International student recruitment in Spain is booming and is expected to grow even faster with the adoption of new shorter degree courses under the Europe-wide Bologna process.
But in Germany there are fears that universities will be left behind if they fail to adopt policies designed to attract and support international students.
Overall, the number of foreign students at Spanish universities has shot up over the past five years, rising 60 per cent between 1996 and 2002. But they still account for a tiny proportion of students, at just over 1 per cent of the total.
Moroccans make up the largest single group, followed by the French and Germans. Moroccan students tend to study first degrees at southern universities, often in subjects such as chemistry or veterinary studies.
As in Britain, most foreign students are postgraduates. They account for 15 per cent of the total and are usually from Latin America. The proportion is much higher at universities such as Madrid's Carlos III (41 per cent) or Barcelona's Pompeu Fabre (28.7 per cent).
Felicidad Rodr!guez, C diz University's vice-rector of international relations, said: "During the past few years, Spanish universities have made big efforts to boost visibility. Latin American students, who traditionally looked to the US, are looking more and more to Europe and see Spain as a bridge."
Foreign students at Spanish universities pay the same fees as "home" students, and only in the case of masters' programmes does this cover the full cost.
Spanish universities have put a lot of effort into setting up exchange programmes aimed at Latin America. But universities are beginning to offer more short postgraduate courses taught in English.
Recruitment officers see Asian countries such as China, Korea and India as promising markets helped by the growing recognition of Spanish as a useful language for business.
Changes are expected to accelerate when the degree structure driven by the Bologna process is complete.
Maite Viudes, director of international relations at Pompeu Fabre University, said: "This will create fierce competition between European universities. We think that the BA will remain fairly local, but where there will be a lot of competition and mobility will be with the masters."
* Wolfgang Herrmann, president of Munich's Technical University, warned Germany could lose its competitive edge because of insufficient funding and a lack of student support, Jo McAllister writes.
A long-term lack of funding made it "almost impossible to tailor courses to the very best international students", while insufficient support provided to foreign students at German universities was "a reflection of the deficient provision of services in Germany - a problem that other countries have already overcome", he said.
Professor Herrmann said universities should be allowed to charge fees, particularly for tailored courses. He said many Asian students found it suspicious that they could study free in Germany.