To Germany in Search of Knowledge
- By Natalia Zhukova
- Oct. 14 2015 00:00
Heidelberg Ruperto Carola University is the oldest and one of the most prestigious universities in Germany today. It was founded in 1386.
Many options for Russian students to study at the best universities in Germany.
More than 880 partnership agreements exist for academic exchange between Russian and German universities, German ambassador to Russia Rüdiger von Fritsch said. Currently, more than 15,000 Russian students study in Germany.
Part of what makes this exchange possible is the similarity of higher education in both countries.
Germany and Russia are both participants in the Bologna Accord, a project designed to create a single European educational space by introducing a two-tier university system within which students work towards a bachelor's or master's degree. Germany signed the accord in 1999. Russia joined in 2003.
Two models exist in parallel within German universities: the new two-level program and the traditional program that awards specialist diplomas, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) said on its website. Similar specialist programs remain within the Russian higher education system.
Ambassador von Fritsch is encouraged by the exchanges taking place between Russian and Germa universities. In late September, the ambassador visited the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad, and said he "was struck by the high level of proficiency of Russian students speaking excellent German."
Study in Germany: One Student's Experience
To enroll in a German university, you need to graduate from school and complete your first year or two at a university in Russia. If you have completed only one year at at Russian university, the German school is likely to give you conditional admission, but send you for a year to a "Studienkolleg." These are special educational institutions that "even out" the knowledge levels of future students — giving extra study in particular courses if a student is behind his or her peers.
In any event, Russian students who wish to attend a German university still need to submit an application directly to their chosen university. If it is determined that a year in the Studienkolleg would be useful, the university itself will place you there. You cannot directly enroll in these special institutions.
Almost all Studienkollegs have entrance tests. If your specialty is technical in nature, you will have to take exams in German language and mathematics. Universities on the other hand may require no tests at all or only a language test.
If possible, it's a good idea to come to Germany for a language course before starting your university course — in February or March, for example. Germany issues student visas for language courses. To apply for this kind of visa, you simply have to contact the administration of the language course and ask them to provide proof that you signed up for the classes.
While in Germany studying the language, it will be possible to take the TestDAF — the test that shows mastery of German as a foreign language — or quality for a Goethe Institute Certificate in German. At this point, you can apply to a German university and, after your admissions papers arrive, apply for your student residence permit without wasting time and without going back-and-forth for a visa.
Acceptance of documents for the fall semester in almost all universities in Germany takes place in May and June. It is best to apply to several universities at once. All the information on how to do this can be found on each university's website in the "international office" section. But be prepared for your head to spin from the entangled website structure and the endless list of documents and instructions that need to be followed very precisely. Confirmation of your language level and education (either a certificate, certification exam, or certification from the university) is required everywhere.
Almost all universities will also request hard copies of your application and documents, even if the application is completed online. You will need translations of those documents from a German certified translator. Using the internet, I found a translator in Berlin. I sent him scans of my documents in advance, and when I arrived, I showed him the originals and collected the prepared translations.
The cost of food and rent in Germany are, of course, considerable. But even in Berlin, I found cheap grocery stores relatively quickly and was able to live on about 100 euros per month. And yes, students have to pay for housing, as well as student fees, travel passes and textbooks. These additional expenses usually add up to 50 to 150 euros per semester.
But you can earn money. In Germany, a student residence visa allows you to work 100 days a year. In the first year you are likely to get a job in the service industry, like barman, waiter or dog walker. But starting in your second year, you may be able to find a job as a laboratory assistant within your specialty. This kind of job, which pays 8-10 euros per hour, can provide you enough money for a decent lifestyle and place to live.
Moreover, after the first examination period, you can apply for a scholarship. There are a huge number of businesses, foundations, and even political parties in Germany that provide grants to students.
"Russian-German educational links should and absolutely must continue to develop," von Fritsch said, according to the Baltic Federal University's website.
There are a range of options for Russian students who want to take advantage of studying in Germany. The most common are internships, semesters abroad and participation in summer or winter short-term courses of study. A more intensive option is participation in a joint-degree program, in which partner universities in Russia and Germany recognize periods of studying abroad, transfer credits for subjects and each award the student a degree.
"The most ambitious and challenging courses are for students who opt for joint-degree programs," said Nikolai Krivopalov, acting head of international exchange at Russia's National University of Science and Technology (MISiS).
This intensive exchange with German universities is facilitated by the strong funding of study programs and scientific research, along the lines of the DAAD, said Marina Tayurskaya, director of the Center for International Educational Programs at Tomsk Polytechnic University. Currently, there are 15 German universities on the university's list of partners.
Programs are paid for by foundations, participating universities, government agencies and companies in both Russia and Germany that are interested in training specialists who can speak both languages and know how to work in both countries.
Research is integral to the partnership. The International Collaborative Scientific Center, which helps facilitate cooperation between Russian and Germany scientists, received approximately 10 million euros ($11.2 million) in support from Russian and German science funds in just its first four years, according to Nikolai Kropachev, the rector of St. Petersburg State University. His university coordinates the activities of the center along with the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany and the Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute, which is also located in St. Petersburg.
Igor Zhukovsky, the vice-rector for international Relations at the Baltic Federal University, noted that research funding is also available from the German Environmental Foundation.
One example of cooperation is a program between United Metalworks Company and MISiS, which has been in place since 2008. As part of the program, 50 Russian students have completed internships at the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology and at companies in Germany. A special course was organized for graduates in the steelworking program at Badische Stahl-Engineering's plant in Kehl, according to the MISiS press office.
The entire program costs 37.7 million rubles ($570,000), of which approximately 5.7 million rubles ($86,000) is spent on internships in Germany.
In total over the last decade, MISiS has sent more than 250 undergraduate and graduate students to German universities.
The Baltic Federal University has 37 agreements with educational and research institutes in Germany. Over the past three years, more than 70 students and young scientists have taken part in exchange programs, summer schools, internships and other similar programs, Zhukovsky said.
Nikolai Kropachev said that over the past three years, about 100 students per year have participated in exchange programs between St. Petersburg State University and German universities.
Studying abroad not only develops academic, scientific and professional competences, but also changes your psychology, your view of yourself and of the world, according to the administrators.
"The students who have participated in the exchange programs become more goal-oriented … and return home to more actively and consciously continue their studies at university," Kropachev said.
Noted Zhukovsky, "Students are interested in seeing a different angle on their specialization, experiencing an atmosphere of multi-ethnic communication, learning inter-cultural communication and deepening their knowledge of foreign languages."
Krivolapov added that the exchange programs give students "the opportunity to become acquainted with the German system of production management, technology and approach organizing scientific research."
"Specialists with knowledge of both Russian and German technologies are in demand in domestic joint ventures, and often in German companies," Krivolapov said.
The university is experience is also different in Germany. Marina Tayurskaya of Tomsk Polytechnic University said that German universities operate on the principle of academic freedom, in which a student chooses a significant portion of the program from available courses. Some universities have a modular system of study with "rapid" testing of each module, "which does not allow you to only begin studying during the examination period," Tayurskaya said.
Eugene Sinepol, a graduate student at St. Petersburg State University, spoke about his experience in Berlin. "A semester at the Free University of Berlin which is included in the joint-honors program 'Global Communications and International Journalism,' turned out to be quite different from what Russian students are accustomed to," Sinepol said. "You must seriously must seriously prepare for each seminar, so every week you read about 150 pages of scientific literature — articles or books, some of which you must find for yourself in databases and libraries, complete at least one half-hour report for each course and at the end of the semester you submit a few written works that were done as 'adult' research. To write the required 20-30 pages, you work for several months and study at least 50 different sources."
An education in Germany provides a good start for students' careers, the directors of academic exchanges said. Zhukovsky shared the success story of one of his students, Tatiana Ezhova: "As a student, she attended the University of Gottingen, then completed a master's degree there. Upon returning to Baltic Federal University, Tatiana was appointed manager of the main educational programs of the Law Institute, and this year she defended her thesis."