Germany is widely known to have one of the best university systems in the world but, unfortunately, the 45 years that separated its eastern and western halves has led to the impression amongst foreign students that the universities in the former GDR are of lesser quality than their western counterparts. While this might have been true twenty years ago, today robust federal and state funding has created revitalized universities throughout the east, allowing many to regain their status at the top of the German university hierarchy. Despite some recent setbacks, this is the tale of the German state of Saxony, the onetime industrial powerhouse reborn as the tech-hub “Silicon Saxony”.
The Saxon university system contains four institutions: University of Leipzig, Technical University Dresden, Bergakademie Technical University Freiberg, and the University of Chemnitz. Within this system, Saxony can boast a hoary tradition of academic excellence, from the second oldest university in Germany (Leipzig) to the oldest mining university in the world (TU Bergakademie Freiberg) and alma mater of Alexander von Humboldt.
But their age doesn’t imply that Saxon universities have lost step with those in the rest of the country. TU Dresden, one of the oldest technical universities in Germany, is a “University of Excellence,” receiving millions of special funding due to its special status as an “elite university,” and the University of Leipzig is ranked 311 in the world by QS, with a world class linguistics degree and several of the top humanities programs in the country. TU Bergakademie Freiberg is the oldest mining university in the world, and is the only university in the country with a working mine.
All of the universities in the state have also stepped up their efforts to attract international students by adding English language graduate programs, especially in the sciences, and improving by student facilities. Despite the draw of these new programs, student life is probably one of the biggest appeals of Saxony. Leipzig and Dresden are two of the most vibrant cities for young people in the country, and both have a robust student party scene. They also offer much cheaper costs of living compared to their western counterparts.
For those interested in staying on after their studies, Saxony also has one of the healthier economies in the east. For those studying in Dresden, it’s a short leap into the microelectronics industry based in the region, and it’s hard to imagine anyone saying anything but “nu” to a life as an adopted Dresdener.
Saxony still suffers from many of the same problems as the other states in the east, and a budget shortfall will lead to significant cuts in higher education spending over the next decade. Despite this, the steps taken over the last two decades to equip and improve the Saxon university system will continue to allow the state to provide international students with the high quality of education they have come to expect from German universities.