The SeSaBa project examined all levels of international student study, from application to study completion in Germany, with some frustrating findings.
“These problems may relate to both academic competencies, such as language skills and effective learning strategies, as well as challenges related to the mastery of everyday life in a foreign country,” Julia Zimmermann, project leader of the psychological SeSaBa project team at FernUniversität in Hagen, told The PIE News.
“Our results suggest international students would benefit from a holistic support structure at the universities that not only considers academic matters but also typical challenges of student life, like housing, finances and getting into contact with other domestic students.”
The report found that international bachelors students especially cited a “difficult financial situation” as one of the reasons for dropping out of courses – masters students, however, mostly cited dissatisfaction with study conditions and “the desire for a practical job”.
“International students should enquire very carefully if they want to use private agencies or private preparatory colleges,” Jan Kercher of DAAD told The PIE.
“Unfortunately, there are many dubious providers here who are out to make a quick buck, i.e. there is a danger that students will waste a large part of their budget in an unnecessary way even before they start their studies.
“The international peer group at the institution represents an important resource for successfully coping”
“Germany is one of the host countries with the largest range of scholarships for international students worldwide – it is important that students inform themselves sufficiently about existing scholarship offers,” Kercher continued.
He also stressed that students should try and “avoid unnecessary or avoidable expenses” to help with their financial management.
“The statistics show that many students finance themselves via their parents at the beginning of their studies,” Theresa Thies of Bayerisches Staatsinstitut für Hochschulforschung und Hochschulplanung (IHF) concurred.
“The average monthly budget decreases as parental funding becomes less important – student job boards could make student job searching easier,” she continued.
The report also looks into linguistic skills. Many of the students surveyed said they experience a “discrepancy” between the officially required language level and the ability “actually needed to study”.
“There are dubious providers of language tests on the market, some of whom certify that students have a high level of language skills, even though this is not the case,” Kercher explained.
“Although this helps students to be admitted, it almost leads them to being unable to complete their studies due to a lack of language skills,” he added.
Another issue that is intertwined with this lack of language skill is the support offered by universities, according to the SeSaBa project.
Kercher told the PIE that while the necessary support structures are often available, students are “so busy with other things, such as finding accommodation, dealing with the authorities and coping with their studies” that they don’t make use of them.
The final thesis often, according to Kercher, also presents difficulties, with students finding that their skills are not sufficient to write their dissertation – which affects their entire degree.
SeSaBa recommends that universities should “make students aware of this problem as early as possible” – Kercher suggests encouraging students to use language courses or buddy programs to be more prepared.
The majority of those surveyed, however, seek help from “other international students” when they encounter problems, especially in the early semesters of their degrees.
“The international peer group at the institution represents an important resource for successfully coping with both academic and non-academic challenges”, the report reads.
When it came to the intentions to stay in Germany past graduation, 76% of master’s students said they intended to stay in Germany after graduation.
Although the figure drops to 42% among bachelor’s students, this is largely to be expected with master’s students generally having “more desire for a practical job”.
Thies’s PhD thesis took a sample of some masters’ students, which came up with similarly encouraging results: “About 57% of the students in the sample already state in the first year that they want to stay in Germany after graduation.
“The vast majority of universities…offer good [language courses], but are often used by a very small proportion of international students”
“As German language skills are essential for labour market integration, language courses could increase students’ intentions to stay,” Thies continued.
“Germany already has one of the most generous regulations in the world for international students when it comes to the right of residence after graduation, with 18-month right of residence in order to find a job,” said Kercher.
To keep the momentum going, Kercher suggested, the “typical problem” again involves a lack of skill linguistically, so this should be tackled before graduation.
“These students in particular should therefore train their German language skills during their studies – even if they don’t need them for their courses.
“The vast majority of universities…offer good courses, but are often used by a very small proportion of international students – the universities could and should change this through target information for students,” he continued.
“It is also important to note that many universities have international career services that are specifically aimed at international students… universities should therefore advertise these services, and students should enquire about such offers if they want to work in Germany,” he added.