Financing studying – Germany vs. Ireland

How “free education” is defined in two European countries

Pursuing higher education is not only a question of motivation and time but also one of financial ability. However, the question of finance needs to be discussed on different levels in different countries. Germany, as well as Ireland, claim to provide “free education” through their public-school system, which should give everybody an equal chance of achieving the same level of education without the worries of how to pay for it. 

In Germany as well as in Ireland, first and second level Education in general is free. The term “free” is concerning the tuition fees on public schools and excludes, of course, costs for books, transport, school supplies, trips and so on. In Ireland, unlike in Germany, students or parents have to come up for school uniforms in addition.  

The countries most important difference lays in how students need to finance third level education. Concerning this, both countries show a very different definition of “free”. The financial aid systems in Germany and in Ireland cover a different amount of student fees. 

Fees and Financing in Germany 

In 2014, the 16 states in Germany abrogated tuition fees for undergraduate students in all public universities. This applied to domestic as well as international students. The only fee that usually comes up today, is one to cover the administration costs as well as the social contribution to the Studentenwerk in every semester. This fee also includes a ticket which enables the student to travel around in the relevant state, using public transport, ensuring that every student can choose a university without having to consider additional costs based on its location. This fee overall is typically around 250 € but in detail depends on the university.  

Germany has a special student financial aid program which is called BAföG. It is based on the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, which is a countrywide education support law. This can be used by German citizens to finance study and living costs in Germany as well as abroad. Usually EU students and under certain conditions non-EU students can also benefit from it Page Break 

when studying in Germany. This financial aid generally applies for under 30-year olds and for the expected length of a study course, which usually is 6 Semesters.  

The BAföG aid is split into two parts. The state provides 50 % of the costs, the other 50% is a loan that must be paid back either after the maximum number of semesters is reached five years after finishing a study program. There are no interests on the loan and the maximum debt to be paid back is 10.000 €.  The usual monthly rates are 105 € and a student has up to 20 years’ time to be pay it off. 

Fees and Financing in Ireland 

Through the free fee scheme, Irish undergraduate (first-cycle) students do not face tuition costs. The scheme is managed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA). It has the responsibility to govern and regulate the higher education institutions and the higher education systems on a central government level. However, students in Ireland, domestic as well as international, are required to pay a fee similar to Germanys Semestergebühren. Initially, after getting rid of tuition fees in 1995/1996, this fee was around 150 Irish pounds for registration and examination.  

As Gemma Duke who works for the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in Ireland explains, “Students who are eligible for the Free Fees Scheme are currently required to pay a student contribution charge of €3,000 per year.” The free fees scheme usually applies for Irish as well as EU/EEA and Switzerland students. Those however who do not meet the criteria face a higher fee which has to cover the tuition fee as well as the student contribution charge. 

Miss Duke further explained that “If a student is not eligible for the Free Fees Scheme, the institution they attend will decide whether they are required to pay EU or Non-EU fee rates.”. This decision is based on the universities own set of policies. Students who don’t meet the Page Break 

criteria for the free fees scheme, have to expect a fee usually two or three times higher than those of full EU fees which means students can pay roughly an amount between 9,750 € and 23,500 € per year. Certain study programmes like medicine can cost up to 54,000 €. 

To cover the costs of the student contribution fee, Students can apply to the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) for a grant to cover those if they are unable to afford them. Students are not required to pay back their free fees or their grant for the contribution fee if making use of it. 

Additionally, to the grant by SUSI, there are need-based grants provided by the Department of Education & Skills. These depend on means, family size, nationality and previous academic attainment and distance from institutions. Grants can range from 305 € to 5915 € per academic year. 

Picture 2: Piggybanks by QuinceMedia, Pixabay 

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Transferability of concepts 

While Germany gives domestic as well as international students the possibility to study without having to worry about financing the university during their studies, Ireland requires domestic and EU students to still pay 3000 € per year for a public University.  

However, using the BAföG in Germany, a student starts working with a loan, even if it’s without interests and 20 years payback time. Ireland in comparison does not leave the student in debt if he or she managed to pay off the student contribution charge on their own or made use of the grant through SUSI. 

Problematic in the Irish concept however, is that if a student is not able to pay registration fee and contribution charge with for example just working part-time during their studies and is not eligible to make use of any grants, he or she often has to get a loan by a bank, which usually has an interest on it and does not give you as much time to pay back as the German BAföG does. Additionally, Ireland does not provide the same level of support for non-EU students as Germany does.  

134,8 Billion € were planned to be spent in 2017 on public education issues by the government in Germany. Ireland planned to spend around 9,5 Billion € on education in the same year. While these numbers seem extremely far apart and could give an explanation for Irelands University fees, Germany has a population of around 82 Billion people while Ireland only has about 4,75 Million residents. This means in theory Germany spends around 1643 € per resident and Ireland around 2000 € per resident on education. This, of course, does not take into consideration how many students the country actually has but shows that the difference between the expenses for education is not as big as it first appears. Questionable is why Irish Universities still require Students to pay 3000 € per year for similar causes as German Universities who only charge a maximum amount of 500 € per academic year. 

Snow crunching

I turn to the lights of the funfair while my phone calls my mom. Occasionally, you hear calls of children, but most families left long before me. What remains now is a strange mix of the smell of cotton candy and beer. “Honey?” I hear my mother ask. I didn’t notice her picking up. “Oh, mom, sorry. I just want to let you know that I’m on my way home. I hope I didn’t wake you up!”. My mother is always worried when I come home late, something that will probably never change. I turn away from the lights and start walking. “You are not going alone, are you?” her worried voice murmurs through the phone. “Anna accompanies me to the intersection. It’s not far from there. Don’t worry.”. I try to sound convincing. Anna is living in a completely different part of the city and called a taxi half an hour ago, but mom doesn’t ever remember where my friends live. “Alright, just ring the bell when you’re home, I’ll let you in.”. Her voice sounds a little less worried. “Alright, see you then! I love you!”. I hang up quickly and a smile wanders across my face. Although I moved out two years ago and only visit home for Christmas, she acts like I’m still 16. 

I turn into a small parkway, framed by trees. The snow crunches under my shoes and I pull up my scarf. The reddish light of the street lamps wafts through the bare branches of the trees and makes the scene appear warmer than it is. I cut my pace and breathe in the cold winter air while my phone plays ‘Today and Tomorrow’ and walk across the next street. Suddenly, I hear the snow crunch from someone walking behind me. I shake off the strange feeling I get when I imagine someone following me and turn the music a little quieter. I turn right and try to concentrate on the beautiful winter night again. Snow piles up on the sidewalk since the town focused on getting the streets free and forgot about those who walk their way around town. I pass my old school and get flooded with memories of snowball fights and worried teachers trying to calm kids down. I’m tempted to take a quick walk to the schoolyard, completely snowed in, untouched and lying in the dim light. 

Isolated cars drive along the small road, with their lights being reflected by the fresh snow. I hear someone coughing behind me and take a deep breath. I have always been nervous in such situations. Nothing ever happened to me, or to my friends, but still, this strange feeling creeps over me every time. Now, however, I can’t shake it off. I decide to take an old shortcut and turn into a narrow side street. The snow crunching behind me becomes quieter. I breathe in, turn my music louder again and walk down the alley. Snowflakes start falling and land on my hair. I turn the corner and notice with fright that the street lamps are not working here. The entire alley, my old shortcut, is in the dark. I consider turning around, but it would be a detour to turn again. Also, I can’t shake the feeling that someone follows me. I start walking again, orient myself by the lights that turn on in the doorways as I pass by. Luckily the alley is not too long, and as I walk around the turn, I see the lights of the intersection.  

I press the button of the traffic light and watch its colour change through the falling snow. One of my earpieces slides down into my scarf, and I hear whispering behind me. The snow lights up green. I start crossing a little too fast and almost slip on the icy road. I try to escape the voices and reach the underpass. I forgot about it when I took the shortcut, but there is no way to avoid it. There is ice under the snow, on the stairs and I slow down.  Immediately, the whispering a few feet behind me gets louder again. I try to breathe calmly but can’t shake off the weird feeling that creeps up to me. My heart starts pounding louder with every heartbeat and my chest starts to feel tight. I reach the bottom of the underpass as the light suddenly begins to flicker.  

“Hey Honey!” a deep, unsympathetic voice suddenly calls behind me. I turn my music louder and try to walk faster. “Hey, come on Sweetie!”. This was definitely a second voice, drunker than the first one. A cold shower runs down my back, and my hands start to sweat. Why didn’t I call a taxi? “Sweetheart, you lost something.” a third, uncomfortably sweet-sounding voice calls out. I reach for my bag, but it’s shut, and the weight has not changed. I feel my phone and keys in my pocket and decide to take the risk. “Hey don’t be afraid, come on! We just wanna talk!”. It’s the drunk guy’s voice again. I decide to go for it and catch myself nearly running. In that second, the light goes off. I stare into the pitch-black darkness and tears well up in my eyes. I can hear the voices curse behind me and turn around, trying to locate them. “Honey, where are you?” the deep voice calls out, way closer than I thought it would be. I freeze, eager to not make a sound and reveal where I am. “Man, you’re scaring her” the weirdly honeyed voice laughs. The lights flicker for a second, and I see a black coat right next to me. “There you are!”. It’s the drunk guy. A gloveless, cold hand reaches out to me and grabs my wrist. “What a beauty.”. 

The light goes off again, and I snap out of my frozen state. I break free from the cold, painful grip and just run in the direction I’m guessing the stairs at. The light flickers again, I fall over, and hear them laugh. I ignore the pain in my knee, my wrist, grab the handrail and climb up the stairs. As I reach the top, still stumbling, I turn around to see who is behind me. Darkness stares back at me. I run down the street until my lungs cannot take the cold winter air anymore. I turn around the corner, try to slow down my breath and walk up to our front door. My mom is standing in front of it, looking worried. “Is everything ok Hun? It started snowing again, and I wasn’t sure if you…”. I hug her. “Honey?”. She looks at me worried. “Is everything ok?”. “Of course, mom, I’m just cold.” I laugh. She joins in with her bell-like laughter. “Come in, grab a blanket. I’ll make you a coffee.”. I avoid stepping on the snow on my way in.