Oliver Tessenow feels upset. In his five years of undergraduate and graduate studies at Leibniz University Hanover, he has had to pay tuition, but as he prepares to leave next year with a master's degree in education, the university plans to abolish the fees.
"We are annoyed that they haven't been abolished already," Mr. Tessenow said of the university's charges, which began in 2006 and come to about €1,000 a year, or $1,300.
While fees are an increasingly heavy burden on students in places like England, Ireland, the United States and parts of Canada -- and fee-paying campuses are proliferating around the world in emerging education markets -- Germany is going the other way.
Introduced to inject additional financing into an overstretched public education system, tuition never caught on in a country where open education is seen as a key to social and economic progress.
"Politicians know they can't talk about tuition fees without losing votes," said Felix Grigat, , editor of a Forschung & Lehre, the monthly trade magazine of the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers. "We simply don't have the tradition" of paying privately to attend a public school.
Under the German Constitution, the 16 state governments control and finance higher education. After a federal court decision in 2005 opened the way, eight states -- all in the former West Germany -- took advantage of the opportunity to introduce modest tuition charges, with universities promising to use the money to improve teaching, expand services and modernize infrastructure.
Still, the concept of paying for education remained deeply unpopular with students and the general public, and most states that introduced fees threw them out again in short order, starting with Hesse, in 2008.
Most recently, Baden-Württemberg and the city-state of Hamburg abandoned tuition charges last autumn. Among the remaining holdouts, Bavaria, normally a bastion of fiscally conservative politics, will do away with them this year. A poll commissioned by the public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk found that 72 percent of Bavarians backed abolition.
Lower Saxony, home to Leibniz University Hanover, will be the last to fall into line when it drops its fees at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.
Though the fees are low by North American or British standards, opponents say they have acted as an economic barrier to some students. Mr. Tessenow, for one, said the extra €1,000 a year charged by Hanover was one hurdle too many: "There are enough barriers besides the fees," he said.
According to Malte Hübner, an economist with the German Council of Economic Experts, the introduction of tuition in Germany might have caused an estimated 20,000 potential students, representing 6.8 percent of all university entrants, to forgo enrollment in 2007.
"Initially there was this deterrent effect, but it would probably have subsided after a while," Mr. Hübner said.
Still, while the introduction of fees might have turned off some students, it appears to have had little impact on the growth of Germany's student population as a whole, which has risen by roughly half a million since 2006.
In returning to free university access for its citizens, Germany will be rejoining some of Europe's most economically and socially advanced countries, including Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Still, there is a difference: Germany, with its approximately 2.5 million active students, has by far the largest higher education budget to finance. By comparison, Britain, which has roughly an equal number of students, raised annual tuition caps last year to £9,000, or $14,000.
In France, where some 2.3 million students attend post-secondary institutions, most public universities charge a few hundred euros per year. Tuition fees at the elite grandes écoles, however, tend to be a good deal higher.
Though the German debate around tuition seems to have abated for now, academics and administrators predict that rising demands on the university system will eventually bring the fees back.
"Once austerity measures hit, people will realize that state funding is insufficient," said Horst Hippler, president of the German Rectors' Conference, an association of state and state-recognized universities. "The states are simply not rich enough," to shoulder the full cost burden, he said.
Mr. Hippler characterized the retreat from fee payments as a temporary response to ideology and politics.
If students saw what they were getting for their money, they would gladly make their financial contribution, he said. "The student fees that were put into place would never deter anyone from studying," he said.
At Leibniz University Hanover, where Mr. Tessenow has been studying, student fees made up about 4 percent of the university budget in 2011, according to the administration. About 60 percent of that money was used to hire teaching and laboratory staff, with much of the rest going toward improvements in equipment and lecture halls, according to the university.
"Besides all the other measures, like the additional laboratory equipment, student work places, new books and more, the student fee contributions have been especially indispensable because they have noticeably ameliorated actual academic supervision," said Mechtild von Münchhausen, a university spokeswoman.
To protest undergraduate tuition fees, however, the university's student union, like many others in Germany, refused to attend administrative meetings in which the additional income was allocated.
Mr. Tessenow, who is active in the union, said the only visible signs that his tuition fees were spent on improving his education were stickers that read "Financed by Student Fees" on some library books.
Still, Ms. von Münchhausen said, while the €14 million that student fees brought to the university was a small part of the overall budget, it made a disproportionately effective contribution to improvements in teaching because -- unlike additional money provided directly by the state -- it was not tied directly to increasing the number of study spots.
Student stipends and low-interest loans -- both fairly new concepts in Germany -- ensure that anyone can attend the university despite the fees, she said.
"In Germany, historically, people have not learned that studying costs something," Ms. von Münchhausen said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.