The survey, carried out by DAAD, found that newly enrolled international student numbers rose from around 64,000 in the 2020/21 winter semester to between 72,000-80,000 students in the 2021/22 winter semester.
The findings are a forecast as the survey received 158 responses from 270 higher education institutions questioned between early and mid-December. The surveyed universities account for 65% of all international students enrolled in Germany.
The uptick in new enrolments is a result of “very rapid recovery” in non-degree students at most German higher education institutions, following a “significant slump” in the previous year, the research noted.
“Additionally, universities in particular are recording significant increases in the number of international degree-seeking students in master’s programs,” it added.
It also found that while art and music universities and colleges tended to report more increases than decreases in the number of degree seeking international students, the opposite was true for universities of applied sciences.
“Among international guest and exchange students (non-degree), on the other hand, there are more increases than decreases in all HEI clusters except the colleges of art and music,” it detailed.
The forecast suggests that the total number of international students in Germany during the 2021/22 winter semester is between 330,000 to 350,000, up from 325,000 for the same time the previous year.
Reasons for the increase is the “significantly higher” number of newly enrolled students, but also an “above-average number of international students who were already enrolled in Germany and remained in the higher education system”.
The proportion of institutions reporting recovery of international enrolments in master’s program was higher than that at a bachelor’s level.
For example, while 38% and 32% of small (fewer than 20,000 students) and large universities, respectively, recorded an increase in international masters students, only 5% and 12% said the same at a bachelor’s level.
“The survey results suggest that Germany has managed the transition to a new normal rather well”
“One important reason for this is probably that the travel restrictions in the previous year have now resulted in a shortfall in preparatory courses at the so-called ‘Studienkollegs’, i.e. presumably far fewer first-year students are now heading from these Studienkollegs to the HEIs than in previous years,” the report noted.
Martin Bickl, chair of the German Association for International Educational Exchange (DAIA), noted that “the massive dent Corona had put in our 2020/21 exchange numbers was merely temporary”.
“The German HE sector’s resilience has surprised even the most optimistic observers,” he suggested.
“Exchange students [are] flocking back now that we’ve learned to live with the virus,” he said, while retention rates remain strong.
“This has certainly been helped by DAAD’s and individual universities’ financial relief bursaries for international students whose income had dried up,” he told The PIE.
“Even if we treat these numbers with the caution they deserve – after all they’re only preliminary – the survey results suggest that Germany has managed the transition to a new normal rather well, with HEIs and government working in partnership to maintain conditions for international students under which they are able to study, thrive and enjoy themselves.”
Preliminary feedback from DAIA members shows that the remaining challenge is to get academics’ exchange inflow to Germany back to pre-pandemic levels, Bickl added.
Turkey, Iran, India, Italy and France saw increases within the newly enrolled student cohort, while numbers from China, Syria and Cameroon saw drops.
However, unlike Australia, the US and the UK, Germany is less reliant on China as a market for international students, as highlighted by Marijke Wahlers, head of the International Department at the German Rectors’ Conference in 2018.
In the winter semester of 2019/20, 12.9% of Germany’s international students originated from China – equivalent to 41,353 Chinese students, according to the 2021 Wissenschaft Weltoffen report released in autumn 2021.
“Having a balanced student body from a multitude of source countries has certainly paid off for Germany as it has avoided dependence on particular countries in a time when the situation continues to be so volatile across the globe,” Bickl told The PIE.
“The survey of our member universities allows us to look forward to the new year with hope: despite the pandemic, the number of international students in Germany continues to increase,” said DAAD president Joybrato Mukherjee.
“The number of first-year students from abroad has also risen again after declines in the last winter semester. Increases of around 13% or more are much better than expected in the summer. These figures are a very good sign for the attractiveness of Germany as a place to study.
“They also show that the joint commitment of member universities and the DAAD to attracting and supporting international students is paying off, especially during the worst pandemic in 100 years.”
Senior researcher in data and studies on higher education internationalisation and international academic mobility at the DAAD, Jan Kercher, previously suggested that Germany could overtake Australia as the third most popular study destination.
With application evaluator Uni-assist reporting a similar number of international applicants for the 2021 winter semester as in 2020, there is no sign of student number decline, he said in November 2021.
“At least 330,000 international students are more than one would have dared to hope for in the summer”
On the release of the research in December, Kercher described the 330,000 figure as “pleasing”.
“At least 330,000 international students are more than one would have dared to hope for in the summer,” he noted.
It is important to note that the alterations in source countries for students, with fewer from China, Syria and Cameroon, are “not solely an impact of the pandemic”, he added.
“In the case of Turkey, for example, there is a clear increase in the number of students with a refugee background. And the decreasing numbers with regard to Syria is also nothing new, since most of the prospective students who came to Germany in 2015 or 2016 have already started their studies during the last few years.”