German scholarship applications for US study fall post-Trump

Latest evidence overseas students are being put off US universities by political situation

September 3, 2017
Protest figures of Trump, Le Pen, Wilders and Hitler
Source: Getty

Applications by German students for scholarships to study in the US have dropped by a fifth since Donald Trump came to power, providing further evidence that his presidency may be making the country's universities less attractive overseas.

No extra visa barriers have been put in place between Germany and the US since the election of Mr Trump, so the issue appears to be about perceptions that the US is now somehow a less appealing place to study.

Nina Lemmens, director of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in North America, which operates the scholarship programme, said that she had expected a drop in applications, but the fall was nonetheless "pretty significant".

She cautioned that she could "only guess" why fewer had applied during the summer application window, but said that German students "have the feeling that this is not the same welcoming atmosphere that they were expecting".

Application numbers this summer fell from 354 to 285. The scholarships help to pay for a year of study for undergraduate and graduate students.

German students tend to be quite politically aware, Dr Lemmens added. Mr Trump is also particularly unpopular in Germany, where politicians' attitudes towards him have become an election issue. "The sad thing is that the universities [in the US] themselves are totally open and international like they were before," she said.

There was a similar drop in applications after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Dr Lemmens continued, after which the US government "made it much more difficult to get a visa. That was something that German students also noticed and they had the feeling it was not so welcoming any more. After 2001, the numbers of applications dropped significantly."

But this time, Dr Lemmens said, there had not been a similar crackdown on students’ ability to get a visa. Recently, however, a student on the scheme was the first to have her visa application rejected – a female student with a Syrian and Palestinian background, Dr Lemmens explained.

Regarding the wider drop in applications, "the real question is going to be: is this a one year glitch, or is it going to go on?" she added.


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The dip in interest from Germany is evidence that Mr Trump may be making the US a less attractive destination, something previous surveys have hinted at. A survey in February of 250 universities and colleges found that 39 per cent said applications from international students were declining, compared with 35 per cent that said they were increasing. Applications from the Middle East, where some nations have been affected by Mr Trump's visa ban, were particularly badly hit.

A separate survey of more than 100 institutions found an unexpected two percentage point drop in the proportion of international students attending a university after being offered a place as of May. However, a similar trend was observed among US students.

There is also the question of whether Mr Trump is making the US less attractive to academics. On 25-27 August, the German Academic International Network – which aims to tempt German researchers back to Germany – held its annual event in San Francisco at which it discussed "the global political situation, in which populist and anti-science trends are becoming more prevalent".

Dr Lemmens said that the mood among German researchers working in the US was "not very different from the years before". While they were "not exactly happy with the situation" in the US, they were a "little bit detached from the world of politics", partly because they are based in liberal California, and also because their universities are to some extent in a "world of their own".

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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