Bavarian universities have the option of charging fees
Politicians in the German state of Bavaria have granted public universities the right to charge tuition fees to some international students, but it seems reluctant to collect them.
The state’s Higher Education Innovation Act, passed after two years of talks, only allows fees for students from outside the European Union, as bloc rules require all those within its borders are treated as national students.
It is not the first German state to introduce such fees. In 2017, Baden-Württemberg set a fixed charge of €1,500 (£1,257) per semester for non-EU students. In Saxony, universities had the option of charging non-EU students, but only two music schools decided to do so.
Those who have introduced fees are exceptions in a country where the demand for skilled labor, local politics and a desire for global soft power protect the principle of free education for foreigners.
Kumar Ashish, president of the Federal Union of International Students in Germany, said the drop in the number of international students in Baden-Württemberg shows that fees in Bavaria were likely to put people off as well.
He said Germany’s generally free system is one of the things that attracts foreign students, adding, “Even before they get a quality education, the first impression is that they are going to get a free education.”
None of the Bavarian universities contacted by Times Higher Education said they plan to start charging, although the University of Regensburg’s board of trustees said it was discussing the idea, and Munich University of Applied Sciences only said it there would be no charge “until further notice”.
Joachim Hornegger, president of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU), said his institution had decided not to charge fees because its typical non-EU students “wouldn’t be able to afford their education” if it was the cases, and because only 10 percent of FAU students would meet the requirements.
FAU international students have the option to spend up to €9,000 (£7,500) on support packages which may include opening bank accounts, airport collection and completion of official documents, which are not obligatory but “simplif[y] a lot of life,” he said.
Professor Hornegger said universities will decide to charge based on the makeup of their international student cohort. Institutions with large numbers of Chinese students who “take a program and then return to their home country” may find it valid to ask “whether we should charge them for a high-level education”, said he declared.
Foreign students have continued to flock to Germany since the pandemic, with up to 350,000 enrolled for the 2021-22 academic year, an 8% increase from the previous year, according to the DAAD, the service German university exchange.
Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference, said the Bavarian law, which also grants universities greater autonomy in recruiting faculty and building campuses, offered universities the opportunity to “experiment but he doubted many would decide to charge.
Ulrich Müller, head of policy studies at the Center for Higher Education, said administrators would incur considerable costs to find the roughly 5% of students who had to pay, excluding refugees, exchange students and those who went to school in Germany. “I’m even surprised that Bavaria did this, because it doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.
“It is not a well-considered idea to establish tuition fees only for a minority of students. It means a lot of effort for little return.