GERMANY: Studying too expensive

Yet another damning report has been released on social background and studying in Germany. This time the Deutsches Studentenwerk or DSW, the country's student welfare organisation, has drawn attention to the fact that more and more school-leavers in Germany are choosing not to study owing to difficult financial hurdles. Even among the group with top marks in the Abitur higher education admission certificate, parents' income is clearly a decisive factor in career planning.

Speaking at an education trade union conference in Papenburg, DSW Director Achim Meyer auf der Heide said that according to recent interviews by Hochschul-Informations-System, HIS, while 81% of school-leavers from families of academics with "excellent" Abitur marks were "absolutely certain" about enrolling, only 61% of school-leavers with equally good marks but a non-academic background were.

HIS, an independent company providing higher education statistics, interviewed Abitur-holders throughout Germany who had obtained certificates with average marks between 1.0 and 2.0 (on a scale of 6, with 1.0 corresponding to excellent) in 2006.

But the overall trend to study appears to have dropped among young people, too. A total of 32% of those interviewed did not intend to go to university or Fachhochschule (the practice-oriented, degree granting institutions requiring a specialised Abitur for admission). Every fourth school-leaver not wishing to study referred to being put off by anxiety about insufficient income, tuition fees, running into debt, and the like. Heide drew particular attention to the large number of young women from families with a lower income in this group.

Hesse abolished tuition fees this summer, leaving a total of six Länder or federal states still charging. Twenty-six percent of the group choosing not to study in the survey said they could not afford the fees. For nearly every second Abitur-holder from an academic family, it is the parents who pay the fees whereas Abitur-holders with a non-academic background have to foot the bill themselves by working part-time or taking out loans.

It is not yet clear whether the introduction of fees in some of the Länder has resulted in more migration among students to tuition-free institutions. The share of students changing universities or Fachhochschulen during their studies has remained at a constant 15% over the last 15 years, with this group overwhelmingly comprising students from wealthier backgrounds. According to Heide, students from poorer families tend to stay on with their parents much more frequently and have to depend on institutions nearby, too.

Recent figures released by the Federal Office of Statistics also point to a decline in opting for studying. First-year student numbers dropped by 5% from 2003 to 2007 while in the same period, the number of young people with an Abitur or a specialised Abitur grew by 5%.

The German government has repeatedly stressed the importance of investing in academics for the country's future as an industrial nation. Clearly, many young people are more concerned about what they can afford to invest in their own future.