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stories behind the statistics of international students in Germany


What demographic challenges will Germany face in the future and what effects will this have on the labor market? Can education and specifically the internationalisation of universities become an important force for economic and social development? ,,Ich Bin Da” is a photographic project that documents the correlation between these issues.


Germany has the third most rapidly-ageing population worldwide. According to recent projections by the Federal Statistical Office, whilst in 2018 the working population (those aged between 20 and 66) totalled 51,8 million, by 2035 that number could reduce to 45-47 million. Fast-forward another 25 years to 2060, and, depending on the levels of net immigration, the figure could reduce further to 40-46 million.


A possible long-term solution to this issue, rarely taken into consideration in public discourse, lies within  Germany’s higher education system. Since 2013, the country has been focusing at internationalising its universities. The aim is primarily to ensure higher levels of enrolment especially for universities located in areas that have seen a decrease in population; and, as a byproduct, the hope is that once the students have graduated, they will remain locally and contribute to the dwindling skilled workforce.  In 2019, 11% (320.000) of all university students in Germany were Bildungsausländer*.


Having gained a clearer picture of the situation my line of questioning was how I could depart from the fields of statistics and open up the issue to a wider audience using an artistic approach. Firstly, I thought to myself, I need to turn these numbers into faces and put forward the experiences of individuals who are trying to create a new life for themselves in Germany, regardless of the difficulties they encounter. Understanding what made them take the initial step and appreciating the diversifications they provide not only to the higher education system, but also to the labour market and the country as a whole, should be the focal points.


My research aims to avoid the common, yet essential, narrative which focusses on economic migrants as the principal solutions to Germany’s demographic problem. Instead my objective is to highlight how education can become an important force for economic and social development , should there be an efficient alignment between universities, institutions, and Workforce Development Agencies.

By correctly interpreting some of the critiques which emerge, “Ich bin da” hopes to foster a wider sensibility amongst all those who are directly touched, be it students, universities, institutions or all future employers, as well as the wider public.


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