Tuition-Free Universities in Germany

College student working in university laboratory.
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A the time of publication, tuition is free at all public universities in Germany. Postgraduate programs at all 16 German states are now publicly funded and open to both local and international students. In several cases, master’s degrees and doctorates are also tuition-free, paid for by the public.

1 History of Tuition-Free Education

Germany’s Social Democrat party abolished public college tuition fees beginning in 1971, shortly after it came to power. Tuition fees were slowly reintroduced by the federal government in the 1990s after the unification of Germany, as an attempt at educational reform. These reforms continued until 2006, when education passed out of federal hands and into the control of the German states. As the states became responsible for their own higher education, many began to abolish tuition fees in hopes of attracting more students. Bavaria and Lower Saxony were the last to return to tuition-free education, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. By October 2014, all German public institutions of higher education had agreed to receive a basic budget from their state governments and run programs for additional funding for research.

2 Undergraduate Fees

A tuition-free education is not necessarily free. Undergraduate students in Germany are still required to pay “administration fees,” which cover housing, dues to the student union, a ticket for public transportation and other student services such as counseling or access to the university’s cafeteria. At the time of publication, these fees ranged from 50 to 150 euros ($62 to $187), depending on the university. International students may incur additional fees, such as the 60 euro ($75) visa fee, and may need to take an assessment test to prove their competence in German.

3 Postgraduate Fees

The first six semesters of any doctorate program are tuition-free at public German universities. Again, administrative costs cover student services. At the time of publication, these fees range from 150 to 200 euros ($187 to $250). Master’s degrees that are “consecutive” -- within the same general field of study as the student’s bachelor’s degree -- are usually tuition-free. However, universities can charge tuition for “non-consecutive” master’s degrees which branch into fields that differ from the student’s bachelor’s degree. At the time of publication, these costs range from 2,050 to 10,000 euros ($2,550 to $12,450) per semester.

4 Tuition-Free German Universities

Though tuition has been abolished for German public universities, not all of the educational institutions in Germany are tuition-free. Private colleges, such as Zeppelin University, Jacobs University and Witten-Herdecke University, are exempt from the laws abolishing tuition. At the time of publication, these schools could charge up to 20,000 euros ($24,895) per year. Study Abroad 365 has compiled a list of public German universities that are tuition-free for international students, as well as instructions on obtaining a German visa. International students should budget for additional cost of living fees, such as rent, food, clothing, and school materials. Students on public health insurance can have their plans transferred to Germany. However, students on private health insurance plans that are not valid in Germany will need to pay between 80 and 160 euros ($110 to $221) per month for mandatory health insurance.

Bethany Marroquin is a writer and credentialed English teacher from Southern California. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Westmont College, and completed her teaching credential in 2014 through Azusa Pacific University.