Robert Chesters looks a bit depressed as he sits in a London café sipping his tea. The 21-year-old studies neuroscience at King's College London, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the Anglophone world. It's February, and in just a few months he'll be graduating with a bachelor's degree.
"But, after that, I want to get out of England as fast as possible," he says. "I'd like to do my master's in Germany."
Not Oxford, not Cambridge, not the University of Edinburgh. Germany. And Robert is not alone. At the beginning of the year, the London office of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), a state-funded scholarship institution, reported a sharp increase in students interested in pursuing degrees in Germany. By the time the German semester starts in October, many more English students are expected to be sitting in German lecture halls.
Robert, now 22 years old, ended up in the southwestern college town of Tübingen. In just a few days, he'll be starting a master's degree in cellular and molecular neuroscience. All his lectures are in English.
"It's a good alternative," he says. "I just couldn't have afforded to study in England."
Tuition Cap Tripled
Like Robert, many English university students are finding it increasingly difficult to finance their education. The conservative-led government of Prime Minister David Cameron has made deep cuts to publicly funded universities and has dramatically increased the cap on tuition from £3,000 to £9,000 (11,200). Many universities are asking no less this academic year. As a result, the number of British applicants last December was down by about 23,000, or nearly 8 percent -- a trend that may continue.
"Similarly, the money available for teaching master's degrees has been cut and so fees will also have to rise," says Claire Callender of the Institute of Education at London University. England is risking the reputation of its good universities, she adds. As a consequence, students are increasingly looking for alternatives abroad.
One of those is Sam Dolbear. In October, he began a doctoratal degree in philosophy at the Free University of Berlin.
"I love the city and the program already, even though I just got here," he says. It was pure luck that he found out that an English-speaking degree program in Germany was even possible. "Most English have no idea. But I think that's going to change fast," he said. "From an English perspective, the German university system really has a lot to offer."
Potential Benefits to German Economy
The Free University has long been gathering experience in English-language education. The number of British students at the university has doubled over the last five years, with a corresponding boom in the number of courses offered in English. And it's no fluke. The website studyportals.eu, which offers prospective students a comparison of different university degrees across Europe, reported that Germany experienced Europe's largest growth in English-language master's courses over the last two years. There are now about 650.
Technical and natural-science programs in Germany are particularly popular. Engineers have their pick from among roughly 200 English-language programs across the country. And they are not the only ones who stand to benefit -- experts see potential for the German economy, as well.
"The interest in our firms among English students is big," says Lars Funk of the Association of German Engineers (VDI). "And the current labor shortage in Germany could inflict lasting damage."
Robert Chesters says he could imagine staying in Germany to work. But, for now, he's got bigger problems to worry about, such as opening a German bank account. In any case, that account is likely to be under considerably less financial pressure in Tübingen than in London. And it turns out the city's not so bad.
"I felt at home right away," he says.