German international recruitment back to record-breaking levels

Latest data show 8 per cent growth during 2021-22, cementing position as fourth-most-popular study destination worldwide

October 21, 2022
Source: iStock

After a global slowdown, Germany was part of the swift recovery in international student growth, posting an 8 per cent increase and record numbers, according to the latest figures.

Around 350,000 international students were at German higher education institutions for the 2021-22 academic year, according to data from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

That is 8 per cent higher than the around 325,000 in 2020-21, when anxiety and travel restrictions also saw the number of first-year international students in the country plummet by 19 per cent.

Most continue to come from China, around 40,000, but with around 34,000 students, India is catching up fast, and set to become the top country of origin if current trends continue. The number of first-year Indian students rose by 33 per cent in 2021-22, while the number of Chinese first-years fell by 5 per cent.

The remaining top five countries remain similar to 2020-21, with Syria and Austria retaining third and fourth place with around 16,500 and 14,500 apiece, while Turkey has replaced Russia in fifth place, sending around 12,500.

Education minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger said Germany’s global fourth-place position as a host country, behind the US, the UK and Australia, was “very pleasing and at the same time an incentive for the future”.

Also reacting to the figures, DAAD president Joybrato Mukherjee said Germany was “harvesting the fruits of its ongoing efforts to ensure quality and provide care for international students”.

Both Ms Stark-Watzinger and Professor Mukherjee said Germany should “exploit” strong international growth by seeking to retain graduates who can plug local skilled-labour shortages.

Celebrations aside, the sector has recently shown signs of strain, with some students complaining that visa-processing delays are becoming a deterrent that could drive candidates elsewhere.

There were also signs earlier this year that free tuition, a major draw for many international students, could be challenged, as politicians in the state of Bavaria granted public universities the right to charge fees to some international students, although there seems little appetite among institutions to levy them.

Germany’s international student recovery mirrors global trends, with a survey of US institutions by the Institute of International Education finding a 4 per cent rise in international students in 2021-22, and a 68 per cent rise in first-years.

Germany’s latest record of 350,000 students is based on those with both foreign citizenship and foreign university entrance certificates, after DAAD’s methodology shifted to match the United Nations’. Previous tallies included those with foreign passports but German entrance certificates, who typically came to the country during their school years.

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