Tuition fees to be reintroduced for non-EU students

Tuition fees are to be reintroduced for international students in Germany’s south-western state of Baden-Württemberg. The state government says that it needs the money to cover costs.

Tuition fees were scrapped in Baden-Württemberg in 2011, under a newly elected Green-Social Democrat government, by Green Party higher education minister Theresia Bauer. Funding lost through the measure was fully compensated for by the government.

Now, again in office in a newly elected Green-Christian Democrat government, Bauer wants to reintroduce tuition fees for international students as of the 2017-18 winter semester.

The new government’s coalition agreement of May 2016 states: “We will not introduce general tuition fees”. However, fees were already being debated by Baden-Württemberg’s previous Green-Social Democrat government in 2013. Green whip Edith Salzmann had suggested fees of up to €1,000 for international students, and maintained that those coming from the United States or Asia did not have poor families.

Nevertheless, all German state governments had done away with fees by 2014.

Now Baden-Würrtemberg plans to reintroduce tuition fees by autumn 2017 for non-European Union students who are not German residents. Bauer refers to a semester fee of €1,500 (US$1,600). She argues that her ministry has to fill a funding gap of around €48 million (US$52 million) next year.

“I’m very surprised that higher education minister Theresia Bauer is now attempting to make up for her government’s austerity measures by introducing tuition fees instead of insisting on a substantial increase in higher education funding,” says Kambiz Ghawami, head of World University Service Germany. “And she is pursuing this approach even though it clashes with the Green-Christian Democrat coalition agreement.”

Ghawami also stressed that reintroducing the fees would mean that Baden-Württemberg would be reneging on its pledge to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, which the federal government approved in September 2015. Goal 4 stipulates a substantial expansion of scholarships available to developing countries.

Around 15% of Germany’s international students receive grants, leaving a major share having to rely on part-time jobs to cover their costs. New tuition fees would represent a considerable financial hurdle for students from developing countries.

Kai Gehring, higher education and research policy spokesman for the Greens at federal level, believes that Baden-Württemberg would be sending the wrong signals if it were to reintroduce fees for international students. Gehring thinks that in the long run, saving in higher education would prove more expensive than investing in the area now.

Ghawami said that tuition-free studying is one of the factors that has made Germany especially attractive for international students. In turn, he said, these students later on provide much needed skilled labour in Germany or act as “German ambassadors” in their home countries. Baden-Württemberg’s state government has yet to debate a draft budget for 2017.

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