Let International Students Study for Free

When it comes to education, what sets apart most European countries to Anglo-Saxon countries – especially the United States of America – are tuition fees. While students in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Finland, Belgium, and counting can study at minimal or no costs, students in the United States, Canada, and Australia do easily pay more than $4,000 just for tuition fees.

In fact, according to the data of OECD Education at a Glance 2017, the tuition fee for a single semester in a public college in the U.S. is $8,202 while the tuition fee for a single semester in a public German university is $0. Effectively German students pay around $340 of dues per semester, however, these costs already include a ticket of the public transport for half a year.

Tuition Fees for International Students

Let’s look at tuition fees for international students. Let’s define an international student as a person who moves to another country to pursue his or her tertiary education. I studied in a very international university in Germany. Thanks to that I met many amazing people from different countries around the entire world. Pakistan, India, Russia, Uzbekistan, Syria, Cameroon, South Africa – just to name a few countries where some of my fellow students came from. One big reason they decided to study in Germany – instead of the United States or the United Kingdom – were the non-existent tuition fees. Despite the German language, they moved to Germany to study here. They were the people who made every year of my Bachelor degree worthwhile.

On the other hand, I know that tuition fees can hinder people to take the risk and study in another country. I wanted to study abroad as well. I looked for hundreds of university in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. However, it was extremely important to me that I can finance my entire studies myself. For me, this was not possible in countries like Australia, the U.K. or the United States.

What sets apart Germany from even more Western countries is the fact that also all international students can study for free at public universities. The tuition fee is zero only a small administration charge is due each semester. It does not matter if you come from the United States or Namibia, China or Chile studying in German is free. In contrast to many other Western countries, where international students are facing even costlier tuition fees than national students.

According to the data of HSBC, international students in the United States faced on average tuition fees of $24,914 per annum or $12,456 per semester. That’s $4,254 more than national students have to pay.

Impact of Free Education on the World

The model of free education for international students is a hot topic for some politicians in Germany: e.g. the FDP wants specific international students from wealthy Western countries to pay a small fee of 500-1.500€ per semester. However, I propose that one should not look at tuition fees for international students from a micro-economic perspective. The critics, who propose we should charge tuition fees from international students argue that many students come to Germany to study for free but then leave and return with the gained experience and knowledge back home. But isn’t that ironically what makes the investment of free education for everyone on the planet worth it?

A student who decides to study in a foreign country and – after three to five years – returns home with his newly gained knowledge, experience, and network might have a much higher impact on the world than plain money disguised as development aid. If the students return home and bring advanced farming technology, manufacturing technology, or other entrepreneurial concepts to their home countries is not bringing a measurable return on higher-education expenses for the host country. However, host countries should not seek for immediate measurable returns in any way. While one might hope to fill the skilled worker shortage with skilled foreign students, one should not underestimate the impact an adopted mindset with world-class education can have on developing countries (even though you might argue that developing countries don’t exist anymore).

I once met an African classmate who told me with great enthusiasm of how much he liked our deposit system for beverage bottles and cans. He explained that garbage of one-time used cans and plastic bottles is a huge problem in his home country and he saw a big opportunity back home by introducing a commercial bottle deposit business. Isn’t this what should make Germany (and obviously other countries) proud? By educating and inspiring upcoming leaders who adopt advanced concepts and technologies to their own countries? But it is not limited to that, how about the effects of international students who return home but then use their contacts and network in to facilitate trade?

By nullifying tuition costs globally we might see significant positive changes in the world. A foreign student who brings back home the intercultural experiences he acquired in China has an impact on the economy which otherwise would not have been possible. African students who study and emulate the Western political system might return home to fight corruption. A German student who studies at Stanford university will return with a different mindset home and will impact many other people thereby. I argue that the positive effects of free education for a brighter and more peaceful world are widely underestimated. Currently, the tuition fees in most countries (especially English speaking countries) attract children of wealthy and already successful families. The current system excludes the students of middle-class parents who might have the money to support their children with their living expenses abroad but could never afford tuition fees of $80,000 or more.

What is your opinion on tuition fees and a more open world for students? Let me know in the comments below.

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