Free University Education For All


With the United States and the UK home to some of the most expensive universities in the world, the average Millennial now exits further education with a student loan debt sentence of 30 years to life.

Studying abroad is an option of course, but only if you’re fluent in a second language and if you have very deep pockets: foreign students tend to pay more for their education abroad than home students, most everywhere in the world.

Until now…

In direct contrast to the UK’s tripling of tuition fees, Germany has played an absolute blinder: they recently decided to abolish university tuition fees.

“Great,” I hear you sigh, rolling your eyes, “so Germans no longer have to cough up for a college degree. Good for them. But where does that leave me?”

But wait. It gets better. Because tuition fees have been abolished for everyone studying at a German university now, not just for German students… for you… and you… and you… and even you at the back!

“Terrific!” I hear you groan sarcastically. “Now I just need to learn native-level German before I graduate high school and all my troubles will be over…”

Not so fast my grumpy, teenage friend: even those of us who don’t know our Arsch from our Ellbogen don’t need to worry because there are plenty of German university courses offered in English too.

Soft-Option Degree Courses

You want more? Well, unlike the US and the UK, Germany has NOT been moving mountains to push 50% of its school-leavers into university education (regardless of their ability or job prospects at the other end) and as a result there are likely to be few soft-option degree courses such as Advanced Knitting and 16th Century French Poetry.

Why is that good? Well, it will mean the people who go to university are the ones who should be going to university: the ones who are studying to become future engineers, doctors and scientists.

I am not saying that studying for the sake of studying isn’t a good thing… if you have all the time in the world to play with and an unlimited supply of cash, knock yourself out: live your life care-free, max out your credit cards and squeeze every ounce of fun out of the college experience because you are one of the tiny fraction of students who don’t need to worry about getting a job at the other end.

However, if you are one of the kids who has been suckered into going to college “because that’s the next logical step” and because “it will an unforgettable experience” then you will discover just how valuable your degree certificate is to you when you enter the workforce and you find yourself competing with people who have relevant skills and experience. Good luck with that!

A Free Education?

But back to Germany: with a free education now on offer, you would expect there to be a surge of foreign-student applications for college places in Heidelberg, Munich and Berlin, wouldn’t you?

What are they thinking? How will they afford it? And what could they possibly stand to gain?

I am glad you asked…

I suspect that, similar to the way Australia is very particular about who they allow into the country based on the skills they possess, Germany will be able to choose from a very, very long list of able applicants and they will be choosing only the brightest and the best.

And why not? That’s the way university applications used to work. There were a limited number of places and only the very best were offered a place.

But what I find interesting is that while the UK and the US are busy ramping up their tuition fees, Germany is heading in the opposite direction: not satisfied with trebling tuition fees in 2012, the UK is aiming to increase them again from next year (possibly by a further eye-watering 65%) while Germany sets its fees at zero for all.

Further education in the UK and the US has now become a commodity, to be sold for as high a price as possible (via some slick marketing and a never-ending loan), whereas in Germany it is an investment.

How so?

Well, as a bright, ambitious student, given the choice between

  1. studying at a red-brick university in the UK and starting your working life with a £60,000 student loan debt around your neck, or
  2. studying at an elite German university and leaving with your engineering / medical / law degree and NO debt

which would you choose?

Still not seeing the investment potential?

Okay, what happens when high-schoolers leave home for the first time and go to university? They make new friends… they grow up… and they find a place where they belong. Or at least where they feel they belong (which is essentially the same thing).

So will these students complete their 4-year degree course and jump on the first place back home to Warrington or Wisconsin? Or will our newly-graduated elite have established relationships during their time at university? Will they have picked up the language during their time abroad and learned to enjoy the freedom of a European lifestyle? And being the bright, talented young things that they are, what are the chances that they will have been scouted by a top German firm and offered a well-paid job with advancement opportunities at the end of their course?

Now do you see it?

Investing In The Future

Germany is very cleverly taking advantage of the UK’s hideous “50% in further education” policy (thanks, Tony Blair…) and the US’s over-priced “college experience” by offering a free education to the most gifted, adventurous and savvy students from around the world, knowing that a large proportion of them will not leave at the end of their studies, and knowing that they will find work and raise a family where they have – to all intents and purposes – grown up.

Despite the current woes in Europe, Germany is investing in its future. And when the euro experiment finally comes to an end, either due to the collapse of the currency or to a systemic collapse of the banking system, it will be the German economy which emerges from the ashes first, strong, powerful and well-educated.

Would you consider studying in Germany if it meant being debt-free at the end of your degree course? Would it be an adventure, or do you think it would it be just too much for your average high school graduate to cope with, being so far away from home? And, as an employer, how would you view graduates from a European university?