Imagine a country where you can get a rigorous, internationally recognized education at no cost. Moreover, the government of that country helps defray your living costs. Wishful thinking? Not according to one out of 10 foreign students currently studying at German universities.

In 2016, Germany had a 7% increase in international students, and that followed an 8% increase the previous year. Since 2012, there are 30% more foreign students in Germany. But is it really surprising, when you consider that Germany offers tuition free education to everyone: its nationals, foreigners from the EU, and foreigners from outside the EU?

The quality of German education is recognised internationally. Germany is traditionally recognized as one of the most productive countries in research in both the Natural Sciences and in the Humanities.

German institutions now uniformly offer study programmes of three-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees plus networking and exchange possibilities with European universities through the Erasmus programme.

Admissions procedures at German universities are refreshingly straightforward and unbureaucratic. German universities are mainly interested to see a candidate’s academic qualifications. With few exceptions, the IB diploma, AP and European leaving certificates are recognised.

What if I don’t speak German?

Foreign candidates who do not quite qualify for admissions requirements or German language proficiency, can benefit from a system called “Studentenkolleg”, which is the German equivalent of a preparatory Foundation year, also largely free of cost. More information on that is available here.

German grammar is a good deal more logical than English and its pronunciation is entirely less capricious. An average person can learn to pronounce the language correctly in less than two hours. German can be learned by attending courses at the Goethe Institute, the German government’s official organ for the dissemination of German literature and culture.

Study Programmes in English in Germany

Most universities in Germany are public. The language of instruction is English in a few of the private universities. However, these tend to be more expensive though the costliness is never in the same order of magnitude as US universities.

A few public universities in Germany are beginning to offer programmes taught in English. The University of Applied Sciences in Rhine-Waal, for example, offers almost all programmes in English. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) maintains a list of all English medium programmes in Germany at both private and public universities and you may consult it through this link.

What is it like to live in Germany?

The quality of life in Germany is high. Germany is a democratic, politically progressive country committed to respect human rights and the right to access education.

Universal access to public health care is available to foreigners. Students pay for health insurance, but the costs are heavily subsidized by the German government. A typical student insurance policy costs from 60 to just under 100 Euro per month.

If you have hard time, you would be eligible to obtain help from the social services of the university. They do not discriminate against foreigners.

The crime rate in Germany is low. Unjustified violence towards ethnic minorities is a thing of the past. Random gun violence in Germany is virtually unheard of. Gun enthusiasts will be disappointed to learn that weapons are not available at sports shops or gun shows in Germany.

Can I work in Germany?

The answer is unqualifiedly yes, if you are an EU citizen. If you are not, however, your student visa ordinarily gives you permission to work up to 20 hours per week and more during holidays. Teaching languages is a viable work option.

Recent graduates from German universities can remain in Germany with an 18-month work visa. After that, the possibility of obtaining a permanent work visa is judged on a case-by-case basis. Germany needs young skilled workers to pay taxes and to keep the national economy functioning because of demographics.

Germany is one of the countries with the highest old age dependency ratios. Only Japan has a higher percentage of the population over the age of 60. For this reason, Germany does not easily deport well-integrated, skilled foreign workers.

Financing studies in Germany

For foreigners wanting to study in Germany, the best source of financing comes from the German Academic Exchange Service. (German initials: DAAD – Deutscher Akademischer Auslandsdienst). They both offer scholarships to foreigners and maintain a database of other organisations offering scholarships to students, which can be accessed through this link.

The German government can support you. Germany’s Federal Training Assistance act (German initials BAFöG) is a law passed in 1971, which entitles German citizens and foreigners who are well integrated and have prospects to stay in Germany to receive financial support to cover their living costs and other expenses during their training.

Finally, a few religious and political organisations provide generous support to students in the context of the so-called “Begabtenförderung” or support for the talented. Germany has a progressive view of the role of the churches in society, and a large part of what the Protestant and Catholic churches promote is social causes and education.

The Protestant Church in Germany, for example, supports gifted students through, among others, the Evengelisches Studienwerk Villigst; the Catholic equivalent is the Cusanus Werk, Jewish students have the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich foundation and Muslim students have the Avicenne Studienwerk.

But this is not all. The political parties in Germany, like the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, the Greens, and the Left, also offer scholarships.

In short, Germany is a country with indispensable intellectual traditions, offering straightforward admissions to tuition-free universities, and providing many opportunities for financial support.

Dr. Luis Murillo
Dr. Luis Murillo is a former medical researcher in neurobiology and an international college counselor, who has worked for many years with IB schools in Europe and Asia. He has experience as a guest lecturer at the Medical Faculty of Debrecen University and has sent some of his own students to pursue medical studies in Hungary.