Following a 2005 court decision, German universities were granted the right to charge students tuition fees for the first time. Prior to the ruling, due to a system of governmental subsidization, fees were reduced to such an extent that higher education was essentially a free service.
The new laws allowed states discretionary powers to implement fees on the grounds that they were to be used for running costs and educational services. Semester fees were fairly low in comparison to other European higher education establishments, with charges of over €500 being rare. The trial period, known in Germany as the ‘tuition fee experiment’, has produced mixed results. Public opinion of the new fees was highly negative, leading to the majority of states (known in German as ‘Länder’) which initially began a process of charging students to abolish the system. Only two states exercised their right to impose tuition fees. While Lower Saxony and Bavaria still maintained fees, the consensus was that they would soon follow the rest of Germany in abandoning fees. The failure of the experiment marks Germany as outside of recent global trends towards expensive education.
Despite the recent experiment, Germany has traditionally been a financially attractive option for students. Alongside minimal charges, German students enjoy a wealth of discounts, creating an attractive environment for international students. The popularity which the German university system has found with foreign students is due to a combination of this affordability, world-class education standards and an increased global mobility. With the end of widespread tuition fees, the German education system has cemented itself as a globally competitive choice for international students.
October 2014 saw the official end of tuition fees across the country, enshrining the right of local and foreign students to gain a free education. However, some exceptions still exist. Ph. D and Master’s courses often have costs attached, ranging from hundreds to several thousand Euros per semester. International students should enquire at their chosen institutes.
While tuition fees in Germany (known as ‘Studiengebühren’) used to be charged on a semester by semester basis, other fees are still compulsive in the same manner. Semester contributions form two separate areas: an administration fee (known as ‘Semesterbeitrag’) which covers university services and a ticket for free public transportation, and a small enrolment fee of around €100 to cover a student ID. If a student takes an exceptionally longer time to complete their studies (by a period of four semesters) than is normal, a flat fee of €500 is charged for each additional semester.