Germany is a much better destination for foreign students than its unwelcoming reputation implies, according to new statistics published by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Higher Education Information Service.
Despite concerns inside the country about hostility to foreigners and university overcrowding, Germany is the world's fourth largest host country for foreign students.
In 1998-99, it attracted 115,000 foreign students, 7 per cent of its total student population and more than twice as many as 25 years ago. This does not include about 60,000 "domestic foreign students", non-German citizens who also went to school in Germany. Only the United States, which hosts 450,000 foreign students, Britain (213,000) and France (122,000) attract more.
The opening of Eastern Europe has been one reason for the huge increase in recent years. Polish students represent the fourth largest national group of foreign students at German universities, with 7,000 registered. Turkish students continue to represent the largest foreign group, with 23,000, followed by Iranians and Greeks, each with 7,800.
Another increasingly significant group is Chinese students, who are the eighth largest. This follows the economic opening of the country and concerted effort by the German authorities to woo them, including the opening of a DAAD office in Beijing.
Economics is the most popular subject for foreign students in Germany, with 26,000 registrations, followed by German studies (14,000) and engineering (11,000). Relatively new degree courses in computer studies have also become very popular.
Mathias Pätzold, responsible for statistics at the DAAD, said one reason for Germany's increasing popularity with foreign students is that it is one of the few countries that does not charge fees for first degrees. Other factors include a mushrooming of internationally oriented degrees, many in English, with the aid of extra funding. "There are now more than 500 bachelor and masters degrees at German universities," he said. Legal regulations have also made it easier for foreign students to get visas. The DAAD and the Association of University Rectors recently set up the Higher Education Marketing Consortium to market German universities abroad.
Theodor Bercham, DAAD president, argues in the education journal Forschung und Lehre that Germany needs to continue this upward trend. "A country's share of foreign students is becoming a measuring stick of the quality of its national university system. We need to reform our universities to make Germany more attractive as a location for higher education and research. It will not benefit just foreign students, but everyone," he says.