'Sprechen sie Deutsch? Nein? No problem...'

 

Lucy Lee didn’t have grand globetrotting plans. At school, she assumed she would follow the usual route: GCSEs and A-levels at a local school, hopefully leading to a degree at a UK university. That’s pretty much how things panned out – until she set her heart on postgraduate study at the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weissensee (KHB) in Berlin.

“I had no ideas about coming here as I was growing up,” Lee says. “I knew very little about the German education system.” But after completing her BA in sculpture at the University of Wolverhampton, she looked further afield. “Berlin is really well known in the art world, and when I researched it, I realised it would be possible to study here.”

What made it so was the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), an agency that promotes Germany as an international study and research destination, and provides financial support. As Svenja Rausch, programme co-ordinator at the organisation’s London Office explains: “We make funding decisions based on academic excellence. Applicants put together a proposal, and we consider if it fits with their background and skills and howthey want to progress.”

Germany’s 233 state and about 80 private universities run around 4,700 postgraduate courses between them. Alongside PhD programmes, internationally recognised Masters qualifications are now the most common. UK applicants should have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and don’t need a visa.

The DAAD says approximately 4,500 students from the UK are studying for postgraduate qualifications in Germany. “We would like more,” says Ralf Bürkle, Communications Director at the Mannheim Business School (MBS). “We know UK students are high-calibre.”

Currently, they make up about 5 per cent of MBS’s intake – “but we’re noticing a growing interest and an increasing number of applications from the UK.” That fits with the trend: student website studienwahl.de reports that the proportion of foreign students in Germany has risen from 7.9 per cent in 1995/1996 to 9 per cent in 2008/2009.

Liane Schwartz, Communications Manager at Mannheim, a large public university partnered with MBS, believes this number could be higher. “We only have a few full-time [post]graduate students from the UK,” she notes. “That’s probably because there are currently legal language requirements at public universities for enrolment purposes.”

There’s no such barrier at the Business School, however: “Our MBA and executive MBA programmes can be done fully in English,” says Bürkle.

Jacobs, a private university in Bremen, goes further. “Because our goal is to be international, we are 100 per cent an English-language university,” explains Marie Vivas, director of admissions. However, she thinks international students would do well to learn some German: “It opens up other opportunities. You could happily spend years on this campus without ever learning a word of German, but that would be a shame, in my opinion.”

Students tend to agree. “I didn’t speak any German before I came to study here,” says Lee. “The DAAD paid for me to do a two-month language course when I arrived, and I kept that up throughout my studies.” Her course was taught through meetings and discussions. “Officially, it was in German, but we often spoke English. It would have been possible to succeed without any German at all, but I think it’s important to integrate.”

For Ben Carreras, language wasn’t a problem. He learnt German at school in Spain, took A-levels in Wiltshire and did his first degree at Swansea University. Then he got a DAAD scholarship; he is now completing a Masters in international economics at the University of Paderborn, studying half in English and half in German.

Neither he nor Lee found it difficult to acclimatise. “My friends here are all German because I’m keen to throw myself into this environment,” Carreras says. At Mannheim, Schwartz says students are given personalised support so they can develop their study plans and settle in. At Jacobs, Vivas says the set-up is home-from-home: “UK students understand the academic tradition; we’re organised into residential colleges and academic schools. Because of that, they settle in easily.”

Another important consideration is money. German postgraduates incur tuition fees as well as enrolment fees, but overall the costs are usually less than those in the UK. Enrolment is around €50, and that may include a “Semesterticket” for free public transport. Fees vary. Back in the UK, a home student undertaking postgraduate study at a state-funded university typically pays £3,000 to £6,000 a year. Compare that with Mannheim University, where Masters programmes cost €1,000 a year and PhD students get a 100 per cent grant that covers all fees. Private universities often set higher fees. At Jacobs, postgraduate programmes are around €20,000 a year – but Vivas says few students pay: “PhD programmes are usually funded, and that will cover fees. Among Masters students, some are fee-paying, some are covered by scholarships from Jacobs, and there’s some research funding available too.”

When it comes to MBAs, UK courses cost between £18,000 and £45,000. At MBS, which has been named Best German Business School by the Wirtschaftswoche / Handelsblatt Publishing Group for the last nine years, a full-time MBA costs €29,000. And remember that the DAAD grants can cover both fees and living costs. “Everything is probably 20 per cent cheaper here than in the UK,” he says.

Carerras is impressed by the academic standards too. “I can’t think of a single example where the quality of teaching I’ve experienced at Paderborn isn’t better than it was in the UK,” he says. “They have higher expectations – it’s about thinking outside the box. The groups have 30 students maximum, and everyone is encouraged to participate.

There are people here from all over Europe, which brings a different dimension. You’re also always taught by professors, whereas in the UK it’s often PhD students working with Masters students. You get a lot more time with those tutors, and the ratio of tutors to students is much better.”

Bürkle says it’s a similar picture at Mannheim: “The marketing department, for example, has four chaired professors, each with different specialisms, andone junior professor. That ensures all students get targeted teaching and expertise, whatever their interest.” At Jacobs, there are 100 professors for 1,200 students, and the university’s state-of-the-art facilities are available “with very low impact, because there are so few students using it,” says Vivas.

Another feature of German universities is their emphasis on employability. “You’re encouraged to do work experience, and pretty much any company will take you,” says Carreras. “The profession links are really good,” agrees Lee. “My university introduced us to professionals, linked up with relevant organisations, and encouraged us to do exhibitions.” Postgraduates should leave German universities in a strong position, says Bürkle. “Germany wasn’t as affected by the financial crisis as other areas of the world, so the economy recovered fast. With a good education and English as a mother tongue, you can find a very good job here.”

For Lee, moving to Germany was the right choice. “In the UK, we don’t think about studying abroad enough. In the rest of Europe, 14-year-olds are doing six-month stints at schools in other countries. I didn’t even know you could do that!” She adds: “It’s more than what you gain academically. I’m learning a new language, a new culture, and I’m being pushed on to new things.”

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