Berkeley Student Research Report: Foreign Students in Germany

A research report by UC Berkeley undergraduate student and MGP participant Yiran Wang:

As the unemployment rate in Germany has dropped, the number of unoccupied positions in the job market has increased. A recent report shows that nearly 500,000 jobs are open and skilled workers are especially needed in the areas of mechatronics, electronics, manufacturing, logistics, health and trade. Even during the recent economic crisis, the German employment rate continued to rise. Due to these shortages, the German government has begun to change its policies to attract more immigrants, and many German companies are advertising for employees abroad, especially for highly specific positions in engineering and in the areas of maths, IT, natural sciences and technology.

Among immigrants to Germany, foreign students play an important role. In recent years, Germany has become the 4th most popular study destination in the world. In 2011, the number of foreign students registered at German universities surpassed a quarter million, comprising 11.4% of all students in Germany. As undergraduate enrollment has grown, so too has the number of graduates. In September 2012, the Federal Ministry for Statistics announced that the number of international students graduating from German institutions had reached almost 38,300 in 2011. Approximately half of the international students come from Europe and around a third are from Asia. The largest number of foreign students come from China, reaching 22,828 in 2011, due in large part to the more than 750 cooperative partnerships between Chinese and German universities. These partnerships include the exchange of students, scientists, and researchers, as well as the development of joint curricula and the export of entire study courses. At the same time, the German ambassador to India has announced a goal that one million Indian students will learn at least basic German by 2017. India and German have also signed two agreements promoting the German language in India and strengthening cooperation in education and research.

Although international students have become an important resource for the German economy, Germany also has its own unique education system to support its labor market.  Unlike the U.S., Germany has an official system of apprenticeship called Duale Ausbildung. The dual education system combines apprenticeship with formal schooling for young people so that education can be tied to economic demand. The German system of vocational training aims to promote economic productivity, social integration and individual development. Since the dual education system is closely combined with market demand, it effectively reduces the nation’s unemployment rate.

Although the dual education system accelerates the supply of educated workers in Germany, the growth in labor demand still outpaces supply. In 2012, there were 3,860,000 job positions open in Germany. Such a shortage is caused by the dual pressures of an aging population and inflation-fighting measures that keeps wages low in comparison with those in neighboring countries. In recent years, Germany has made policy changes to attract more foreign workers. In June 2012, Germany implemented the “Blue Card” plan, which aims to attract highly qualified non-EU nationals by simplifying entry procedures and residence rights. People with a university degree or “certified qualifications based on at least five years of work experience” and who satisfy the minimum salary requirements are entitled to a Blue Card. According to the business magazine Wirtschaftswoche, in the program’s first six months, the card had been issued to 4,126 applicants, outstripping the 3,600 cards that the government had expected to issue in the first year.

 On the other hand, more and more foreign students choose to study in Germany because of the low or nonexistent tuition fees as well as post-study work rights. A new law also extends the time students can stay in Germany after graduating, eliminates restrictions imposed on temporary employment while seeking permanent employment and grants permanent residence permits though the “Blue Card” plan. As many Blue Card applicants are graduates of German higher education institutions, the card often serves as a pathway from study to employment. According to an estimate by the DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service), in order to remain an attractive destination, Germany needs to further develop its internationalization strategies to attract 350,000 international students by 2020. In addition to government policies, universities in Germany have started to provide more courses in English, as most international students have at least basic English skills. Also, in order to attract foreign students with less-than-perfect German knowledge, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in western Germany has launched a new program that automatically transcribes lectures and translates them into English. To maintain Germany’s position as a leading host country for internationally mobile students, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has adopted Strategy 2020, which seeks future specialists and executives who act in a socially responsible manner by providing scholarships to the best German and international students.

Many foreign students in Germany have above-average levels of academic success, while also learning about German work and student cultures. Simultaneously, there are more students from Germany studying abroad than from any other European country, and it wants half of its students to spend at least a term abroad. In this way, Germany has one of the world’s most mobile student populations, and the idea of internationalism permeates its university system. However, for foreign students, academic success is not always accompanied by successful integration into German university culture. According to research studying the quality and quantity of contact, friendship patterns, social support networks, and the functional roles of intercultural interactions, the amount of cross-national interaction between German and international students is generally low. Studies also find that international students experience more problems with the usage of support services than domestic students. The presence of international students is insufficient in itself to promote intercultural interaction, to develop intercultural friendships, and to result in international understanding.  To increase and enhance intercultural interactions, three strategies have been used in educational institutions. The first one is peer-pairing, by which international students and domestic students meet regularly outside of the classroom environment. Research has shown not only it helped international students adapt to a new environment, it also increased intercultural interactions and enhanced domestic students’ cultural awareness.  Second, intercultural group work in the classroom reduces stereotypes and increases willingness to work with members of other cultures. This strategy also demonstrates potential to improve academic performance and foster intercultural friendships. The last one is to implement better residential programs to provide more opportunities for both domestic and international students staying together. Although not much research on residential programs exists, available evidence has shown positive outcomes including the increase of intercultural knowledge, interactions and friendships.



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