Is Germany better at teaching university courses in English than universities in English-speaking countries? Germany has been named as the most supportive country for overseas students, in an international league table last year.
Among the attractions for international students is the increasing availability in Germany of courses taught entirely in English, so much so that students can complete degrees without ever having to speak German.
In the international zones of these classes, students from Germany, the United States, China and other countries participate in seminars conducted by German professors speaking in English.
The survey from the British Council which placed Germany at the top is called the Global Gauge.
The league table ranks university systems on measures such as openness, degree quality, how widely degrees are recognized, support for overseas students and how much students were encouraged to spend time abroad.
The UK was ranked in third place, with China coming fourth, ahead of the United States in sixth place, in a table showing 11 of the biggest players in the overseas student market.
The strongest overall performance was from Germany, which has promoted a deliberate policy of internationalization.
There are more students from Germany studying abroad than any other European country and it wants half of its students to spend at least a term abroad, giving Germany one of the world’s most mobile student populations.
The global market in overseas students has become a highly-lucrative business. The British Council estimates that it is worth £8bn a year to the UK economy.
But one of the attractions of Germany is that overseas students do not pay any more in tuition fees than home students.
Universities in many parts of Germany do not charge any tuition fees, which means in those places overseas students do not pay any fees at all.
Freie Universitat Berlin, a top-ranking research university, has been part of this internationalization project. It anticipates that a third of its students could be from overseas in the future.
Sophie Perl, a student from the United States, also echoes the appeal of being able to study abroad, while paying less than at home. “I think the biggest factor is financial. In the US a graduate programme would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, in Germany it doesn’t cost anything. And it doesn’t cost more for foreign students than it does for German students.”
The university has not opened overseas campuses, but instead it develops partnerships through a network of overseas offices in countries including China, the US, Russia and India.
Pat Killingley, the British Council’s director of higher education, says that an increase in international partnerships between universities has become a global trend. These partnerships can then become pathways, establishing a route for exchanges between students and staff.
For the UK’s universities, she says overseas students are becoming particularly important for postgraduate courses.