Lancaster tests appetite for fees in ‘land of the free’ Germany

Vice-chancellor predicts ‘very significant’ demand at Leipzig branch campus

February 8, 2019

Lancaster University expects “very significant” interest from prospective students in its new German branch campus, its vice-chancellor said, even though it will be charging UK-style tuition fees in a market where undergraduate education is typically free.

Mark Smith said that fees at the outpost in Leipzig, which will open in September, would be “comparable” to the cost of studying at Lancaster’s main campus, although the exact amount is yet to be confirmed.

In contrast, students at German public universities – even those from overseas – do not pay fees.

But Professor Smith highlighted that there were a large number of private providers in Germany that charged fees, and argued that the outlay would be worthwhile for students.

Lancaster hopes to grow student numbers to 2,000 over five to seven years, offering four BScs in areas such as accounting, finance and software engineering.

“From the market research we have done leading up to the announcement, we think there is a very significant market that will go for that fee,” Professor Smith said.

“There are some very fine German universities, but what we think we will offer will be the infrastructure for teaching that will allow us to mimic what we offer in the UK; we think a UK degree in Germany will be attractive.”

Lancaster is the second UK university to announce plans for a campus on the Continent as Brexit approaches, following Coventry University’s decision to open an outpost in the Polish city of Wrocław.

Professor Smith described the move as a way for Lancaster to “hedge its bets” against the potential negative consequences of Brexit, hopefully mitigating any downturn in European Union student recruitment to the main campus and attracting students from other key markets who might not want to come to the UK.

In particular, the campus may prove attractive for students from countries such as India because graduates from outside the EU will be able to remain in Germany to seek work for 18 months after graduation. In the UK, in contrast, non-EU students have just four months to find a skilled job.

Professor Smith said that the opening of the campus would potentially allow Lancaster academics to continue to access EU research funding, in the event that UK-based researchers lost access after Brexit, and that the initiative would send a send a clear signal to staff of the university’s “genuine commitment” to Europe.

The Leipzig campus is a partnership with the pathway provider Navitas, which will operate a foundation programme, lease the premises and oversee student recruitment and support. Lancaster staff will teach the degree programmes.

Many other leading UK universities have opted against opening EU branch campuses, perhaps regarding them as too great a financial risk, and have chosen instead to build strong partnerships with local institutions. But Professor Smith said that Lancaster’s experience of running a campus in Ghana, and its long-running partnerships in Malaysia and China, meant that the university had “got an idea of how to do this”.

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