International student numbers increase despite pandemic

Germany continues to belong to the world’s four most popular study locations, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and has even recorded a slight increase in the number of international students.

Around 325,000 international students attended German universities in the winter semester of 2020-21, representing an increase of almost 5,000 students, or 2%, compared to the previous year, according to the report Wissenschaft Weltoffen 2021, issued by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW).

The country has recorded an overall increase of 80% in international student numbers since 2010.

However, enrolment of first-year students from abroad was at just 64,000 last year, representing a decrease by 20%, or 15,000 students, compared to the year before the pandemic. While this development is in line with expectations expressed in a DAAD poll in March, the organisation is reckoning with numbers becoming stable again with the start of the new semester.

At around 41,000, China was the country of origin with the largest number of international students in 2020, followed by India (25,000), Syria (15,000), Austria (12,000) and Russia (10,500). While 71% of international students were enrolled at a traditional university, 29% had opted for a university of applied sciences (Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften –formerly the Fachhochschulen).

“The current figures show that international students continued to trust Germany as a study location, also during the COVID-19 pandemic,” comments DAAD President Joybrato Mukherjee.

“In addition to our member institutions’ great commitment, this was due to the fact that higher education institutions have made significant progress with regard to digitisation in the past year. This puts them in an excellent position to compete for the most talented minds around the world, once the coronavirus pandemic is over.”

The number of international first-year students who took up digital studies while living abroad has increased from 14% in 2019 to 24% presently. Regarding the two most important countries of origin, namely China and India, 18% (compared to a previous 10%) of Chinese students are now taking up their studies digitally, while the number of Indian students studying digitally has more than doubled, from 16% to 35%.

“We have to understand this high demand as an incentive to continue pursuing digitisation at German higher education institutions,” says Mukherjee. “We expect that this will also be reflected in the future federal government’s programme.”

German students continue to be highly mobile, with around 135,000 enrolled abroad in 2018.

The number of students going abroad for a limited time under the European Union’s Erasmus programme is now almost three times as high as it was with the start of the Bologna reforms in European higher education in 1999.

Around 42,000 Germans visited other EU countries in 2019, and while that number was reduced by half in 2020, numbers are expected to recover from the impact of the coronavirus crisis in the coming winter semester.

Wissenschaft Weltoffen has been providing data on international mobility of students and academics from Germany and abroad on a regular basis for more than 20 years.

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