Written by Lara Brett
This policy paper is the second in a mini-series examining access to higher education and term-time employment in the UK and Germany. The author of this series wanted to examine the policies within her country of birth in comparison to those in her current country of residence. Since 2015, Germany has famously welcomed over a million refugees (Sagener 2016). By December 2018, Germany hosted 1.8 million people with a refugee background, of whom 75% are under the age of 40 (Keita, S, Dempster, H, 2020). In 2020, it received applications from 2,2332 unaccompanied children (Statistica 2021).
This policy paper will explore the educational provisions for refugees and asylum seekers in Germany, and their opportunities for employment during their time as students. It will then provide a brief comparison with UK policies and offer policy recommendations.
Policies in Germany
In Germany, education falls under the jurisdiction of the individual states, or Laender. As compulsory education ends at the age of 16 within certain Laender, newly arrived children may not have access to education in these areas, with half of all states excluding asylum-seeking children from registering with a school whilst they remain in reception centres (Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration 2020). Whilst a stay in the centres is limited to six months for families with young children, it is not a substitute for regular education. In 2016, this prompted a coalition of NGOs to campaign for Schuele fuer alle (School for all), in a bid to highlight the inadequacy of such provisions (Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration 2020).
With regards to higher education, refugees and asylum seekers face extensive barriers. Theoretically, asylum seekers with permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) or tolerated stay (Duldung) have the same access to education as foreign students. In practice, university entry conditions are unattainable for many. Students wishing to enroll must provide an address, health insurance, and evidence of German language proficiency (Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration 2020). Whilst courses are available in English, this may still present a language barrier. Course fees act as a further issue. Whilst students at German universities only have to pay a semester fee in contrast to their counterparts in the UK (Studying in Germany 2021), this may not be affordable for all. Students in possession of an Aufenthaltsgestattung are not entitled to receive financial aid.
In 2015, Germany’s Ministry of Education (BMBF) allocated 100 million euros over the coming years to facilitate access to, and integration within higher education (DAAD 2015). Students who hold refugee status are eligible for support under BAföG (the Federal Education Funding Act), up to 4,800 EUR a year (Studying in Germany 2021). Half of the money is awarded as a grant, with a payback threshold of up to 10,000 EUR, after a student has started full-time work (Hamburg.com 2021). To further cover the costs of education, many German students may choose to become Werkstudenten. Working up to 20 hours a week, students tend to work in administrative or hospitality roles alongside attending classes. However, to do so you must be an enrolled student, and you may not work more than 26 weeks out of the year (Absolventa.de 2021).
Provisions for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and Germany vary greatly. Germany’s federal system means that educational provisions vary according to the state. Education as a competence of the devolved nations in the United Kingdom, accounting for discrepancies in access and quality. Such ambivalence makes it difficult to draw direct comparisons. In comparison to their peers in the UK, refugees and asylum seekers appear to have fewer legal impediments to higher education. However, we can see the same language and financial barriers arise, which calls into question the reality of accessing education for those fleeing war and conflict. There are arguably fewer financial barriers in Germany in terms of fees, but refugees and asylum seekers may have difficulty in covering living and extracurricular costs. What is more, less information appears to be available regarding pre-university courses in Germany, acting as a further barrier to entry. That said, Germany offers students greater opportunities to earn an income and gain professional work experience whilst studying.
It is important to note that refugees and asylum seekers are not a homogenous group. We need intersectional policymaking, to support minorities such as women and the disabled (Keita, Dempster 2020).
Finally, the issue of refugee education points to wider structural issues within the UK and Germany – the difficulties of claiming asylum in post-Brexit Britain and the rigidity of the UK’s education system, as well as financial aid provisions for refugees and asylum-seeking students in Germany. These people could help to solve some of the countries’ most pressing issues, whether that’s plugging the gaps in the UK’s social care system or the skills shortages in Germany’s ageing job market (Keita, Dempster 2020). Allowing refugees and asylum seekers to undertake paid work experience during their studies provides them with valuable insight into the world of work. In a world where the job market is increasingly more competitive, this experience can put them on equal footing with the competition, especially if coupled with extensive language lessons and financial support.
In summary, educating refugees and asylum seekers equips them and us with the skills and knowledge needed to overcome existing labour force challenges.
Absolventa.de, 2021. Nebenjob Werkstudent: Alle rechtlichen Regelungen im Überblick. Available from:
https://www.absolventa.de/karriereguide/vertragsarten/werkstudenten-job [Accessed 30.12.2021]
DAAD, 2015. Facilitating access to education for refugees. Available from: https://www2.daad.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/en/39606-facilitating-access-to-education-for-refugees/ [Accessed 30.12.2021]
Hamburg.com, 2021. Funding for refugees. Available from: https://www.hamburg.com/residents/refugees/11790622/funding-for-refugees/ [Accessed 30.12.2021]
Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration, 2020. Access to education: Germany. Available from:
Keita, S, Dempster, H, 2020. Five years later, one million refugees are thriving in Germany. Available from: https://www.cgdev.org/blog/five-years-later-one-million-refugees-are-thriving-germany [Accessed 30.12.2021]
Sagener, N, 2016. Confirmed: Germany welcomed one million refugees in 2015. Available from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/confirmation-germany-welcomed-1-million-refugees-in-2015/ [Accessed 30.12.2021]
Statistica, 2021. Number of unaccompanied underage asylum applicants in Germany from 2009 to 2020. Available from:
Studying in Germany, 2021. Studying for free in Germany as a refugee. Available from:
https://www.studying-in-germany.org/studying-for-free-in-germany-as-a-refugee/ [Accessed 30.12.2021]