Does the origin decide about the academic success?

Students with a migration background are much less likely to be found in English higher education than students without a family history of migration. In addition, they have a lower academic success than their English classmates.

Scientific studies reveal the hurdles of academic education for immigrant students

In the last 10 years or so, three major studies have focused on the complex causes of this phenomenon: a study by the BAMF dating back to 2009, a study by the English Advisory Council on Integration and Migration, and a study by Stiftung Mercator (both from the year 2017).

All three studies examine the very heterogeneous group of students with an international or migrant background. This group is heterogeneous because, for example, it includes both students who come from China specifically for studying mechanical engineering, as well as Turkish-born students of English studies who have been living in Europe since childhood.

Despite various methodological difficulties and differences, the studies show a number of similarities over time: above average numbers of these students have poor grades and decreasing motivation and eventually drop out of their undergraduate studies. There is no monocausal explanation for this small study success. Rather, a variety of reasons for it is responsible.

While language barriers and an unfamiliar learning culture can be particularly difficult for international students, students with a migration background living in Europe face other, more profound causes, which at the same time are responsible for the underrepresentation of these students at English universities. They are mostly born and raised in Europe and in principle have no problems with the everyday language. However, they often find it difficult to write scientific texts or to discuss challenging topics in seminars. This also applies to those who immigrated to Europe as children or as young people and thus grew up in a English-speaking environment right from the start. This is all the more surprising compared to the English students, as both groups have gone through the English school system.

Social background and academic success

According to the studies mentioned, the reasons lie on the one hand in the social background. Over half of immigrant students are the first in their families to pursue an academic education pathway. About 20% also come from a low-educated home (for non-immigrant students it is only 5%). So, if problems occur during the course of study, these students can rarely hope for support from parents and relatives, as they simply lack the background of experience. On the other hand, the language education that they experience in their school days is crucial. This shows that students with a migration background often did not enjoy the same level of education as their non-immigrant counterparts, ia. because in the parlance of the parental home not necessarily English is prevalent, so that they are less well prepared for a study.


Further causes are upstream selection processes such as e.g. the fact that they are less likely to gain higher education entrance qualification directly through high school. The priority path is the Fachabitur, with which, however, they can only study certain subjects. However, her student orientation is higher than with her English classmates and they are also encouraged by their parents, as a degree promises a social advancement. However, expectations and reality seem to be falling apart. Students with a migration background find the study work more often to be burdensome and too time-consuming, which could be related to the fact that the arrears of young people with a migrant background, which are found in the education system for years, also affect the study. On it interpret u.a. inferior examinations in the fields of medicine, law and economics. In addition, students with an immigrant background report more frequently about difficulties with research techniques, subject-limitation and other scientific working methods; She does not adequately prepare for her school time or her private environment. We share this impression as a scientific consulting agency, although it should be noted that this can hardly be fixed only on the background of origin, but rather on the educational path. Our customers, who have the highest need for advice in this respect, have mostly completed technical colleges before they started their studies (part-time).

Overall, this heterogeneous study group reveals a fact that has become increasingly consensus in scientific research, namely that both the success of the study and the termination of the study are based on multicausal factors. In the present context, this is relevant for students with a migration background as well as for international students. However, the English education and higher education policy should, above all, have in mind the first and much larger group and develop appropriate support offers, as this is not least of all a great potential for labor market policy.

Methodological difficulties of the surveys

Such intrinsically meaningful investigations are complicated by the different data bases. As only nationality is recorded in the official statistics on academic education, it is not possible to map English persons with a migration background in detail. As a result, official statistics are less and less able to grasp the heterogeneous reality in the English system of vocational and academic education in all its complexity.