A Piefke* Invasion?

A Piefke* Invasion? German School Leavers Increasingly Move to Austria and Switzerland to Study

As another cohort of students gets ready to start their studies at Aston, we look to Austria and Switzerland where the rising number of Germans moving to the neighbouring Alpine countries to study is causing growing concerns.

In Germany it can be difficult for young school leavers to get admitted to study the subject of their choice. Popular disciplines often require high entry grades and the overall number of applicants is rising. This is due to a combination of factors. On the whole, the percentage of A level students wishing to enter higher education is on the up, and recent changes in the school system, reducing the time spent in secondary school by one year, mean that in the most densely populated regions of Germany this year’s group of A level graduates is twice as big as last year’s. In addition, boys no longer need to do military service and are free to start university as soon as they leave school.

Not surprising then, that students who do not manage to secure a place in their chosen subject decide to look abroad. With two neighbouring countries which share the same language – although for purists that statement is open for debate – and boast a number of attractive universities of equally high standing as the best examples of the German higher education system, the decision to study in Austria or Switzerland is easily taken.

In Austria students pay a moderate tuition fee which is lower than in some parts of Germany and most importantly, there are either no entry requirements other than an A level equivalent – be it the Austrian Matura or the German Abitur – or applicants sit an entrance exam irrespective of their past achievements at school, or lack of such. German school leavers have therefore become a real problem for home students. For instance, with 800 Germans and only 230 Austrians competing for 200 places in Psychology at the University of Salzburg it is likely that the cohort to start their studies this autumn will consist of 75-80% Germans. This is particularly worrying because the Austrian economy will not benefit from these students: they leave the country once they have their diploma. In fact, because Salzburg is at a commutable distance from Bavaria, many students do not even take up residence in Austria in the first place. Faced with the potential future problem of an unskilled workforce, Austrians have considered restricting German access to Austrian education but were told by the EU that this would not be allowed for most subjects, medicine being the exception. EU officials did not want to see the health of Austrian citizens endangered by a lack of doctors.

As a non-EU country, Switzerland has been able to take stronger restrictive measures and no longer admits German students below a certain Abitur point score. The Swiss should be less worried about a brain drain as Germans are the biggest number of migrants to enter the country each year and contribute successfully to the smooth running of the Swiss economy. But this influx is nonetheless causing social problems and Germans are not popular in Switzerland as you can see here.

What life in Austria is like as a German student refugee is shown in this satirical clip from Spiegel Online.

*In Austrian German “Piefke” is used as a derogatory term for Germans.