Germany is currently among the most popular destinations for young Ukrainians who are looking to study abroad, with more than 9000 Ukrainians enrolled at German universities. A combination of a wide range of study opportunities – prospective students can choose between 17500 different degree programs at more than 450 universities - and the affordability of higher education has helped to make Germany one of the favourite destinations for Ukrainian students. Most universities in Germany are public and do not charge for tuition - at least not for bachelor degrees. The picture regarding masters’ programmes is more varied, but here, too, a great many courses are free of charge. Even the traditional international study issue of language barriers is not a major obstacle for Ukrainians seeking to continue their education in Germany. At the graduate level in particular, international programmes taught in English are easy to find.
Internships and employment experience
Especially at the graduate level, German universities offer what could be termed as an agony of choice. Students can choose between highly specialized degree courses ranging from 20th Century History and Politics to Driver Assistance Systems, or opt for a solid all-round course in History or Electrical Engineering. Moreover, when studying economics and engineering at the bachelor level, they can choose between an education at a classical or technical university, and studying at a University of Applied Sciences. The latter type of institute is unique to the German higher education system and reflects the significant part SMEs play in the German economy. Universities of Applied Sciences tailor their research specifically to the needs of small and medium enterprises. A bachelor degree from one of these institutes typically includes a mandatory internship of one semester. Frequently students even write their final thesis in the company where they did their internship. Such internships can provide Ukrainian students with crucial hands-on professional experience that can help them contribute to Ukraine’s European transition.
The opportunity to acquire practical experience is perhaps what Elena Koshman appreciated most during her four years at the University of Passau in southern Germany. While studying for a degree in economics at Kharkiv’s Polytechnical Institute, she applied to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for a scholarship. The scholarship was for one year but she ended up staying for four. She used her vacations to do internships in different companies. One of them led to a regular summer job that helped pay for her studies.
Upon her return to Kyiv, Koshman found work with Siemens - a company she was familiar with thanks to one of her internships. “Initially I found that I was very much working as a de facto interpreter of cultural differences and different mentalities. On account of my studies in Germany and my internships, I had a better understanding than my Ukrainian colleagues of how a German company functions,” she recalls. Thanks to this cross-cultural experience, she found that colleagues would often consult with her. The ability to work in and with various cultures is a key competence in today’s globalized world. Academic exchange goes a long way to helping foster this. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides support for these exchanges from government funds. Each year, young Ukrainians can apply to DAAD for up to 200 scholarships ranging from a 3-week language course at a Germany university to a full Ph.D. program. Most types of support are open to all disciplines. Scholarships for masters’ programmes are particularly sought-after.
Brain drain or brain circulation?
When it comes to looking for a job after finishing their studies, Ukrainian graduates have to decide whether to remain in Germany or return to Ukraine. Most of them would prefer to return home, yet the tight job market in Ukraine and low local salaries, especially for those at entry levels, force a considerable number of Ukrainian graduates to stay in Germany and gain further experience. This process is frequently criticised as a brain drain, but it may actually turn out to be more of a brain circulation. Ukrainian graduates seeking employment in Germany tend to find work in international companies working with Eastern Europe, and thus contribute to the development of Ukrainian-German trade relations.
Yana Liashko was one of those who decided to return to Ukraine after completing her degree in Teaching German as a Foreign Language at the University of Leipzig. She decided to return after learning about the Reintegration Programme offered by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) at a Ukrainian-German academic networking event in Berlin while still a DAAD scholar. She currently works as a project manager for the Centre of German Law at the National Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv. Liashko is part of a programme through which the GIZ is topping up salaries of recent graduates from German universities employed in Ukraine’s public sector. Thanks to this programme, the Ukrainian employer is able to profit from the skills and international perspective that the young graduates can contribute, without having to meet the salary expectations that usually exceed those of their home-trained competitors.
In her new job, Liashko can build on the experience in public relations she gained during study, internships and jobs in Germany. What she particularly enjoys, next to working in a binational environment, is the chance to be involved in the internationalisation of the training of future Ukrainian lawyers. In the future, she says, she might even opt for a second education in law. After all, this is one of the key focuses as Ukraine continues to build bridges with the rest of Europe.
About the author: Gisela Zimmermann is Director of the DAAD Information Centre in Kyiv (www.daad.org.ua)