Graduates at a convocation ceremony of the University of Munich, Germany /Photo: Femi Awoniyi

German state wants to introduce tuition fees for foreign students

Bavaria, one of Germany’s 16 federal states, wants to introduce tuition fees for students from non-EU countries. The state government has submitted a bill to the state’s parliament to open up the possibility for universities to charge third country nationals.

Generally, education in tertiary institutions is tuition free in Germany except in two states, where international students from non-EU countries could be asked to pay.

In 2017, Baden-Württemberg introduced fees for non-EU students who have to pay 1,500 euros per semester since then. Saxony also gives institutions the powers to charge non-EU students tuition fees but only two music schools are reported to do so in the state.

Student organisations have spoken out against the Bavarian plan, saying it would lead to lesser numbers of foreign students in the state. The Action against Tuition Fees (Aktionsbündnis gegen Studiengebühren, ABS) pointed out that between 2016 and 2021, the number of foreign students in Baden-Württemberg plummeted by more than 36 percent due to the introduction of tuition fees.

ABS speaks of a “downward spiral of de-internationalisation” as a result of the fees since universities in other federal states recorded increases in the enrolment of non-EU students during the same period.

Vanessa Gombisch from the Federal Association of Foreign Students criticises: “With this step, Bavaria is doing a disservice to educational justice. In addition to the already high cost of living in Bavaria, tuition fees at the discretion of the universities add a further financial hurdle that pushes social selection even further”.

The Secretary General of the German Student Union (DSW), Matthias Anbuhl, describes tuition fees as “poison for equal opportunities” with regard to the financial situation of foreign students in Germany.

Problems with financing their studies are among the top difficulties for the 325,000 international students in Germany.

Also in view of the shortage of skilled workers in Germany, there are weighty arguments in favour of attracting students from abroad, analysts say.

First and foremost, the German labour market benefits from international students choosing the country. According to a study by the German Council of Economic Experts, 70 percent of international students also want to stay in Germany after successfully completing their university degree. And even if they leave again, Germany benefits from them because – equipped with language skills and familiar with German customs – they become important bridge builders in their home countries.

The number of foreign students in Germany has been rising for years. In the international competition for the brightest minds, Germany however continues to lag behind the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom, but it is the most important non-English-speaking host country for students worldwide.

Femi Awoniyi

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