October 2010 issue

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University prep. in Germany

Tertiary education in Germany is an attractive prospect for international students given that many universities in the country offer tuition free study. Demand for language and/or foundation courses that prepare students for standardised entry exams is consistent report providers.

In order to enrol at a German higher education institute international students must first prove they have the necessary language skills [level C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages] required to make the transition from language learner to fully-fledged university student.

The Test Fur Deutsch als Fremdsprache (TestDaF) and the Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang Ausländischer Studienbewerber (DSH) entrance exams are two models that are widely recognised among the country’s 300 universities and colleges and several language centres offer preparatory courses that help hone the language skills required to pass both exams.

“We have always, since we were founded in 1977, offered highly intensive language courses which were geared towards preparing international students for academic studies in Germany,” relates Lennart Güthling from the Humboldt-Institut, which has several year-round centres located all over Germany. However, it was only in 2002 that their Ratzenried Castle and Constance campuses started offering TestDaF prep. “It has always been popular and continues to be so…numbers of students are definitely increasing each year,” he says.

According to Carina Simon from Eurocentres Berlin, the school has been a certified test centre for TestDaF since November last year and, after identifying a need for intensive preparation courses, launched its TestDaF preparation course in March this year. “We have always put a lot of emphasis on preparing the students for all four disciplines that would be required in the TestDaF: listening, reading, writing and speaking,” she reflects. Students can complete the programme, which comprises 20 50-minute lessons, in as little as four weeks and common course components include handling text, understanding lectures and seminars, and taking part in academic discussion. The fact that students can sit the examination at the same centre is an added incentive says Simon. “It is an important aspect for students – it creates confidence in themselves and in our staff members.”

Like Eurocentres, IH Berlin Prolog is also a designated TestDaF exam centre, and Director, Uwe Stränger, explains that having prepared overseas students for university study for over 10 years, “our teachers were already very much used to instructing interested students for, and directing them to, special exam profiles”. However, in addition to traditional programme components, the school also offers students an online learning platform specifically designed for TestDaF preparation candidates. “They can download listening and reading exercises, chat with their trainers and co-trainers and write little essays, which will be assessed by the trainers,” explains Stränger.

Aside from the more established aptitude tests – Friedländer Schule in Berlin and IH Berlin Prolog both offer DSH exam preparation courses – there are other variants that will help students determine their language proficiency prior to university enrolment. Berlin Brandenburg International School (BBIS) – a coeducational day and boarding school located in Kleinmachnow – is a recognised International Baccalaureate (IB) World School with students in years 11 and 12 eligible to sit the educational foundations challenging two-year diploma. Although the school predominantly teaches in English, “The IB Diploma has been officially recognised by the German Federal Cultural Ministry as an equivalent to the German Abitur [a final exam taken by German secondary school students],” explains school representative, Whitney Stirling. “Thus the IB diploma can qualify students to study at German universities,” he says.

Stränger cites the Test für Ausländische Studierende (TestAS) – an aptitude test designed for study applicants from non-EU countries planning to do undergraduate studies at a German university. The test measures general language skills, cognitive abilities and also includes a subject specific module to determine whether a student is “subject ready” to pursue a course at undergraduate level. Modules include economics, engineering and humanities among others.

As well as exam preparation, students at Carl Duisberg Centren also benefit from special modules in propädeutics [an introduction to study in Germany], which is offered in conjunction with their Intensive Course Plus programme, notes the school’s Hans-Georg Albers. The module looks at how students should orientate themselves at university, how the curriculum may differ from tertiary study in their own country, how to write an academic paper and also includes trips to universities local to the school. An additional university counselling and placement service called Access is also available says Albers.

While successful completion of an exam preparation course does not qualify the student for automatic university admission, passing the language assessment does, although as Güthling observes, other academic prerequisites must also be met, “Like having a secondary school leaving certificate which is equivalent to the German Abitur,” he says. But providers observe that demand for these types of programmes is certainly on the rise, with new student markets opening up all the time. Simon has seen interest peak among former Eastern European bloc countries, while Güthling predicts a wave of students from Bangladesh and Nepal will soon pursue routes to university study in Germany.

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