Germany is a top study location – despite COVID-19

Wissenschaft weltoffen 2021

Germany has been able to defend its position among the world’s four most popular study locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The total number of international students enrolled even increased slightly to currently 325,000. The number of first-semester students from abroad decreased by 20 per cent, while there has been a significant increase in international students who are studying exclusively digitally. For the first time, mobility of academics was analysed based on bibliometric data for the ‘Wissenschaft weltoffen 2021’ report.

International Studierende in einer Vorlesung

Around 325,000 international students attended German higher education institutions in the winter semester 2020/2021. Despite the global coronavirus pandemic, this corresponds to an increase of almost 5,000 students or two per cent, compared to the year before. In international comparison, the Federal Republic is therefore the most attractive EU country, ranking right behind the US, Australia and the United Kingdom. In their new publication ‘Wissenschaft weltoffen 2021’, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) report that the total number of international students in Germany has increased by 80 per cent since 2010.

‘The current figures show that international students continued to trust Germany as a study location, also during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our member institutions’ great commitment, this was due to the fact that higher education institutions have made significant progress with regard to digitisation in the past year. This puts them in an excellent position to compete for the most talented minds around the world, once the coronavirus pandemic is over,’ said DAAD President Professor Dr Joybrato Mukherjee.

64,000 international first-semester students started to study in Germany in the past year. This corresponds to a decrease by 20 per cent or 15,000 first-year students from abroad, compared to the year before the COVID-19 pandemic. This development is in line with the expectations of the member institutions that the DAAD had polled in March. The DAAD expects the numbers to stabilise for the upcoming winter semester.

Digitisation in Germany

German higher education institutions have expanded their digital study opportunities comprehensively during the COVID-19 pandemic, and these offerings are being used increasingly. The number of international first-year students who took up digital studies while living abroad has therefore increased considerably from 14 per cent in 2019 to now 24 per cent. The same trend can be observed in the most important countries of origin of international students in Germany: 18 rather than ten per cent of Chinese students are now taking up their studies digitally, while the number of Indian first-year students studying digitally more than doubled from 16 to 35 per cent. ‘We have to understand this high demand as an incentive to continue pursuing digitisation at higher education institutions. We expect that this will also be reflected in the future federal government’s programme,’ said DAAD President Mukherjee.

International mobility of academics

For the first time, the DAAD and DZHW also analysed bibliometric data about international mobility of academics for preparing their ‘Wissenschaft weltoffen’ report. They found that Germany is the third most important country of origin (after the US and the UK) and the fourth important destination country (after the US, the UK and China) for globally mobile academics. In the context of their survey, the two organisations analysed information from the Scopus database, one of the biggest academic publication databases. ‘The bibliometric analyses conducted for Wissenschaft weltoffen gave rise to interesting new insights,’ pointed out Professor Dr Monika Jungbauer-Gans, the Academic Manager of the DZHW. ‘We now have a reliable bibliometric database about international academic mobility that was processed in line with all relevant standards and can be added to in the years to come.’

German students abroad

German students continue to be highly mobile: 135,000 individuals were enrolled abroad in 2018, according to the most recent data available. This number has been rather stable since 2015, despite slight, mostly statistical variations. The number of students going abroad for a limited time with the Erasmus programme has meanwhile increased: around 42,000 individuals visited other EU countries as part of the programme in 2019. This means that the number of Erasmus stays is now almost three times as high as was the case at the start of the Bologna reforms in 1999. Half of the previous number of Erasmus exchanges was realised in the year 2020 that was characterised by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recovery is expected for the winter semester.

Key countries of origin

The countries of origin accounting for the greatest numbers of international students in 2020 were China with around 41,000 students, followed by India (25,000), Syria (15,000), Austria (12,000) and Russia (10,500). 71 per cent of international students were enrolled at a university, and 29 per cent at a university for applied sciences (Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften – HAW).


For more than twenty years, ‘Wissenschaft weltoffen’ has been providing comprehensive data about international mobility of students and academics from Germany and abroad on a regular basis. The website was recently revised, and copies of all publications are now downloadable as graphic files or data tables.


DAAD - Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst - German Academic Exchange Service