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One of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany is increased pressure on the digitization of education. Compared to other countries, Germany was a little slower in adopting computer-based learning. For several years now, the German government has been promoting digital skills as a key concept in education – as of 2019, it has pledged EUR 5 billion (USD 5.8 billion) to modernize its internet infrastructure and increase the number of digital devices offered in Germany to 43,000 schools. However, the abrupt shift in March 2020 to online education for nearly 11 million school children in Europe’s largest country has shown that Germany is not ready for digital learning. The crisis has sparked a cascading call across the political spectrum to accelerate the digitization of schools.

Also in higher education, digitization is now increasingly seen as a means of academic modernization and as a way to enhance the already increased mobility of international students in Germany. While the COVID-19 emergency has led to a sharp decline in the number of international students in the country – an estimated 80,000 of them left in the early stages of the pandemic – Germany has emerged as a growing international center of education in recent years. It is attracting more and more students from countries such as China and India, especially for the English-taught master’s programmes.

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To further promote this influx of international students, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the country’s designated funding organization for international exchange, recently adopted a strategy of “internationalization through digitization”, which explicitly aims to improve academic mobility. . and webinars on topics such as research paper writing, online language tests, virtual recruiting events, and online portals to link students to academic institutions.

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In addition to such digitization challenges, the government continues to systematically promote Germany as an international science center with major funding projects, such as the so-called Excellence Strategy, which aims to ensure that German universities become internationally oriented world-class research institutes. † As a rapidly aging society, Germany urgently needs immigrants to overcome the growing shortage of skilled workers. Attracting international researchers and students to its universities is therefore seen as a crucial effort to ensure the influx of highly qualified immigrants and support economic growth.

Another recent concern for German politicians has been the country’s decline in the latest 2018 OECD PISA study. While German students continue to perform above the OECD average, their test scores and lectures in science fall below levels last recorded in 2009 and 2006 respectively. Some German officials have hailed these results as “stagnation in drowsiness” and lamented the high number of 15-year-old students — 21 percent — who are unable to read or perform adequate math calculations.

Other observers attribute the poor PISA results not so much to the shortcomings of the German education system as such, but to the rapid influx of refugees and immigrants educated abroad, and the difficulties associated with the integration of these newcomers due to language barriers and academic incompatibilities. † Between 2015 and 2016 alone, Germany received about 1.3 million refugees – an influence of historic proportions that led to the largest population increase in Germany in years, with most of the new arrivals being young people in need of education.

Given that most refugees do not speak German on arrival and Germany has a relatively short history as an immigration country, it has so far succeeded in integrating these migrants into educational settings better than expected, despite significant structural and socio-cultural barriers. That said, integration issues persist and the social integration of immigrants is likely to remain a political issue for the foreseeable future. (For more information on this topic, see our related articles on the state of integration of refugees in Germany in 2017 and 2019)

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Until the coronavirus pandemic condemned global education, international student mobility in Germany boomed. According to official statistics, the number of international students in the country increased by 46 percent between 2013 and the winter semester 2019/20, from 282,201 to 411,600. In 2019, 11.7 percent of all students in Germany were international students — a high percentage compared to that of other top destinations such as the US, where in 2019 only 5.5 percent of all students were international, according to the Institute for International Education (IIE ). However, keep in mind that unlike the IIE, Germany also includes in its international student numbers foreigners who are in Germany with immigration or refugee status, who attend higher education institutions (HEIs). Nevertheless, 78 percent of all foreign students in Germany – 319,000 – international students in the traditional sense, are enrolled on temporary student visas.

At the time of writing, no data was available for the summer semester after the 2020 pandemic, but it is clear that the pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in the number of international students in Germany, as it has in other host countries. For example, according to Uni-Assist, Germany’s leading credit rating agency, the number of international applications for the winter semester 2020 has fallen by 20 percent compared to the previous year. Interviews with students from India, Germany’s second-largest sending country for international students, show that student mobility is currently hampered by concerns about diminished employment prospects after graduation, logistical hurdles and fears about the quality of education, as German universities have since The pandemic has shifted to blended learning, combining face-to-face instruction with online courses.

That said, interest in studying in Germany among Indian students generally remains high, and there is little doubt that Germany will be a dynamic international center of education in the future. The country has a well-articulated and generously funded internationalization strategy that consciously seeks to attract the “smart mind” of the world. As mentioned, Germany has a growing need to import skilled labour. The country is already short of more than 300,000 tech workers — a dire labor shortage expected to fuel economic growth by 2035.

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Against this background, international graduates make for excellent immigrants. They are relatively young and already know the country; they have German academic qualifications and often speak at least some German. Incoming student mobility has thus been boosted by changes in immigration policy in recent years, which make it easier to work and obtain long-term residence in Germany after graduation. Not only can international students stay and work in the country for 18 months after graduation, but those with adequate employment contracts and German language skills have paved the way for long-term work visas and permanent residence.

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Language barriers are Germany’s biggest handicap compared to English-speaking general destination countries. However, with the increasing availability of English-taught master’s and doctoral programs, these barriers are becoming less and less relevant. While bachelor’s programs are still taught almost exclusively in German, international applicants can now choose from over 1,300 master’s programs offered in English only.

What makes these programs very attractive is the fact that German public universities only charge minimal tuition fees, even for international students – a significant advantage when you consider the often exorbitant tuition fees in other international study destinations. As many as 20% of all students enrolled in master’s programs in Germany are now international students. In fact, in PhD programs, international students account for 25 percent of all enrollments – a trend actively promoted by the German government: 49 percent of all international PhD students in Germany received public scholarship funding in 2018.

Another draw is Germany’s formidable reputation for world-class programs in engineering and other technical subjects. A whopping 42 percent of international students in Germany are enrolled in engineering programs, compared to only about 20 percent of international students in the United States. While a majority of international students in the United States are enrolled at the undergraduate level, more than 50 percent of undergraduate students in Germany study in master’s or doctoral programs. However, it should be noted that there are differences according to the type of institutions and the country of origin. For example, the number of bachelor’s students of African and Middle Eastern descent is significantly higher.

China has been the largest sending country of international students to Germany for the past ten years; it currently accounts for 13 percent of international registrations in the country. But while the number of Chinese students continues to rise, a more recent development is the rapid influx of students from India, which took over Russia in 2015 as the second most important sending country. Between 2016 and 2019 alone, the number of Indian students in Germany doubled and now stands at 7 percent of all international students. Since the most typical international student from India has graduated in a STEM discipline with limited financial resources, Germany is in many ways an ideal destination for Indian students. The growing availability of English-taught graduate programs and recent changes in immigration laws have made the country all the more attractive to these students.

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That said, Syrian students have seen an even bigger spike in new enrollments, rising 275 percent in just three years, largely driven by the massive wave of Syrian refugees who fled Germany in 2015/16. Although the integration of these mainly young refugees into the higher education system was initially difficult due to their lack of German-speaking skills

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