Educational Migrants from Third Countries

"Graduate Quickly and Leave"

Every year, approximately 94,000 students from developing countries and from the Islamic world come to study in Germany. Despite the lack of highly qualified experts in Germany, many of these students leave the country after graduation. Najima El Moussaoui explains why

Foreign students inform themselves about schedule for the winter term at Cologne university (photo: dpa)
Life and study conditions are precarious for foreign students, which is why many of them return to their native countries once they have qualified

​​ Germany is suffering from a lack of specialists. The reasons for this can be found at both national and international level: on the one hand, Germany's population is ageing, on the other, global competition for the brightest minds is fierce.

This trend is set to continue in the coming years. According to the OECD's "Education at a Glance" report 2008, only 21 per cent of German school-leavers in any given year will go on to higher education; the global average is 37 per cent. This is not enough to provide Germany with the experts it needs.

The number of specialists and the attractiveness of Germany as a place of higher education could be increased and enhanced at one fell swoop if the Federal Government were to focus more closely on so-called "educational migrants", students who completed their secondary school education outside Germany.

According to a study conducted by the Higher Education Information System (HIS) on the internationalisation of degree courses, an impressive 94,000 young people from developing countries come to study at German universities every year. However, as the study shows, life for these students in Germany is 'precarious'.

"They have no idea what's going on inside our hearts and minds"

24-year-old Jamal B. explains why it is more difficult for foreign students to complete their degree courses than for students who completed their schooling in Germany and have the Abitur in their pocket:

"We have to fight on all fronts: degree course, work, pressure, language barriers. Our families are far away; that is tough. And if one of us makes it – I.e. actually graduates – that person deserves respect. But no-one sees that. For them it is just another student. They have no idea what's going on inside our hearts and minds."

Arab students (photo: DAAD)
Many Arab students in Germany spend many years completing their degree courses

​​ In 2005, Jamal B. came to Germany from Morocco in order to qualify as a mechanical engineer. But the road to graduation is long and difficult. The foreign culture, the German language – which Jamal B. finds "difficult, very difficult" – and above all the fact that these students have to work in order to earn money while they are studying, all require a very high level of discipline and hard work.

He says that he has survived the worst period, the first year, and will continue his studies. Initially, he wanted to drop out of college and return to Morocco. His family, however, would not have accepted this.

Says Jamal B.: "It is not so easy for someone to return to Morocco without a qualification. Family, friends, society would all say bad things about that person." And so he succumbed to the pressure and stayed. Although he was not happy in Germany, living here increased his self-confidence.

The dual burden of study and work

The HIS report confirms the high financial pressure on educational migrants. According to the report, they have to get by on an average €654, some 15 per cent less than German students. This is a ballpark figure; the income of educational migrants from third countries is likely to be lower still.

In order to fund his studies, Jamal B. works as a kitchen hand three times a week. He regrets that he is not able to dedicate as much time as he would like to his studies. "You need time to study. But I have to work. And when I work, I have to rest. That takes up even more time. All of this creates pressure." The pressure is further increased by the fact that his visa is only extended if he can prove he is studying.

Students in the laboratory (photo: dpa)
Foreign students from poorer countries not only have to manage on less money, they also have to earn 42 per cent of their monthly income by taking part-time jobs

​​ Foreign students from low-income countries not only have to manage on less money, they also have to earn 42 per cent of their monthly income by taking on part-time jobs. German students receive more support, either from their parents or in the form of a student loan (BaföG) or scholarship. According to the HIS study, German students only have to earn 27 per cent of their income themselves.

According to a survey commissioned by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), because they have to work more to earn money to support themselves, educational migrants tend to change their courses or drop out of college more frequently or take longer to graduate than other students.

"I don't know what kind of integration they mean"

This year's DAAD "Wissenschaft weltoffen", a study containing facts and figures on the international nature of studies and research in Germany, says that until now, Germany has been the third most popular destination after the USA and Great Britain for foreign students seeking higher level education. However, it goes on to say that the "number of foreign students starting degree courses in Germany continues to fall."

According to this study, in the past, Germany was particularly popular with students from third countries. This, it explained, had nothing to do with the fact that the German education system is welcoming these students with open arms. Some 62 per cent of those surveyed said that they opted for Germany because at the time they made their decision, higher education in Germany was free. 57 per cent said that if this had not been the case, they would rather have studied in a different country.

Jamal B., for example, would have preferred to go to France because he speaks fluent French and because his Moroccan IT qualification would have been recognised there. However, he decided to come to Germany because immigration was easy and the degree course was free. Jamal B. wants to "graduate quickly and leave", preferably to go to Great Britain. He doesn't see a future for himself in Germany. "They talk about integration, but I don't know what kind of integration they mean."

In view of the need for specialists in Germany, it is a waste of human resources when young people from third countries return to their native countries or move to another country after spending a number of tough years in Germany, especially as they are excellently qualified for integration into the German labour market: they can speak German, are familiar with German culture, and are highly motivated when they arrive in Germany; after all, they have given up the lives they knew to study here.

In searching for the brightest minds available, the Federal Government should focus more on those who come to Germany to study. Moreover, in order to ensure that the most talented of these students perform well, they have to be supported, by offering scholarships, for instance.

Najima El Moussaoui

© 2008

Najima El Moussaoui studied sociology, Islamic Studies, and German Studies in Cologne, Aachen, and Madrid. She has investigated the migration and integration process of Moroccans who go abroad to study engineering.

This article was written for the "Meeting the Other" project, a joint initiative with the online magazine as part of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. For more information on this project, please click here.

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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