Germany’s recent announcement of tuition-free university programs has been making headlines across the world. Students rejoiced and critics raised eyebrows. But are the effects going beyond Germany’s borders?
The tuition-free programs extend to foreign students, and while many of these programs require a minimum level of German to enter the university, more and more all-English programs are popping up across the nation, spurring students from English-speaking countries around the world to look to Germany for their education. It is no secret that English has become the global language and Germany is just one country among many that has been designing full English programs for study. The hope is to strengthen English skills for the country’s own citizens and to attract international students. In a world growing smaller through globalization, is this the future for higher education?
What does this mean for English Speaking Countries?
For university students around the world, the opportunity to study in English is an opportunity to pounce on. The “global language” is valued in business, travel and everyday life enrichment, but as tuition rates rise, students are now reevaluating the price tag in some of the English-speaking nations. The United States and the United Kingdom hold 16 of the top 20 positions on the Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
However, the price of education is rising rapidly and is beginning to push students elsewhere. In 2014, the UK noticed a dramatic 25% decrease in foreign student enrollment, due to the increasing price of tuition, which has risen up to 9,000 pounds per year. For students in the US, the situation is even bleaker. Graduating seniors in the US look at an average of $29,400 in debt upon graduation and the cost has risen six percent each year from 2008 to 2012. These prices don’t even include the steep out-of-state or out-of-nation fees that can be as high as an additional $10,000 each year. For the average international student, jumping through visa hoops and coming up with the money are high leaps to take.
Should the US be concerned about the shift in international student interest? Yes. In 2013, international students contributed $24.7 billion to the US economy through tuition and living expenses. International students are an important part of the campus community and for providing an enriched learning environment. On the flip side, affordable English programs offered around the world may have a growing tendency to push American students to move their own education abroad.
Who is Leading the Way?
Germany may have perked university-seekers attention, but the world’s nations have been turning out high-level English programs in diverse fields of study. European nations aren’t the only ones pushing for English—many programs have sprung up in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The Netherlands is leading the way in creating English programs in higher education. Though tiny, the nation of 17 million packs a big punch. Historically famous for their presence in science, business, sports and the arts, the innovative Dutch looked for ways to optimize their education system after the Second World War. English proved to be the way to attract international talent and to spread their influence around the world. Today, with more than 2,100 international study programs and courses offered exclusively in English, the Dutch are the front-runners in continental Europe. The Netherlands has also seen a massive rise in British students after a controversial rise in British tuition prices in 2012; in the Netherlands the yearly tuition is averaged at 1,906 euro, in comparison to the British average of 8,400 pounds (approx. 10,488 euro).
Germany has now deemed tuition fees as socially unjust, has reinstated free tuition for all students, and has offered their programs to Americans and other international students for only a small enrollment fee. Germany hopes to diversify and improve the quality of innovation by creating an even playing field. In response to the Excellence Initiative, a competitive funding program launched in 2005 to support universities working towards becoming world players, university education is now federally funded. In many programs, international students can expect to face the requirement of an A2 level (a fairly low level) of German, but with over 900 undergraduate and graduate English-speaking degrees, the requirement is fading as they aim to attract foreign students to remain in the country as skilled workers. German universities have been rising in popularity not only due to their programs in English, but in overall excellence, now holding twelve positions on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings list.
Portugal attracts international students not only due to its sunny, coastal weather and affordable cost of living, but because it has been nurturing thriving education programs in English. Hit hard by the European crisis, they have risen above in English literacy. The nation is ranked as having the 22nd best education system in the world according to U21 Rankings of Nation Higher Education Systems. While still in the process of expanding, Portugal offers a growing list of English programs available in higher education. At universities, such as Portugal’s oldest Coimbra University (1290), Masters and PhD programs in the sciences, technology and engineering are taught entirely in English. Many other programs are catching up by offering some required courses in both English and Portuguese. Rates for tuition competitively remain at about 950-1200 euro a year, adding to the international student interest.
English university programs are catching fire in Asia, spreading especially throughout Japan. In East Asian nations, where English after-school programs dominate extracurricular learning, university classes taught in English are also forming to accommodate the newly bilingual generation. Under the Global 30 Project, top universities in Japan are offering full courses in English to break down the language barrier and attract international students. No Japanese language entrance exam is required, but opportunities are provided for students to engage in learning Japanese upon arrival.
What is a main factor in the global future? Language. It is powerful, it is valuable and it is creating change. The US may hold some of the top positions on the international rankings of universities and have English on its side, but unless programs adapt to compete with foreign universities, the popularity and value of a United States education may soon diminish.