the class of 2020 - radar - interviews
July 3rd, 2020

Germany will become a top study destination for EU students due to Brexit. Are the university cities prepared?

Lily Moodey
Programme Coordinator
The Class of 2020

Despite a swift transition to online learning, 80% of German Universities had yet to make a decision on the mode of teaching for the upcoming semester at the end of May, according to German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) survey findings published earlier this week. Fortunately, members of The Class community report that it is now likely that universities will be able to welcome some students on campus for blended learning in the coming semester, potentially with a delayed start from October to early November. As highlighted in a recent independent survey, nearly three-quarters of prospective international students indicated that they still planned to travel to Germany as soon as possible.

Still, 57% of the German universities surveyed by DAAD anticipate a decline in international student enrollment in the upcoming winter semester, with 21% predicting a very strong decline.

Anticipated declines in international mobility are an urgent concern across all regions “visited” by The Class of 2020’s Virtual Summits. In early June, 70% of our Spain Virtual Summit participants predicted international enrollment in Academic Year 2020/2021 would decrease around 30% or more. At The Netherlands Summit at the end of June, 41% of participants anticipated a reduction of 30% or more in international student numbers in the coming semester, although higher education institutions reported some promising upturns in application numbers. Even in Austria & CEE, where 34% of participants predicted stable international student numbers, 51% predicted losses ranging from 10%-50%. Border closures, delayed exams and prolonged visa processes have meant that even the countries seen to have dealt with the pandemic the most effectively are not immune to the anxiety of delay and uncertainty.

Much like The Netherlands, where The Class of 2020 virtual summit found mid- to long-term optimism for the recovery of physical student mobility, Germany approaches this situation from a healthy position. High ranking universities and low costs have made for excellent value for students from around Europe and overseas. Germany has been reaping the benefits of a decade spent investing in quality education and retaining skilled workers with post-study work visas, which the government says companies require to “maintain their innovative strength, assert themselves in global competition and ultimately secure prosperity”. In 2013 Germany made public a goal to increase foreign students by 40% by 2020 to 350,000. The target was hit by 2017. By 2020, nearly 400,000 students were enrolled.

Now, just as the country faces short-term uncertainty, with a reported 80,000 international degree students having left during the pandemic, it also sees new long-term prospects. According to a survey (released this week), results of 2,505 EU students intending to study in the UK, an astounding 84% of 2,505 EU students originally intending to study in the UK are now looking for degrees elsewhere in Europe following the reintroduction of fees for EU students in Academic Year 2021/2022. Germany is, unsurprisingly, ranked a top alternative study destination by these students, only behind the neighbouring Netherlands.

The challenge for the German government, municipalities, higher education community, and housing providers will be to simultaneously navigate the current difficulties and ensure students and young talent continue to receive a warm welcome.

Sustaining talent hubs

The student housing industry has more than quadrupled supply of student beds in the past decades as an integral part of Germany’s red carpet for talent. Still, the Deutsches Studentenwerk reports that most students require over a month to search and secure accommodation. Public, subsidized and private providers continue to develop living communities with private providers taking on an increasing portion of the market share. According to Savills, 92% of beds currently under construction and in planning are expected to be one-bedroom apartments; good news should predictions of student appetite for self-contained units post-pandemic bear-out.

However, given high land and construction costs across most cities, the sustained focus on single apartments means there is little incoming stock below 450 euros per month. It is not an easy time financially to be a student in Germany, domestic or international. Student protests across the country last month called attention to the estimated 1 million student jobs lost through this crisis, leaving 20% of students unable to cover rent and bills. Participants at previous virtual summits have predicted that a likely impact of this pandemic could be lower prices. Accessibility will likely also be a major topic in this region as the economic crisis prolongs.

Our first three virtual summits emphasized the enhanced need for more dynamic living, working, and learning environments, as lifestyles have further blended and learning pathways take on new forms. In Germany, housing providers may increasingly need to innovate to cater spaces to new demographics: for example, university hospital trainees or for young professionals taking a hiatus from university. Entirely new kinds of study spaces may be needed to support new learning concepts and course formats, as pioneering players in Spain and The Netherlands shared with us. These changes will require particular ingenuity in German university cities, where rigid land-use policies and legal restrictions on the definition of students have not always kept pace with the way young talent is living.

On Tuesday, July 14th, The Class of 2020 looks forward to welcoming leaders in Germany to a virtual summit to discuss how they are preparing to support students in the short and long term, including Ms. Christiane Schmeken, Director of Strategy, DAAD; Gerrit Bruno-Blöss, Founder & CEO,; Leonie Ackerman, Board Member, FZS; Stuart Osborn, Head of European Residential Transactions, Knight Frank; Ulrike Hagendorf, Research Manager European Residential, Catella; Brian Welsh, CEO, Nido Student; Benjamin Rober-Rathay, Product Development & Systems, The FIZZ.

Register for the summit here.