Tuition Fees

2 Jan

Tuition fees in Germany

Leonie Schoelen

In general, third level education in Germany is free or costs a fraction of the fees charged in most Anglophone countries, including the UK. Importantly, education is administered at state rather than federal level, which leads to the somewhat bizarre status quo that university attendance is totally free in some federal states (mostly in the East) and costs tuition fees in most other states, including the largest state of Northrhine-Westphalia in West Germany where every fourth German lives and which is home to one of the biggest agglomeration of cities in the prominent industrial region Ruhrgebiet, the current collective European capital of culture (which used to be the setting of the now infamous techno festival Love Parade after Berlin discarded it in recent years). As ruled by the High Court in a famous trial five years ago, the law prohibiting the state from charging tuition fees for third level education which had been implemented in the 1970s was abolished in favour of allowing Universities the maximum amount of 500 Euro (approx. 420 Pounds Sterling) per semester to be charged – at the discretion of the federal state respective its government (which may be subject to change every five years at state elections), while private universities may charge considerably more.

It is noteworthy that the vast majority of German universities are (federal) state-run, i.e. all academic staff, including (graduate) student research assistants, get paid by the centralised state authorities rather than their university. Accordingly, private universities have not been overly successful in Germany, more being frowned upon as an easy way to get a university degree rather than a better-quality education (at much higher cost) –although there is trend for semi-privatisation, this yet remains marginal. Inextricably linked to each German university (or, in rare cases, two) are public non-profit organisations called Studentenwerke which are state and government funded and are designed to be a service agent for all aspects of student life with their overall aim to make studying (more) affordable. Services include heavily subsidised meals in dedicated large canteens and lots of smaller cafes (a main dish and a side salad cost between 1,80 and 2,80 Euro – while it must be mentioned that there are no catered halls in Germany), halls of residence whose rent levels are significantly below the private market´s in that city, counselling, IT and legal advice in the framework of a Student self-administration and a parliament (not generally political) and often times a public transport ticket allowing unlimited travel within the city, area, or even the entire federal state as is the case in Northrhine-Westphalia .

For access to the Studentenwerk´s facilities and services, all students must pay a social service fee of about 100- 250 Euro each semester, depending mainly on the region and the range of the public transport included or optional, on top of tuition fees – but since there are no tuition fees in some states, these may be the actual net costs of each semester studying at university in addition to obvious living costs. The reason why the taxpayer can ultimately fund German students´ university education is because there are only 65 universities in Germany and 2 million students which seems very little considering Germany´s population of more than 82 million, which is about a third more than the UK´s with its 200 plus universities. In this context, it is important to mention that University is a protected term in Germany and only recognised institutions by both the state level authorities and the federal German Department of Education may bear that name which is part of a three-layered system of largely research-based Universities, non-degree bearing, but fully professional and qualifying three year apprenticeships (e.g. nursing) and Universities of Applied Sciences which are a mixture of both (mainly in numerical and engineering subjects and usually with extensive links to industry). Only universities may award a PhD. This state of affairs again traces back to German differentiated secondary school types of which only one, the grammar school, awards A-Levels as fundamental requirement for university admission. Comprehensive schools do exist (depending on the state government: policies of the party/parties in power at the presnt election period or indeed more in the, not necessarily recent, past) but also comprise separated strands in the advanced years of secondary school since three/two years on top of general “middle” schooling until grade 10 must be done by students in order to gain university access. One last interesting fact: International students in Germany do not get charged more by default.


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