I am curious how much did the German universities charge their students in late 19th early 20th century. I am specifically interested in the math/science education at University of Göttingen, one of the leading institutions of its time.

For comparison, here is what UPenn charged - they have an amazingly helpful page on this: http://www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/tuition/main.html

  • 3
    Of course, the actual numbers are quite meaningless without much more in the way of context, such as the cost of a loaf of bread, or a steak dinner, or one month's rent of a small apartment. Dec 1, 2013 at 23:50
  • @Pieter Sure, I agree. I am that number is a precise figure which could in principle be found in some historical documents. I am confident the answer for the latter are easy to find, see e.g. here: coll.mpg.de/pdf_dat/2009_18online.pdf
    – Igor Pak
    Dec 2, 2013 at 0:47
  • That document covers a 62 year time period. Even a measly 2.5% inflation rate will result in real values changing by a factor of 3.8 to 4.0 over that time period. If you want true equivalence, you need to use sources much closer to your year of interest, not averages. The document compares contemporary wages across nations, which is a much different beast from same-nation wags across time periods. Dec 2, 2013 at 0:56
  • Look up Rule of 72 in a Finance context (sometimes called Rule of 70, which is slightly more accurate at higher rates of return, but 72 is easier to use in your head). mruniversity.com/courses/development-economics/rule-70 Dec 2, 2013 at 0:57
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    Believe me, I know about enough about exponential functions. The point is the document give average values for specific years like 1905. This is good enough for me. But I have no clue about the tuition, which is all I am asking.
    – Igor Pak
    Dec 2, 2013 at 2:24

1 Answer 1


Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
EDIT: I have asked an older student and before the 1970s there was in fact a so-called "Hörergeld" "listener money" which was in the range of 100-200 Mark (comparable to 30-45 $) for half a year. The interesting thing is that is was not for the university, but for the professor, so while there was charging, the answer is still correct. I myself paid 120 Mark for half a year, but this gave me the right for unlimited public transport in the area, so I did not count that. The Hörergeld during the 1900s should have a comparable range (neglible for wealthy students, perceptible to students working part time), because Albert Einstein lamented that there was opposition to allow very poor students listening to the courses.

This may come as a complete shock to people especially from the US but the concept of Universities charging their students was/is completely foreign in Germany. The running costs are paid by taxes from the government. There was always the firm belief in Germany that people have a right of education. This was so ingrained that students

  • had severe discounts on lodging, visiting libraries, cinema and public transport.
  • lived together with many people in bigger apartments to share the rental or living in subsidized lodgings, "Studentenwohnungen".
  • had after the 1970s a right to get financial support from the government, the so called "Bafög"

Even worse:

  • there were no limits how long your study take. You could choose to do it in minimum time or 30 years long.
  • you were not obliged to attend a lecture. You could completely disregard the lectures and study yourself, the only thing you needed was to pass the tests. So many people were able to do jobs part time and were able to finance their education.

In fact, I am one of the German students who did his "Diplom" with exactly this conditions. Now you may think that it may have changed, but you need only to read Mark Twains "A Tramp abroad" in the 1880s to see that it was the same in old times.

During the Bologna process starting nearly exactly with the beginning of the 21. century the old process was "reformed", changing Dipl. to Bachelor and Master and introducing charges as "Studiengebühren".

But due to problems with the organization and general disappointment with the system, "Studiengebühren" were mostly scrapped again.

  • Thank you! This is very helpful and convincing enough. I do want to find primary sources for this though.
    – Igor Pak
    Mar 25, 2014 at 16:50

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