International students

Parliamentary inquiry on international students in Germany

Let’s investigate the reasons why 38% of international students arrive in Germany after the semester started. What can we do to change it?

In Germany, the members of Bundestag, the national parliament, have the right to receive answers to their questions to the Government. The Members of Parliament, Kai Gehring, Dr. Anna Christmann, and Margit Stumpp, used this right to obtain information on the "access channels for international students".

From the point of view of the questioners, "speedy and reliable admission procedures at universities" make up an important step for the implementation of the Federal Government's internationalization strategy. Still, there is a major problem as many international students "start the semester late because of formal and bureaucratic hurdles". According to the study by the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, this claim stands for 38% of the students from non-EU countries, who cannot enter Germany until after the start of the semester, and thus lose some opportunities which are normally offered by the universities at the beginning of the course. The main reasons for such a situation are the late dispatch of university admissions and the long visa waiting period.

Moreover, according to information provided by the questioners the association Uni-Assist, which was founded in 2003 by 41 universities, and since then has been reviewing international university applications, is heavily overburdened, slowing down the relocation process even further.

The answer of the German Federal Government 

In its preliminary remarks, the Federal Government refers to the structure of the German higher education system and the shared competences in the examination of international student applications. In response to the above-mentioned delay in entry at the beginning of the semester due to administrative hurdles, the Government's answer is: „In the view of the Federal Government, it is desirable for admitted students to arrive at their place of study before the beginning of the semester.“ 

Regarding the development of the temporal scope of the visa process, the German Federal Government states that it has "no knowledge of how this process has developed over the last 20 years". Neither does the Federal Government have any information on the differences in the admission of international students by universities in different federal states.

However, in respect of "the global competition for talent and the lack of skilled workers", the Federal Government sees "speedy and predictable procedures up to the point of taking up studies" as an important factor with digitalization being a crucial aspect. Speaking of Uni-Assist, the Federal Government states: "Uni-Assist is a product of the autonomy and self-administration of the German university landscape. Questions of increasing efficiency, financing, personnel, and organizational development are to be discussed within this framework".

The German Federal Government also highlights the importance of students’ responsibility as they can influence the process: "Students can register their desired date of study before they receive their admission and thus contribute to a timely application".

When it comes to country-specific characteristics, there are many actions that have already been taken. For example, in view of the sharp increase in visa demand, the personnel and spatial capacities of several visa offices were expanded. In 2019, the visa offices in Bangalore, Cairo, New Delhi, Manila, Rabat, and Tashkent were reinforced by sending additional employees and hiring local staff. The visa centers in Islamabad and Dushanbe received extra posts for visa decision-makers.

Expatrio’s perspective

The inquiry by the Green Parliamentary Group shows that, on the one hand, many of the interrelationships with reference to the federal structure of the German higher education system and the shared responsibilities are not directly observed by the Federal Government. In our view, the government can not only be held responsible for the implementation of “self-administered frameworks” like Uni-Assist, but they also have to observe quality and compliance to the mutually agreed goals.

On the other hand, there is a good overview of the external factors that influence the delayed entry of international students, especially the congestion in the legal and consular departments of German missions abroad. On the basis of this information, it is easy to analyze which resources are lacking and need to be provided to accelerate the visa application process and decrease the number of students arriving in Germany after their semester starts. 

Expatrio works exactly in the area in which the Federal Government identifies a need for action, using digital services to make relocation processes easier and clearer. In our exchange of experience with actors from politics, diplomacy, and business, we continuously point out the importance of a smooth relocation process for international students in Germany. Our partner DeGiS (Deutsche Gesellschaft internationaler Studierender) also plays an important role for supporting international students when struggling in the visa process or arriving late to Germany with the consequences of lacking peers, that are usually formed in the first days (introduction or inception weeks) of the starting semester. After all, the international students are the decision-makers of tomorrow and those who Germany urgently needs in the global competition for new talents - we can not accept nor afford to lack attractiveness at the first points of contact even before moving to Germany and we expect the involved parties to act fast, including the formation of public-private-partnerships with specialized providers like Expatrio.

Alex Ruthemeier

Co-Founder of Expatrio Global Services