Image of Another goal bites the dust – Germany’s 374k int’l students in 2018

After breaking its goal of hosting 350,000 students by 2020 in 2016, Germany surpassed it by 7% in 2018. New statistics by DAAD show that German higher education institutions hosted a total of 374,583 international students in 2018, a 4% increase in 2017.

German statistics ( similarly to Dutch statistics) on international students differentiate between two groups: the Bildungsinländers, foreign students (without a German passport) who have completed their secondary education in Germany, and Bildungsausländers, foreign students who have completed secondary education abroad.

According to the figures, there were 282,000 Bildungsausländers, driving the growth in the total number of students with an increase of 6% over the previous year. Bildungsinländers accounted for 92,600 students but their number overall decreased by 1%.

“There has been a growth in number and size of private universities, generally”

Thanks to the growth in Bildungsausländers and the stagnating numbers of German enrolments, the proportion of international students in German HEIs increased from 12.8% to 13.2%. The increase in Bildungsauländers has been more pronounced in universities of applied sciences (10%) rather than universities (5%), although universities still enrol the lion’s share of this group of students: 207,500 compared to 74,500 at UAS.

About 91% of Bildungsausländer in 2018 is degree-seeking. In the 2017 graduation year, 41,900 Bildungsausländer graduated from a German university – 8% more than the previous year. 74% of these graduates have gained a degree from a university.

According to the data, private institutions are also growing in popularity, with international enrolments increasing 18% from 2017, compared to 6% in public universities. Around 16,000 Bildungsausländers in 2018 enrolled at private universities in Germany, three times more than in 2010.

“There has been a growth in number and size of private universities, generally,” Gerrit Bruno Blöss commented.

“Their goals are obviously more market-driven than those of public universities, and the privates find it easier to explain to foreign students the benefits of a paid-for degree, because those students are also looking at other paid-for study options elsewhere.”

Where students come from

The top-5 countries of origin were China, India, Austria, Russia and Italy. China was already the top source country in 2013, but it’s India that climbed the ranks, from 4th to 2nd, snatching Russia’s position in 2018 and growing 138% since 2013.

The top source region was the Asia Pacific, sending 30% of all international students in German HEIs, followed by Western Europe at 19%.

Short term mobility

There were 26,600 Bildungsausländers, or 9% of the total number, were enrolled in German HEIs on short-term basis. This is a slight 2% decrease since the previous year – the drop only occurred at universities (-3% since 2017), while numbers grew at universities of applied sciences (+4% in the same period. The largest proportion, 38%, came from Western Europe.

As for Erasmus program participants, the data refers to the 2017 academic year: a total of about 32,900 international students participated in a study (68%) or internship (32%) program in Germany with Erasmus+. The figure shows a slight decrease from 2016, but only for study-related visits. Internships instead were still on the rise, with the numbers increasing by 7% to 10,600. France, Spain and Italy were the biggest senders, although source countries varied according to the type of Erasmus program.


International students constituted an especially high proportion of all students in Berlin (17%), Saxony (14%) and Brandenburg (13%).

Since 2013, the number of Bildungsausländers increased in all federal states on average by 38%. Particularly high growth rates can be observed in Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (+64%) and Thuringia (+56%). Saarland (+8%), Bremen (+22%), Brandenburg and Rhineland-Palatinate (+23%) show lower growth rates.

German students abroad

Outbound mobility was another area explored by the DAAD report. The organisation’s president highlighted it as an area of growth, but where more work must be done to ensure sustained improvement.

“Never before have so many German students been abroad as today,” Margret Wintermantel said in a press release.

“Nevertheless, we must step up our efforts so that young people can experience the value of international experience.”

The data on outbound mobility that DAAD used in its report refers to the years 2015 and 2016 and is drawn from different sources, from UNESCO to Eurostat. Western Europe takes the largest share of German students abroad – 74% of the total.

The number of Germans pursuing a degree abroad increased over the years 2015/16, from 139,700 to 144,900. The most popular study destinations were Austria, the Netherlands, the UK and Switzerland. Numbers fell very slightly (0.3%) in Switzerland, but rose by 2% for all the other top destination countries.

Could the fact that the UK is (was?) one of the most popular destination countries for German students, hosting 15,770 students in 2016, change post-Brexit? founder Gerrit Bruno Blöss told The PIE that that could well happen – and that German students are starting to look elsewhere.

“If Brexit makes a UK degree even more expensive, or if Germans were suddenly to require a visa, a large share of them would look elsewhere,” he said.

“On our website, we see that Germans looking at the UK are also particularly interested in the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland.”

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