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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Mobility in higher education


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.2Mobility in higher education

Last update: 2 April 2024

Student mobility

Globalisation, the fact that Europe is growing closer together and the formation of a European Higher Education Areaopens up new horizons for graduates. Good knowledge of foreign languages and personal experience of both the economic and social conditions and the culture and mentality of other countries are nowadays regarded as basic requirements for graduates in many sectors of the labour market. It is this trend that has prompted the development of EU programmes to promote cooperation in higher education and student mobility and also the national, regional and bilateral initiatives that provide incentives for study/placements abroad and fund and develop new courses of study. National initiatives include, amongst other examples, the increased promotion of study abroad and in particular of a full course of study in another EU country or in Switzerland as part of the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz – BAföG) and likewise special support programmes implemented by some Länder.

In April 2013 the Federation and the Länder adopted a joint Strategy of the Federal and Länder Ministers of Science for the Internationalisation of Institutions of Higher Education in Germany (Strategie der Wissenschaftsminister/innen von Bund und Ländern für die Internationalisierung der Hochschulen in Deutschland). This develops joint objectives for areas of action relating to internationalisation. The paper is based on the main idea that internationalisation is a central element for the development of an institutional profile for German institutions of higher education. The Federation and Länder want to support this process and have agreed on joint objectives and approaches in nine fields of action:

  • Strategic internationalisation
  • Improving the legal framework
  • Establishing a welcoming culture
  • Establishing an international campus
  • Increasing the international mobility of students
  • Improving the international appeal of Germany as a higher education location
  • Attracting excellent junior scientists from abroad
  • Extending international research collaborations
  • Establishing offers for transnational university education

The internationalisation goals are being realised by the Länder and the Federation at their own responsibility within the scope of the constitutional responsibilities and respecting the autonomy of the institutions of higher education. For 2023/2024, the Federal Government and the Länder develop a new Strategy of the Federal and Länder Ministers of Science for the Internationalisation of Institutions of Higher Education in Germany.

Through placements abroad during courses of study, prospective academics can acquire additional competences and develop personally. International experiences are moreover becoming increasingly important on the labour market and in science. The Federation and the Länder therefore seek to ensure that one in two higher education graduates has gained study-related experience abroad and at least one in three can provide evidence of a period of study abroad lasting at least three months or equivalent to 15 ECTS.

Mobility is already well developed even now. Germany is one of the top five host countries and countries of origin for internationally mobile students worldwide. In total in the 2022/2023 winter semester around 368,000 international students studied at German higher education institutions. This corresponds to around 12 percent of all students in Germany. The most important countries of origin are India (ca. 43.000 students or 12% of all international students) China (39,000 or 11%), Syria (16,000 or 4%) and Austria (just less than 15,000 or 4%). At the same time many German students are studying abroad with the aim of obtaining a higher education qualification: in 2021 in total around 138,000 German students were enrolled at higher education institutions abroad. This corresponds to a share of around 4,9 per cent of all German students. The most popular host countries are Austria (around 36,000 students or 26% of all students abroad), the Netherlands (24,000 or 18%), Switzerland (12,000 or 9%) and the United Kingdom (11,000 or 8%).

Information on the foreign language assistant exchange programme of the Educational Exchange Service (Pädagogischer Austauschdienst – PAD) of the Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz), in which prospective foreign language teachers are exchanged, can be found in the section on teacher mobility.

In Germany, the task of promoting the relations of higher education institutions with other countries through the exchange of students and academics is primarily the responsibility of the higher education institutions themselves and, in particular, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) as a self-governing organization of German higher education institutions and, where available, their student bodies

The programmes of the DAAD to promote internationalisation at German higher education institutions aim at creating the organisational and financial framework for studies/a placement abroad, international cooperation and the establishment of strategic partnerships between higher education institutions as well as further development of courses of study and higher education qualifications. Furthermore, the measures already carried out shall be incorporated into a strategy for internationalisation involving the entire institution of higher education.

The internationalisation of higher education institutions is regarded as a complex process which links the interests of students and academics, the higher education institutions, the aims of foreign cultural and education policy, national science policy, development cooperation, and the requirements of all international partners.

Providing scholarships remains the DAAD’s "core business". In 2022 it was able to support 20,157 German and international students, doctoral candidates and researchers with scholarships and individual programmes. Within the framework of the PROMOS programme to enhance the mobility of German students, which finances short stays for German students in 20212 9,556  scholarships were awarded. 

Within the scope of Erasmus+ (2021-2027), the DAAD has also been designated by the BMBF as a National Agency (NA) and is thus responsible for the implementation of Erasmus+ in the higher education sector. Within this framework, the NA DAAD promotes, among other things, the international mobility of students (studies and internships) within Europe and also worldwide. Prerequisites for funding are cross-border higher education agreements and the obligation that full recognition by the home institution of higher education of study achievements made abroad is guaranteed. In addition, participating higher education institutions must be in possession of a valid Erasmus Charter for Higher Education. For the 2021–2027 programme generation, funding rates for students will be increased to strengthen participation in the programme; the special additional financial support for certain groups and the introduction of new funding formats also promote the European Commission's goal for more (social) participation and inclusion in the programme. Between the beginning of September 2021 and the end of October 2023 on the 2021 Erasmus funding call and the extension of the 2020 call due to the pandemic, a total of 30,545 students from Germany were given funding for a period of study abroad, and 10,766 students for a work placement abroad. Conversely, 38,234 Erasmus students from other countries spent a study-related stay at a German higher education institution during the same period. More information can be found on the Internet. (

In addition, the DAAD NA is responsible for the selection and promotion of Erasmus+ Cooperation Partnerships as well as for providing information and advice on the Erasmus+ cooperation projects administered centrally in Brussels (Erasmus Mundus Action, European Higher Education Institutions, Capacity Building Projects in Higher Education, Alliances for Innovation, Jean Monnet Actions, Teacher Academies and Future-Oriented Projects). More information is available on the internet. (

Grants for periods of study abroad are also provided under the Federal Training Assistance Act. Students are able to receive assistance under the Federal Training Assistance Act for a full course of study in a member state of the European Union. Furthermore, financial assistance is provided for practical training and studies of limited duration inside and outside of Europe.

Alongside these funding opportunities at national level, in some Länder there are Land-level programmes to support international student mobility.

Academic Staff Mobility

In foreign educational and cultural policy, special importance is also attached to exchange measures in the sector of research and higher education institutions. The exchange of individuals takes place under grant programmes and award winners programmes for lecturers and other higher education staff which are predominantly organised by the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation. Evaluation of international exchange programmes is generally performed by independent agencies or experts.

In 2022, around 63,100 foreign scientists will be employed at German institutions of higher education, including around 3,900 professors. The most important region of origin of international academic staff is Western Europe. Around 32 per cent of all international academic staff and as many as 65 per cent of international professors come from Western European countries. The most important countries of origin are India, Italy, China and Austria. Of the international professors, most come from Austria (19%), Italy and Switzerland (each 9%).

In 2021, around 15,900 employed scientists with foreign nationality worked at the institutions of the four largest extramural science organisations, the Max Planck Society, the Fraunhofer Society, and the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations. Their number has almost doubled since 2011, so that in 2021 around 29 percent of the science staff came from abroad.

In addition to employed international academic staff, international guest researchers also conduct research and teach in Germany, whose stay is funded by domestic and foreign organisa-tions. In 20201 this amounted to around 30,000 stays. Visiting researchers are persons with foreign citizenship who stay in Germany for a limited period of time without being employed within the framework of financial support and who are active in teaching and research at institutions of higher education or other research institutions. There are three major funding organisations in particular that support the vast majority of stays by visiting researchers in Germany: German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG), DAAD and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. 

The Erasmus+ programme of the European Union also supports temporary stays abroad by guest lecturers. These guest lectureships within Europe can last between two and 60 days. The funding covers teaching stays by academic staff and professors at universities and research institutions as well as employees in companies. In the Erasmus year 2021 (beginning of June 2020 to end of May 2022), a total of only around 860 Erasmus guest lecturers came to Germany for a teaching stay. 

On the one hand, German academics in other countries work permanently at institutions of higher education and research institutions. On the other hand, many German guest researchers complete a temporary research and teaching stay abroad with the support of various institutions.

According to the available data, most German academics work at higher education institutions in Switzerland (9,600), followed by universities in Austria (6,100) and the UK (5,300). In 2020, the largest proportions of Germans among all foreign academics can be observed in Austria with 43 per cent and in Switzerland with 29 per cent. In terms of the number of German professors abroad, Switzerland is the most important host country (1,282) and Austria (939) the second most important. At 70%, German professors account for the largest proportion of all international professors in Austria. In Switzerland, they account for 44%.

In 2021, around 5,800 stays by German guest researchers abroad were funded by domestic and foreign organisations. Western Europe is the most important host region for German guest researchers. Of the funded stays, 30 per cent took place in Western European countries. Other significant host regions are North America (13%) and central and south-eastern Europe (10%). The most important host country for German guest researchers abroad was the USA, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The USA alone accounted for 11 per cent of all funded guest stays, the United Kingdom for 6 per cent. In both countries, the number of funded stays abroad fell again significantly following the sharp decline in the previous year due to the pandemic. In contrast, Italy, France, Switzerland, Poland and Jordan saw an increase in funding figures again. 

In the Erasmus year 2021, a total of around 970 Erasmus guest lecturers from Germany spent a teaching period abroad with Erasmus funding. Compared to previous years, their number has fallen by a further 18 per cent following the sharp decline in the previous year. The global mobility restrictions due to the pandemic have obviously continued to have a strong impact on the comparatively short-term stays abroad by Erasmus guest lecturers. Most Erasmus guest lecturers spent 2021 abroad in countries in Southern Europe (30%), Central Eastern Europe (23%) and Western Europe (19%). 11% of them spent time in Northern European countries, 9% in South Eastern European countries and 6% in Central Western European countries.

Statistics on the international mobility of scientists and researchers may be found in the publication Wissenschaft weltoffen. (