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Germany's graduate schools attract more international students

Top doctoral students from around the world are finding Germany's new graduate schools an increasingly attractive option, compared with top US institutions.

Students sitting at a lecture in Chemnitz

Germany's international Ph.D. students doubled in 10 years

"People in Germany are more critical in other countries," said Ph.D. candidate Octavio Segovia. This critical mindset is what the Mexico native said brought him to study in Berlin.

"I didn't want to simply reproduce the models that were put before me."

Segovia is not alone; these days Germany's universities are seeing more and more doctoral candidates from oversees. In 2010, nearly 4,000 foreign students graduated from German doctoral programs - twice as many as a decade earlier.

'Graduate schools' increase internationality

Segovia is researching the role of transgovernmental networks in fighting bioterrorism for his doctoral thesis. He joined the doctoral program at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies in 2010.

One reason Germany has become so attractive for international students is the introduction of specialized graduate institutions like the one Segovia attends.

"In the past Germany was not so attractive to Ph.D. students. That's changed through the introduction of graduate schools," said Thomas Risse, founder of the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies.

DAAD Octavio Segovia

Octavio Segovia is not alone in picking Germany for his Ph.D.

The term "graduate school," or Graduiertenschule, is a new one in the German education system. Introduced to Germany in the 1990s, the graduate school is a place of highly structured, usually interdisciplinary, study.

Generally, students at Germany's graduate schools, which now number some 700, go through coursework in their first year and then undertake a research project with the support of a team of supervisors and led by up to three professors.

"The advantage over studying in the United States is that, in Germany, you are finished faster," said Risse. "Most graduate schools in Germany try to get the students to complete their Ph.D. in three to four years."

In the United States it can take seven to nine years to complete a master's and Ph.D.

More advertising needed

It was only by chance that Segovia heard of the school in Berlin. While studying in Asia, he met a professor from there who encouraged him to apply.

Many students in Mexico are not aware that they can study in Germany in English, Segovia said, adding that the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which promotes German universities worldwide and has an office in Segovia's town in Mexico, never came to speak at his university.

In the past year, DAAD said it has worked to increase international visibility for Germany's graduate schools, advertising two funding programs for international students.

"DAAD would like to help make doctoral education in Germany more international," said Birgit Klüsener, director of DAAD's Internationalizing Research project.

According to Klüsener, DAAD provides funds for German tertiary-education institutions looking to offer new Ph.D. programs in internationally-oriented disciplines. Projects can receive 100,000 euros ($139,000) annually. Part of the grant goes to funding international students, as well as promoting the programs of study among international students.

A professor lecturing at a whiteboard

Studies at Germany's elite graduate schools are usually heavily subsidized

"We especially want to give foreign Ph.D. candidates access to structured program offerings in Germany," says Klüsener.

Bringing the best to Germany

According to Risse, the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies wants to increase the number of international students it attracts. This year it passed 10 Ph.D. candidates, three of them from abroad.

The goal, Risse said, is to entice international students who might otherwise attend Stanford, Oxford or Berkeley.

"We don't think that Germany is an alternative for American Ph.D. students, especially in the social sciences, but I would like to bring excellent Turkish, Russian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Kenyan and Mexican students to German. That's what we're aiming for."

Author: Rayna Breuer / dl

Editor: Sean Sinico

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