If you’ve ever considered studying in Europe, England was probably the first country that came to mind, but the higher education system of another European nation is frequently cited as an alternative. In this year’s Study.EU European university rankings for international students, Germany emerged as top choice, beating the UK into second place.

The quality of the teaching and the fact that almost all courses are offered in English are important factors but the most significant one behind Germany’s success is that at state-run universities, no student has to pay tuition fees. The UK, on the other hand, has the highest tuition fees and living costs in Europe.

Furthermore, while students from outside the EU are only allowed to stay in the UK for a few months after graduating, international graduates are able to remain in Germany for up to 18 months after they complete their studies. As Brexit-era UK has become increasingly hostile towards foreigners, German universities are trying to integrate international students into the job market.

However, students still have to pay an administration fee of €150-€250 (R2 220-R3 700) a term, for which they receive access to canteens and sports facilities, union membership and a student travel card. This excludes the cost of accommodation.

All of Germany’s 109 private universities charge tuition fees, generating more than €2,8 billion (R41,2 billion) for the country’s higher education sector annually. Germany’s strong tradition of vocational courses and apprenticeships means that far fewer young people (28 percent) opt to go to university than in the UK (48 percent).

German universities are also not expected to provide the kind of services to students that are common in Britain or the USA. For instance, only about 10 percent of the country’s students live in university-provided accommodation.