“Go Out!” – Germany Encourages Its Students to Go Abroad

Its website features a sleek design, bright blues, greens, and orange against a white background, and images of smiling German students in exotic locales. Its logo is a world map made up of multi-colored dots. It is the “Go! Study Abroad” campaign (in German, “Go Out! Studieren Weltweit”) – launched jointly by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Its aim: to encourage German students to spend time studying abroad.

“We want to motivate students to continue going abroad. Maybe not for periods as long as they used to go. Maybe for a semester or four months, instead of a year, but for some significant time,” says Claudius D. Habbich, who heads the campaign and is also head of the DAAD’s Division for Information for Germans on Studying and Conducting Research Abroad. “And, second, we would like professors and universities in Germany to continue to create opportunities for students to study abroad.”

Changes in German Higher Education
Traditionally, German students have been an remarkably mobile group. In recent years, one in every three graduates has spent some time abroad, one of the highest national percentages in the world, says Habbich.

But over the past decade, German higher education has been undergoing a sea change. Under the Bologna Declaration of 1999, European universities have been instituting reforms to standardize higher education across Europe. For Germany, this has meant, among other things, transitioning to bachelor’s and master’s degree cycles and tightening up requirements on the length of study. Whereas German students once spent five, six, or even more years studying for their first degree (traditionally a Magister or Diplom), a bachelor’s now has to be completed within three years and a master’s within two years.

“The concern,” explains Habbich, is that because of the new time pressures, “many German students won’t want to study abroad.” Not only does this have an impact on the individual student experience, but ultimately, it has consequences for the country’s future in the increasingly global marketplace.

As an export country with no natural resources, Germany depends on its human capital to spur economic growth. The country excels in exporting its services and highly specialized skills, such as in engineering or business. “For us, know-how is very important,” says Habbich, “For the country to survive economically and politically we need to have citizens who are experts in many regions and who have the appropriate language skills.”

Indeed, the “Go Out!” campaign encourages study in Africa, China, Eastern Europe, India, and Latin America, destinations not usually favored by German students, whose top choices have traditionally been other Western European countries and the United States.

Catching Students at the Right Time
With an annual budget of one million euros, the “Go Out!” campaign began in 2006 by focusing on universities. It awarded grants to the most innovative study-abroad programs. “Go Out!” staff crisscrossed the country in a “campaign station wagon” to visit German universities. And the organization printed promotional material and attended educational affairs. The BMBF and the DAAD also sponsored biannual surveys of German student mobility.

After several years, says Habbich, “Go Out!” staff realized that they had to refocus more directly on the students themselves. This included students in their last two years of secondary school. With such a short time available to complete the bachelor’s degree, any student wishing to go abroad during their undergraduate years would have to start planning before they even enrolled at a university.

In 2011, “Go Out! Study Abroad” came out with several new initiatives. One is a colorful 40-page magazine on studying abroad, issued yearly and distributed to every secondary school student as a supplement to the materials sent out by the German University Admissions Foundation. The campaign also printed new postcards and posters that it distributed to German universities.

And, of course, there is the completely redesigned website with interactive features, contests, and prizes, as well as videos and a Facebook presence. The site also features blog posts and articles by young journalism students sent abroad by “Go Out!” to such varied destinations as Mexico and Columbia, Budapest and Moscow, and India.

Visit the Go Out! website (in German)