International students need more support, survey finds

Continuing support of language proficiency appears to be a key factor for study success for holders of foreign school-leaving certificates, according to a recent survey covering more than 4,500 international students in Germany.

The SeSaBa survey looked at study success and dropouts in bachelor and masters degree programmes among students with a foreign school-leaving certificate, referred to as Bildungsausländer, as opposed to Bildungsinländer, foreigners holding a German school-leaving certificate.

The three-year project, supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), involved 125 higher education institutions throughout the country.

The survey, carried out by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in cooperation with the Bavarian State Institute for Higher Education Research and Planning (IHF) and FernUniversität, the Hagen state distance-learning university, focused in particular on the two phases of entering and completing studies.

In addition to the importance of language skills, the survey stresses the need for international students to familiarise themselves with academic demands and learning strategies as well as the role of becoming integrated in the social and cultural life at a university.

The survey results suggest that language courses ought to be provided and also actively advertised throughout international students’ studies. Universities could enhance the attractiveness of such programmes by awarding corresponding credits for taking part.

Furthermore, international students ought to be made aware at an early stage of just how important language skills are, for example, in writing their final thesis or for entering the German labour market later on.

“The results of the SeSaBa survey provide the first comprehensive overview of study success and dropout for international students in Germany,” says DAAD President Joybrato Mukherjee.

“The insights on language proficiency and on the considerable importance of the two phases of beginning and completing studies show us where adjustments have to be made to lower the high dropout rates of international students in Germany.”

Mukherjee emphasised that universities were making an effort to support their international students but noted that they lacked sufficient funding to offer much-needed intensive assistance.

In addition to the initial phase of studying, such assistance was above all important towards the end of international students’ studies in order to enable them to accomplish a successful transition to the German labour market.

“This is where the federal and state governments have to make a greater effort, also with a view to international students becoming tomorrow’s specialists in what is now an ageing German society,” Mukherjee said.

The survey has revealed that Germany appears to be particularly attractive as a first career stage for international graduates from masters programmes, and it states that 76% of these students tend to seek taking up a profession or going on to doctoral studies at a German university.

At the same time, however, completing their studies and prospects for entering a profession appear frequently to cause worries for international students. They often lack contact with businesses as well as know-how regarding conventions in applying for jobs. And many of them only realise shortly before completing their studies that their knowledge of German falls short of what they would need for their final thesis or for successfully applying for a job.

Contact Michael Gardner on e-mail