From the field: Germany on pace to attract 350,000 foreign students

Germany looms as large as ever on the world stage this year. A founding member of the European Union, it wields considerable political influence within Europe and around the world. It also boasts the largest economy in Europe, and the fourth-largest worldwide. The German economy is highly internationalized, built on exports, and, in December 2015, unemployment levels reached a new, post-reunification low.

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German higher education is also well-regarded, and especially so for science and engineering studies. In the most recent Times Higher Education rankings of the Top 200 institutions in Europe, Germany ran a close second to the historically dominant UK with 36 institutions in the 2016 ranking, and 11 in the top 50.

All of these factors have combined to make Germany an increasingly attractive destination for foreign students and one of the leading hosts of internationally mobile students worldwide. And to cap it all off, as of October 2014, higher education is completely tuition-free in Germany for both domestic and international students.

German universities are highly selective. There are a lot of foreign students applying for the places available. So the universities are quite strict in their screening criteria. They want to attract the best students. Some of the selectivity may well be a function of increasing demand for higher education in Germany. The most recent statistics reveal that international student numbers in Germany took another big jump last year, continuing a trend of steady increases from 2008 on.

Germany hosted 321,569 foreign students in 2015. This represents an increase of 6.71% over the year before (and maintains roughly the same year-over-year growth rates recorded over the previous four years). In a broader context, these latest enrolment figures also bring Germany well within reach of its longer-term goal of hosting 350,000 international students by 2020.

China and India are the two largest sending markets for Germany and have been driving much of that recent-year growth, but students from other European markets – notably Russia, Austria, France, Italy, and Turkey – figure prominently as well.

Students are also attracted to Germany by solid opportunities to work during their studies as well as after graduation. Foreign students are allowed to work during their studies for 20 hours per week. After graduation, they are allowed to stay here for 18 months and they get a special job search visa for that time.

Current trends will continue in Germany, in particular that the country will remain committed to internationalization and to attracting greater numbers of foreign students and that demand for German education will remain strong. The German economy is continuing to expand at a fast rate, and so Germany is heavily involved in education as an investment in the future.