Reducing high drop-out rates among international students
Nationwide workshop in Ulm to boost study success of foreign students

Ulm University

German universities and higher education institutions strive to become more international. Students from abroad are therefore very welcome. However, the drop-out rates among them are still high. According to a study by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), about 40 percent of so-called Bildungsausländer (students with higher education entrance qualification from abroad) drop out of their bachelor studies in Germany. The drop-out rate among German first-year students is about 29 percent. A nationwide workshop with a panel of university representatives and DAAD experts, to which Ulm University is inviting to Villa Eberhardt on 12 November, is intended to help foreign students improve their academic success in the long term.

This workshop on preparatory measures for international students focuses on the further development of initiatives and programmes for the introductory study phase. Current research results on the topic of study success / failure and examples of good practice will be presented at the event. 'Since 2015, Ulm University, too, has been offering special preparatory semesters for international students with German language courses, orientation events and advisory services. These are designed to make it easier for students from abroad to start at a German university or higher education institution,' says Grit Laske-Dünkler, who is organising the programme at the International Office. Ulm University's project was commended as Best Practice by the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, a non-profit foundation promoting improvements in education and science in Germany, in 2016.

This preparatory semester, for example, is financed by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) within the framework of the special funding programme STIBET II for model projects to improve the welcome culture. Among other things, it helps German higher education institutions to develop relevant measures for the introductory study phase. This includes a variety of formats such as preparatory semesters, mentoring programmes or further training for university staff. After all, studying abroad is always a great challenge. Beyond the cultural peculiarities and different study requirements there are also everyday problems. A very specific group of foreign students faces particularly serious challenges: refugees. 'On top of the already problematic individual life situation, there are complex legal framework conditions and varying residence permits. The need for support and advice is therefore especially high,' says Jan Rick, who is the central coordinator for international student support at the International Office of Ulm University.

In the so-called MINT subjects - which include mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology - students furthermore face major technical challenges. In order to better meet these special requirements during their transition into a master's programme, Ulm University offers a pre-master's course for international students. For seven weeks, students from abroad can refresh their basic knowledge, deepen their specialist knowledge and familiarise themselves with the particularities of the German teaching and academic world before embarking on their master's studies in the winter semester. This course is sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the framework of the 'ProMint&Med' funding line.

Programme coordinators and responsible officers from 40 German universities and the DAAD will come together at the workshop in Ulm. Focus of the joint work is the exchange of experiences. Speakers from all corners of the nation report on their work and discuss recipes for success as well as risk factors. Dr. Jesús Pineda from the DAAD, for example, will present the nationwide joint project 'Study success and withdrawal of foreign students'. Katharina Fourier, head of the DAAD department for higher education programmes for refugees, talks about the financing and further development of funding programmes for this particular target group. General framework conditions such as study financing, BAföG or health insurance, which are also decisive factors for a student's success, as well as particularities of admission to higher education and the transition to a specialist study programme, are addressed also.

International students in the German language course at Ulm University in the summer semester 2018 (photo: Elvira Eberhardt / Ulm University)
Group photo with international students and lecturers of Ulm University for the preparatory semester in summer 2018 (photo: Elvira Eberhardt / Ulm University)