GERMANY: Three million students study abroad

Around a third of all German students are now visiting foreign countries for academic purposes. The introduction of bachelor and masters degrees appears to have changed significantly how they plan their stays abroad.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Federal Education and Research Ministry (BMBF) commissioned HIS, a higher education statistics agency, to examine how international mobility among German students has developed in the new bachelor and masters system.

The results of three surveys, one of them carried out among 14,000 students this year, have been combined to give a general picture of trends.

From the early 1990s to 2010, the proportion of students going abroad for part of their studies grew from a fifth to around a third, with the total number of students now at just over two million. But apparently, the transition from the old diplom or magister system to bachelor or masters courses has brought about fundamental changes in when such terms abroad take place.

The new degrees introduced in the course of the Bologna reform process have shortened overall study time. Today's bachelor students go abroad much earlier, and for a significantly shorter period, than in the past with the old degree courses.

In 2011, 20% of fachhochschul (university of applied sciences) students and 25% of the university students enrolled for bachelor or masters courses had already spent time abroad.

Among the bachelor students, 22% of those studying at universities had gained experience abroad by their fifth and sixth semesters, compared to 25% of those at the fachhochschulen. In the seventh and eighth semesters, the level for university students was already 34%. In the masters degree courses, 39% of students had been abroad by the second year of study, and 40% of graduates.

In terms of subjects, economics students appear to be most eager to go abroad, followed by language and cultural science students. In the latter subjects, although it would appear to be most relevant to their content, mobility has dropped somewhat over the past two years. Mathematics and natural sciences have much lower mobility percentages, and in engineering just 16-17% of students went abroad.

Factors contributing to studying abroad include government funding schemes. However, the greatest incentive is probably the labour market, with graduates boasting experience in a foreign country standing a much better chance of getting good jobs.