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Germany: summit explores sector challenges

Germany is set to become a top student destination following the loss of home fee status for EU students in the UK. But challenges remain to ensure international students can continue to receive a warm welcome in the face of Covid-19, according to industry experts.

The Deutsches Studentenwerk reported that almost half of students require over a month to search and secure accommodation. Photo: Unsplash

Just 2% of German universities closed their housing during the pandemic

Speaking at a virtual summit held by The Class of 2020, panellists discussed preparations in place to support Germany’s prospective and current students, and highlighted some of the concerns for Germany’s institutions and accommodation providers in the new academic year.

“The question is, does the country want more international students? We’re all for it”

Some 80,000 international degree students left Germany during the pandemic, although a recent survey showed nearly 75% of prospective international students indicated that they still planned to travel to Germany “as soon as possible”.

Overall, however, more than half of the German universities surveyed recently by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) are anticipating a decline in international student enrollment in the upcoming winter semester, with 21% predicting a very strong decline.

Panellist and director Strategy for DAAD, Christiane Schmeken, told attendees that Germany remains an attractive destination partly due to the way that it has coped with the pandemic.

“But at the same time, there are still a number of obstacles,” she explained.

“First of all, families may have less money to finance studies abroad. The second is that we all do not know if there will be travel bans again, either to Germany because we see a second wave [of Covid-19] or from other countries because they have a second wave.

And thirdly visa regulations, because there is quite a delay in this. So people might quite simply not get a visa to come to Germany.”

Germany has allowed international students to be eligible for help as part of its emergency coronavirus spending.

In May, it was announced that €100 million would be made available for international students studying in Germany with less than €500 in their bank account, as well as access to interest-free loans.

However Leonie Ackermann, board member of student group umbrella organisation FZS said the group has critical of the criteria that students have to meet to get the funding, and that the loan scheme will only contribute to students’ debt in the future.

“There was a possibility to get up to €500 a month for June, July and August. But we don’t know what’s going to happen in the autumn semester – there is no plan and €500 a month and is not enough to live in most university cities,” Ackermann said.

Despite a lack of certainty around how the autumn semester in Germany might look, a survey by Study.eu revealed that Germany is ranked a top alternative study destination to the UK by EU students put off by reintroduction of fees in 2021/2022.

The question is, does the country want more international students? We’re all for it,” founder and CEO of Study.eu, Gerrit Bruno Blöss told attendees.

“So this is an opportunity for education providers if they convert more of their courses to English or if they offer additional courses in English, because there will definitely be demand for it.

“But It will also put a lot of pressures on university cities and their housing situation,he added.

Given Germany’s sustained focus on single apartments, there are few available below €450 euros per month, which puts additional pressure on students in Germany during what is already a difficult period financially.

The Deutsches Studentenwerk reported that almost half of all students require over a month to search and secure accommodation, a figure heightened in classic university cities.

“Currently, as it stands, just 16% of fulltime students across Germany are able to access purpose-built student accommodation,” explained Stuart Osborn of Knight Frank.

However, panellists from the accommodation sector also highlighted that Germany recognises the important role internationalisation plays in society and that student housing providers are also working hard to create environments to facilitate intercultural exchange.

Quoting recent surveys, DAAD’s Schmeken said just 2% of universities in Germany closed their housing during the pandemic, compared with 54% of on-campus dorms in the US.

“It shows the residential character of housing in Germany, you can’t just say, ‘okay, teaching is finished, so go home’ and we shut down the dorms.

“That just wouldn’t function,” she added.

The Class of 2020’s Virtual Summit Italy will take place on September 10, while Virtual Summit France is set for October 20.

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