngeld is intended for people who don’t rely on any other form of state support. That could include single parents or people with minimum wage jobs who spend a large proportion of their income on rent.

It means that people on jobseekers’ allowance and students with state loans and grants aren’t able to apply for Wohngeld. 


How much money can people receive?

That depends on a range of factors such as where you live, how high your rent is and how much money you earn this month. However, one thing that’s clear is that Wohngeld is likely to rise significantly at the start of next year.

On Wednesday, cabinet ministers voted through proposals from Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) to hike the monthly allowance by around €190 on average. That means that instead of receiving €177 per month, the average household on Wohngeld will receive around €370 per month starting in January. 

It’s worth noting that Geywitz’s reforms still need to clear a vote in the Bundestag, but with the governing coalition of the SPD, Greens and FDP behind the move, it’s likely that they will. 

The Housing Ministry has also put together an online tool that can calculate the amount of Wohngeld each household is entitled to. At the moment, this still calculates the allowance based on the current rates – but it will be updated if the reforms are passed by parliament. 

Who’s eligible for Wohngeld?

That depends on a complex calculation based on factors such as income, the number of people in a household, the size and location of the property and how high monthly housing expenses are. There’s no straightforward income threshold that people can refer to, which could explain why thousands of households who could potentially get Wohngeld never apply for it.

The best way to check if you’re currently eligible is to use the government’s Wohngeld calculator tool. But as we mentioned above, this is still based on the current criteria and monthly rates. 

As well as hiking the monthly allowance, Geywitz also wants to expand the criteria so more households are eligible for Wohngeld.

At the moment, around 600,000 households in Germany receive Wohngeld. This could increase by 1.4 million to two million under Geywitz’s plans. From next year, people earning minimum wage and people on low pensions are set to be among those who are able to apply. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Germany this year?

Sound good – where do I sign up?

In general, the states and municipalities are responsible for handling Wohngeld applications. That means you should apply at the local Wohngeldamt (housing allowance office), Wohnungsamt (housing office) or Bürgeramt (citizens’ office) in your district or city. 

If you’re unsure where to go, searching for ‘Wohngeld beantragen’ (apply for housing allowance) and the name of your city or area should pull up some search results that can guide you further. 

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn.

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn. Photo: picture alliance / Matthias Balk/dpa | Matthias Balk

Alongside an application form, you’ll likely have to submit a tenancy agreement, ID, information on your residence rights and proof of any income or state support you already receive. Other members of your household may also have to submit similar financial information. 

You should also be registered at the address you’re applying for Wohngeld for. 

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

Are there any other changes to Wohngeld I should know about?

Anyone already on Wohngeld, or who receives it between September and December this year, is also entitled to a special heating allowance to help with winter energy costs. This is also set to be given to students and trainees receiving a BAföG loan or grant.

For students and trainees, the heating allowance is set at €345 per person. Meanwhile, the amount given to Wohngeld recipients will vary on the size of the household.

Single-person households will receive €415, two-person households will get €540 and there will be an additional €100 per person for larger households. 

This is likely to paid out in January.