The Humboldt University of Berlin is illuminated during the 10th annual Festival of Lights in Berlin, Germany, 10 October 2014. The event will take place from 10 to 19 October across the city. EPA/PAUL ZINKEN

Tuition to U.S. universities has surged 500 percent since 1985 and continues to rise. But German universities offer free education to everyone -- including Americans.

The number of American students enrolled in German universities has risen steadily in recent years. Currently, an estimated 10,000 U.S. citizens are studying at German colleges -- nearly all of them for free, according to NBC News.

German universities in most federal states have traditionally been free for German citizens as well as many foreigners, including many American, Chinese and British students. One reason German taxpayers foot the bill is to help attract more skilled workers to the country.

In recent years, German companies have been unable to fill thousands of jobs because of a lack of qualified applicants. Although Germany has one of the world's most generous welfare systems, its resources are increasingly strained as more workers retire. The central European economic powerhouse also has one of the world's lowest fertility rates -- making the problem even worse.

Back in 2012, Lars Funk, a representative for the Association of German Engineers (VDI), explained that "the current labor shortage in Germany could inflict lasting damage." According to Funk, foreign students could help fill that gap. Since then, the problem has increased.

To attract talent from abroad, many Germany universities have started to offer courses on an undergraduate as well as postgraduate level in English. According to a data analysis by the website studyportals.eu -- which collects information on available college courses all over the world -- there are at least about 900 entirely English-language courses in Germany. The subjects include social sciences, politics and engineering -- a particular strength of the country's education system. Getting into those courses is easier than one might assume: In some cases, a potential student doesn't even have to submit a formal application.

There are other countries that offer even more such courses, including the Netherlands, as well as English-speaking Ireland and the United Kingdom. However, Germany is the only country without any tuition fees.


A studyportals.eu visualization which shows the number of English-language undergraduate and postgraduate courses available per country.

In 2014, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, explained that tuition fees "discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study.  It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany."

An increasing number of universities also offer courses for refugees, although they are not eligible to graduate until their asylum applications have successfully been processed. A goal of these courses is to help refugees acquire German language skills. The free courses in English offered to other foreigners are supposed to help Germans improve their language skills by communicating with native speakers.

It is an offer that attracts an increasing number of fans: The German Academic Exchange Service has also seen a rising number of applicants from other countries with a history of proud and excellent universities, for instance Britain.

After tuition was increased by the conservative government several years ago, students started looking for cheaper options in Europe. Robert Chesters told the German newsweekly Der Spiegel that he considered studying abroad in Germany a good alternative. "I just couldn't have afforded to study in England," he said.

Related: 

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free)