The Federal Republic of Germany is situated in the heart of Europe. 82 million people live here, of whom 7,3 million are foreigners. Germany has nine neighbours: Denmark to the north, the Netherlands and Belgium to the north-west, France and Luxembourg to the west, Austria and Switzerland to the south, the Czech Republic and Poland to the east. Nearly half the German people live in 85 towns with a population of more than 100.000. A lively, multicultural scene thrives in the population centres. “Studentville”, often located in a historical part of town, is where you can find everything your heart desires: bars with live music, antiquarian bookshops, second-hand bicycles.
Did you know that one hundred years ago half of all students studying abroad were actually studying in Germany? At that time, Germany was a magnet for all those keen on getting top-class education and training. And the country can indeed look back on a long university tradition. The oldest university in present-day Germany is the Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, founded in 1386. But other institutions of higher education can also look back on a history spanning several centuries.
There are good reasons to study in Germany today as well:
- With more than 300 higher education institutions across the country, Germany has a density of universities which is practically unequaled around the world.
- The cost of living for students in Germany can be kept low by using many of the student benefits and discounts. On average, you will need around 700 Euros per month (per 2004).
- With roughly 100 million native speakers, German is the most widely-spoken first language in Europe. The strength of German business and industry and the increasing global activities of German companies and corporations means that the German language is also becoming increasingly important in the international market.
- The wide range of leisure activities and pastimes offered by the universities and colleges are complemented by numerous opportunities outside the university grounds. Sport, culture or simply having a good night out – something is offered for each and every taste.
- Many German higher education institutions offer courses leading to an international degree. These courses are designed to attract foreign students and Germans looking to study with an international dimension. The range of study opportunities covers undergraduates, graduate and postgraduate degree courses (Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD levels). Courses and lectures are taught in English, often exclusively during the first year of study. German language courses are offered before and during the program.
- Nearly all German universities and colleges are financed by the state. So far, German and international students have been able to pursue their studies and research without having to worry about tuition fees. This situation is changing now, universities in Germany are starting to invent tuition fees. Whether and how much fees one has to face depends on the policies of the respective Federal State. In any case these fees will in the near future be considerably lower than in other countries.
The German education system
There are almost 400 officially recognised universities in Germany with more than 15,000 study programmes to choose from.
In Germany, higher education institutions are referred to as Hochschule. This term covers:
- Universities (Universitäten) – where there is a strong research element;
- technical universities – strong focus on engineering and technology courses;
- colleges of art, film and music – these require special admission, usually via an entrance examination;
- universities of applied sciences – for students who prefer a practical approach to study.
It’s important to note that the German education system is not centralised, this means that each of the 16 federal states in the country has it’s own government and higher education laws. It’s therefore wise to check at particular institutions about the regulations that may apply to you.
If you wish to attended a German university you will need a higher education entrance qualification, referred to in Germany as the Abitur. This is simply a school leaving certificate. To determine if your certificate is recognised in Germany you should first contact the international office of your chosen university.
If you are applying for an undergraduate course, generally you will need four A-levels, one being a second language and another being either a natural science or mathematics.
Admission for postgraduate courses is not centralised so you will have to enquire with individual institutions regarding their requirements.
To study courses in German, you will need to sit an exam to prove you have an adequate grasp of the language. There are two tests that you can take:
- The Test of German as a Foreign Language (TestDAF), which is held six times a year in test centres throughout the world. You can save yourself time and money by taking the test beforehand in your home country.
- The German Language University Entrance Examination (DSH), which is administered only at German universities and will test your proficiency and suitability for university study.
Some universities offer TestDAF, other institutions the DSH both are recognised at all universities.
You will have to pay an examination fee when registering for the TestDAF. The fee differs in each country. In Germany, the test costs between €150 to €175. The cost of the DSH varies with each university.
International degree courses are taught primarily in English, so you won’t need any prior knowledge of the German language.
Universities in Germany are split into public and private. Most are public and funded by the government making them free to attend. While these institutions usually waive bachelor’s and master’s tuition fees some master’s programmes can be charged so check with your individual university.
Private higher education institutions will charge considerably higher fees for their courses.
Regarding tuition fees, German, European Union (EU) and non-EU nationals all pay the same at each university.
Funding to study in Germany
In Germany, there are substantial funding options available for all students seeking support while they study. The programmes and scholarships are diverse and offered by many institutions. Research all possibilities available and visit your international office for further assistance.
A comprehensive site to begin your research can be found at DAAD – Scholarship Database . This database is not exhaustive, however, and you can obtain other funding and scholarships through individual institutions.
German exchanges and placements
Students attending a UK university can take part in the EU’s education, training and youth support programme Erasmus+ . The scheme replaces its predecessor ‘Erasmus’ and offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to millions of young people, students and adults. Opportunities last from three months to one academic year in EU countries.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative to any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation actively involved in education and training.
Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country. Check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the Erasmus+ scheme in your subject.
It isn’t always necessary to speak the language of your host country, but you can arrange intensive language courses before you go. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about available opportunities.
As an EU citizen, you are permitted to live in any EU country while studying as long as you:
- are studying for more than three months;
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution;
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support;
- have comprehensive health insurance cover.
Some countries require you to register with the local authority after three months. Find out how to register at Europa – Rights, Conditions and Formalities and Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany – Study and Scientific Research .