Germany

RegionCentral Europe
CapitalBerlin
LanguageGerman
Population83,149,300
Expenditure on higher education4,63 %
Unemployment3,3 %
EuroUniversities in top 10015
EuroUniversities in top 25031
EuroUniversities in top 50053
EuroUniversities in top 1000100
Students2,500,000
Foreigner students8,4 %
Enrollment rate in higher education71,5 %

Germany is a country in Central and Western Europe. The tertiary sector includes, first and foremost, the various different types of institution of higher education and, to a limited extent, establishments outside the higher education system. Thus, in addition to institutions of higher education, some Länder also have Berufsakademien, which offer an alternative to higher education in the form of courses qualifying to practise a profession for those who have completed the upper level of secondary education and gained a higher education entrance qualification. The Fachschulen and the Fachakademien in Bayern are classified as post-secondary on the national level, but are assigned to the tertiary sector internationally. Additionally there are a number of special higher education institutions which only admit certain groups, e.g. higher education institutions of the Federal Armed Forces and Verwaltungsfachhochschulen, and are not considered below.

Teaching and study shall impart to students the particular knowledge, skills and methods required in a way appropriate to each course so as to enable them to perform scientific or artistic work and to act responsibly in a free, democratic and social state governed by the rule of law. These purposes of study are common to all types of higher education institution.

The mandate bestowed by the legislator, in line with the traditional principle of the unity of teaching and research, is to provide professional training to students in a way that directly involves scientific and academic research and artistic development. Whilst the unity of teaching and research applies to all institutions of higher education, a distinction may be drawn between the functions of UNIVERSITIES and other types of institutions of higher education in that university education is traditionally closely linked to basic and theoretical research.

COLLEGES OF ART AND MUSIC prepare students for artistic professions and teaching of music and art. Teaching and studying are closely related to the other functions of the colleges, i.e. to promote art through the development of artistic forms and means of expression and through the free pursuit of art.

The characteristic features of the design of the courses of study and the organisation of teaching and studying at FACHHOCHSCHULEN are the particular emphasis on practical application and the closer links with the requirements of the professional world. The semesters spent outside the institutions to gain practical experience, known as Praxissemester, are a vital feature. The teaching staff and course contents at Fachhochschulen are linked with applied research and development projects, which are characteristic of this type of institution. Many Fachhochschulen have developed so-called dual study programmes. The Dualen Hochschulen in Baden-Württemberg and Thüringen combine practical training in the company with higher education studies by offering practice-integrating courses of study.

As part of training at state or state-recognised Berufsakademien (professional academies) students receive academic training at Studienakademien (study institutions) and, at the same time, practical career training in a training establishment.

The aim of the continuing vocational training provided at Fachschulen is to enable skilled workers usually with job experience to take on management functions in firms, enterprises, administrations and institutions, or to independently perform responsible tasks. They contribute to the preparation for entrepreneurial independence.

Specific legislative framework

The legal basis of higher education in Germany is provided by the legislation on higher education of the Länder (Hochschulgesetze), as well as the legislation regarding colleges of art and music of the Länder as far as these types of institution are not included in the general Higher Education Acts. As part of concurrent legislation (Art. 72 of the Basic Law), the Federation is responsible for the fields of admission to higher education institutions and degrees from higher education institutions. However, the Länder have been granted the power to enact their own provisions in deviation from the relevant federal laws. The Higher Education Acts of the Länder describe the general objectives of higher education institutions as well as the general principles underlying the system of higher education, study, teaching and research, admission, membership and participation, as well as the staff of institutions of higher education. As a rule, the regulations apply to all institutions of higher education, including privately-maintained establishments, and provide a systematic framework for the higher education sector.

Training at Berufsakademien is governed by the Berufsakademie laws in force in the individual Länder and by the Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations) and Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations) of the relevant Ministry of Science or the Berufsakademie itself..

Continuing vocational education at Fachschulen is regulated by education legislation and by the training regulations and examination regulations of the individual Länder in particular.

Bachelor

Branches of Study

An overview of the courses that lead to a first qualification for entry into a profession is provided in publications such as Studienwahl (Choice of Studies) published annually by the Foundation for Higher Education Admission (Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung – SfH) and the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit – BA). An overview of the range of courses on offer is published each semester by the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz – HRK).

Branches of study, specialisation at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education

Universities and equivalent institutions of higher education offered a total of 4,695 undergraduate courses of study in the 2019/2020 winter semester that led to a Bachelor degree. The courses of study differ greatly from one institution of higher education to the next. The range of subjects includes languages, the humanities and sport, law, economics and social sciences, natural sciences, medicine, agronomy, forestry and nutritional science and engineering sciences.

The most common branches of study in the named subject categories are:

Languages and the humanities, sport
Philosophy
Theology
Archaeology and study of antiquity
History
Art studies/art history
Musicology/music history
Theatre studies/dramatic art
European and non-European languages and literature
Education
Psychology
Library science/documentation science/media studies
Sport

Law, economics and social sciences
Law
Social sciences
Administrative sciences
Economics
Political science

Mathematics, natural sciences
Mathematics
Physics
Computer science
Chemistry
Biochemistry
Biology
Earth science
Pharmacy

Medicine
Human medicine
Dentistry
Veterinary medicine

Agronomy, forestry, nutritional science
Agronomy
Forestry
Nutritional science

Engineering sciences
Architecture
Civil engineering
Geodesy
Electrical engineering
Mechanical engineering
Chemical engineering
Traffic and transport studies
Environmental technology
Mining

Study courses in the disciplines law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy and food chemistry do not, as a rule, end with a Bachelor examination but with a Staatsprüfung (state examination). Some teacher-training courses also end with a Staatsprüfung.

International study courses, which have a special foreign focus, are also on offer within the named branches of study. The main subject focus in these courses of study at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education lies in the area of language and the humanities, followed by law, economics, social sciences and engineering sciences.

Regelstudienzeit (standard period of study) is fixed in the Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations) for each course of study. The regulations state the time in which a course of study with the intended examination can be completed. The total standard period of study for consecutive study courses leading to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is five years. The standard period of study for Bachelor’s study courses can be a six, seven or eight semesters. At universities and equivalent institutions of higher education, the standard period of study for Bachelor’s study courses is generally six semesters.

Branches of study, specialisation at colleges of art and music

Colleges of art and music in the 2019/2020 winter semester offered a total of 457 different courses which lead to a Bachelor’s degree. The courses of studies vary widely from college to college. In general, they may be divided up along the following lines:

  • music with such studies as training for solo or orchestra musicians in various instruments, training in singing, conducting, composition or church music, music teaching at general education schools, music education and technical musical professions (e.g. sound engineering)
  • visual arts with such studies as art, design, photography
  • performing arts with such studies as drama, opera, musicals, dancing, directing and film-making
  • applied art with courses of studies in architecture, design or the media
  • art education and art therapy as well as courses in art teaching for school teachers
  • the media with such courses as film, television, media studies, media art, animation and media management

In core arts subjects at colleges of art and music consecutive Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses may also be developed with a total standard study period of six years. In most cases the standard period of study for Bachelor’s study courses at colleges of art and music is eight semesters.

Branches of study, specialisation at Fachhochschulen

Fachhochschulen in the 2019/2020 winter semester offered a total of 3,702 different courses which lead to a Bachelor’s degree. Above all, study courses in the following areas of study are taught in the Fachhochschulen:

  • Agronomy, forestry, nutritional science
  • Engineering sciences
  • Economics/economic law
  • Social work
  • Public administration, administration of justice
  • Information technology, computer science, mathematics
  • Natural sciences
  • Design
  • Information and communication studies
  • Nursing and management in the public health system

There are also international study courses within the named areas of study. Most of these courses of study at Fachhochschulen are based in the area of law, economics and social sciences, followed by engineering sciences.

Regelstudienzeit (standard period of study) is fixed in the Prüfungsordnung (examination regulations) for each course of study. The regulations state the time within which a course of study with the intended examination can be completed. For the total standard period of study in consecutive Bachelor’s and Master’s courses of study at Fachhochschulen, the description of the standard period of study at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education applies. At Fachhochschulen the standard period of study for Bachelor’s study courses is generally six or seven semesters including semesters of practical training. 

Branches of study and specialisation at establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

Courses offered at the Berufsakademien include, in particular, business, technology and social work. The length of study at the Berufsakademien is generally stipulated by the respective Land law as three years. As far as state-run Berufsakademien are concerned, it is in most cases the relevant Land ministry that determines the number of hours of attendance during the semester, adopting study and examination regulations for each course. Courses at Berufsakademien leading to the Bachelor’s degree are to be accredited. The length of study is a minimum of three years.

Fachschulen offer courses of education in the fields of agricultural economy, design, technology, business and social work and lead up to a state-administered examination. The subject areas are subdivided into a total of about 170 subjects. Besides social work, the most strongly represented subjects include electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, construction engineering and business management. The subject area of social work comprises the three subjects social pedagogy, assistance and education for the handicapped (Heilerziehungspflege) and curative education. State-certified youth and child care workers, Erzieher, are trained over a two to three-year period at Fachschulen for youth and community work to enter the socio-educational field of child and youth welfare services, i.e. day-care centres for children, Horte and youth welfare organisations.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements to universities and equivalent institutions of higher education

Higher education entrance qualification

Admission to any course of study at universities and equivalent higher education institutions as a rule requires the Allgemeine Hochschulreife or the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife. The former entitles school-leavers to study at any institution of higher education in any subject or field, while the latter permits entry only into specified courses of studies.

The Allgemeine Hochschulreife or Fachgebundene Hochschulreife is obtained after 12 or 13 ascending school years on completion of the gymnasiale Oberstufe or certain courses of vocational education at upper secondary level.

The Allgemeine Hochschulreife can also be acquired at Abendgymnasien, i.e. evening schools for working people, and Kollegs, i.e. full-time schools for those who have completed vocational training. Other options are the Abitur examination for non-pupils or employed persons of particular intellectual ability.

In addition to the Hochschulreife, in certain subjects the applicant’s aptitude is determined through a separate test procedure. This applies particularly to sport and the arts.

Under certain circumstances, in addition to the Allgemeine Hochschulreife or the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife, a vocational qualification may also confer entitlement to admission to higher education. In March 2009, the Länder resolved standard preconditions under which vocationally qualified applicants without a higher education entrance qualification obtained at school are granted the right of entry to higher education (Hochschulzugang für beruflich qualifizierte Bewerber ohne schulische Hochschulzugangsberechtigung). The resolution opens admission to general higher education to master craftsmen, technicians, people with vocational qualifications in a commercial or financial occupation and people with similar qualifications, and defines the conditions under which vocationally qualified applicants without career advancement training are eligible to enter higher education restricted to a specified field of study following the successful completion of vocational training and three years of experience in their occupation.

Applicants who do not have German higher education entrance qualifications have to submit a secondary school certificate that qualifies them to attend higher education in their country of origin. If necessary, they also have to provide proof that they have passed an entrance examination at a university in their native country or proof of enrolment at the university. Applicants from some countries of origin must, moreover, provide proof that they have successfully completed some course modules at a higher education institution in the country of origin or, following attendance at a one-year core course, must take an assessment test at a Studienkolleg. Also, foreign applicants for study places must prove that they have a sufficient command of the German language. In accordance with the regulatory framework on German language examinations for studying at German institutions of higher education (RO-DT) the institutions of higher education specify the language requirements that are necessary for the course on the basis of an average applicant for each study programme in each individual case, whereby the role of the German language for a successful course of studies takes priority. Proof of a sufficient command of the German language during enrolment in the chosen study programme can be provided by the German Language Diploma of the Standing Conference – Level II (Deutsches Sprachdiplom der Kultusministerkonferenz – Zweite Stufe – DSD II), the German Language Proficiency Examination for Admission to Higher Education for Foreign Applicants (Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber – DSH) which is taken at the institution of higher education in Germany itself, the Test of German as a Foreign Language for foreign applicants (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache für ausländische Studienbewerber – TestDaF) or by taking the German language examination as part of the Feststellungsprüfung (assessment test) at a Studienkolleg. Different levels of ability to study in the language of instruction can be proven through these examinations. In addition, the RO-DT regulates the conditions under which applicants are exempted from proof of ability to study in the language of instruction.

Foreign applicants for study places from countries where there is an Akademische Prüfstelle (APS) will only be admitted to a German institution of higher education if they can submit a certificate of the Akademische Prüfstelle. The certificate of the Akademische Prüfstelle certifies

  • the authenticity and plausibility of the documents submitted (authenticity and identity)
  • fulfilment of the criteria set forth in the assessment proposals of the Standing Conference,
  • the required language proficiency, where appropriate (linguistic skills are only determined in the field of language proficiency; the plausibility interview can be conducted in either German or English).

In December 2015, the Standing Conference passed a resolution on access and admission to higher education for applicants unable to provide evidence of a higher education entrance qualification obtained in their home country on account of their flight (Hochschulzugang und Hochschulzulassung für Studienbewerberinnen bzw. Studienbewerber, die fluchtbedingt den Nachweis der im Heimatland erworbenen Hochschulzugangsberechtigung nicht erbringen können). Applicants who are unable to provide the original or a certified copy of their higher education entrance qualification for either graduate or undergraduate studies obtained in their home country on account of their flight will be allowed to provide documentation in a three tier procedure depending on their refugee and legal residence status. This consists of:

  • the determination of the personal premises on the basis of refugee and legal residence categories
  • a plausibility check of the educational biography with regard to the acquisition of a higher education entrance qualification in the home country, and
  • proof of the alleged higher education entrance qualification through an examination and/or assessment procedure based on quality. The procedure to be applied will be decided internally by the Länder.

The resolution also regulates the extent to which indirect proof can be provided of the higher education entrance qualification. If a higher education entrance qualification can be concluded with sufficient indirect evidence on the basis of a plausibility check, no examination and/or assessment procedure will be necessary.

In addition, the resolution contains regulations on the admission to higher education for restricted programmes and on student mobility.

In case of applicants who can prove that they were or still are prevented from taking part in a higher education admissions procedure according to the Bewertungsvorschläge [assessment recommendations] on account of their flight or for political reasons, admission to a Studienkolleg and the assessment procedure is possible on the basis of the secondary school leaving certificate provided the grade indicates an adequate qualification to commence studies in the home country. In these cases, the applicant should initially sit a specific entrance examination, an extended language test or complete a trial semester at the Studienkolleg or comparable institution.

Admission to higher education institutions

With the entry into force of the State Treaty of the Länder on the Establishment of a Joint Institution for Higher Education Admission (Staatsvertrag der Länder über die Errichtung einer gemeinsamen Einrichtung für Hochschulzulassung) on 1 May 2010 the Central Office for the Allocation of Study Places (Zentralstelle für die Vergabe von Studienplätzen – ZVS) became the Foundation for Higher Education Admission (Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung – SfH). The SfH is a service facility for admission to higher education institutions that can be used by the institutions of higher education and applicants alike. It supports applicants in their choice of study place and higher education institutions with the admissions procedure. The Foundation is to develop an online application portal to provide information and advice to applicants, prepare applicant data, compare multiple admissions and allocate remaining free study places, in order to simplify and speed up the applications and admissions procedure. Under the State Treaty it has the task, on the one hand, of carrying out the central allocation procedure for courses subject to nationwide quotas on admission. On the other hand, the SfH supports those higher education institutions using its services in implementing admission procedures with local admission restrictions.

In December 2018, the KMK agreed on the draft of the State Treaty on Admission to Higher Education (Staatsvertrag über die Hochschulzulassung), which also concerns the tasks of the SfH. After its entry into force – subject to ratification by the Länder – this new treaty will replace the above-mentioned State Treaty of the Länder on the Establishment of a Joint Institution for Higher Education Admission.

Study courses with nationwide quotas

In some courses, in which the total number of applicants exceeds the number of places available at all higher education institutions, there are quotas. At present, courses of study in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry and pharmacy were subject to a nationwide restriction on admissions. Places on these courses are awarded by the SfH (Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung) and higher education institutions on the basis of a central allocation procedure. The legal basis for this procedure is the State Treaty of the Länder on the Establishment of a Joint Institution for Higher Education Admission.

Up to 20 per cent of the available places are awarded beforehand (e.g. applicants who have acquired a higher education entrance qualification outside the European Union, applicants for an additional course of study, hardship cases). The criteria for the selection of applicants for the remaining places are the applicant’s degree of qualification for the chosen course of study (as a rule the applicant’s average mark in the Abitur, school-leaving examination constituting higher education entrance qualification – 20 per cent), the waiting period between acquiring the entrance qualification for the chosen course of study and applying (20 per cent) and the result of a selection procedure carried out by the institution of higher education itself (60 per cent). In their selection procedure , institutions of higher education may base their decision, alongside the degree of qualification, on additional selection criteria such as, for instance, weighted individual marks in the qualification for the chosen course of study which provide information on the applicant’s capability to study a specific subject, the result of a test to determine the applicant’s capability to study a specific subject, the type of vocational education and training or occupation, the result of a selection interview regarding the motivation for the chosen course of study, or a combination of these five criteria. In the selection decision, the degree of qualification for the course of study in question is of overriding importance. Details of the procedure and the applicable content criteria are laid down by the Länder.

In December 2018, the KMK agreed on the draft of the State Treaty on Admission to Higher Education (Staatsvertrag über die Hochschulzulassung), which reorganises the quota system for the allocation of study places in the central allocation procedure while abolishing the waiting time quota. In order to take account of the special interests of those who have been waiting for admission for a long time, the new State Treaty – subject to its coming into force – provides for the period of two years in the case of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine and with decreasing weight to take into account the time since acquisition of the relevant higher education entrance qualification (waiting period) for the chosen course of study in addition to other selection criteria in the new “additional aptitude quota”. The reason for the new regulation of the admission procedure is a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in December 2017, in which the statutory regulations on the allocation of study places in the subject of medicine at state-maintained insitutions of higher education were objected to from a constitutional point of view. The court has ordered the legislator to create new regulations by 31 December 2019 which eliminate the constitutional complaints.

Study courses with local restrictions on admissions

There are local restrictions on admission to just less than 50 per cent of all study courses. Each higher education institution decides whether to admit applicants in accordance with Land law. The higher education institutions can commission the SfH to operate a service for the relevant courses of study.

In May 2012 the Foundation for Higher Education Admission launched the so-called dialogue-oriented service procedure [Dialogorientiertes Serviceverfahren – DoSV] as a pilot operation on its online platform. The procedure speeds up the allocation of study places in courses of study with local admission restrictions in a user-friendly and transparent manner. An online platform operated by the SfH records applications from prospective students and compares them in a joint data base. The multistage procedure ensures that once an admission offer has been accepted study places at other participating higher education institutions are no longer blocked by multiple applications, and the places freed up can therefore be allocated to other students more quickly. This avoids study places remaining unfilled at the start of the semester, even though there are still applications for those places. Since the success of the system largely depends on the participation of more higher education institutions, the Länder are working to persuade all of their higher education institutions which offer courses of study with admission restrictions to participate in the so-called “dialogue-oriented service procedure”. The Länder have therefore – while respecting the autonomy of the institutions of higher education – taken a variety of measures to achieve a higher participation of the institutions of higher education in the DoSV. In some cases, the Länder stipulate an obligatory participation. This is to be achieved through a corresponding directive, goals and performance agreements or within the scope of institutional contracts.

The above-mentioned State Treaty on Admission to Higher Education makes it possible – subject to its entry into force – to use the “dialogue-oriented service procedure” as a uniform procedure both for the study programmes that are subject to the central allocation procedure and for the study programmes with local admission restrictions.

Study courses without restrictions on the number of applicants

In study courses without restrictions on the number of applicants who can be admitted, all applicants who meet the above-mentioned entrance requirements are registered at the higher education institution for the course of study of their choice without having to go through any special admission procedures. In some cases there are so-called prior notification periods at higher education institutions even for study courses without restrictions.

The above-mentioned State Treaty on Admission to Higher Education also concerns – subject to its entry into force – the role of the SfH in registration procedures for courses of study without admission restrictions.

Admission requirements to colleges of art and music

Colleges of art and music require proof of the Allgemeine Hochschulreife or the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife (higher education entrance qualification) and artistic aptitude. In most Länder, purely artistic courses, i.e. not for prospective teachers, also admit applicants without proof of higher education entrance qualification if they show unusual artistic talent.

Admission requirements to Fachhochschulen

Higher education entrance qualification

The prerequisite for admission to a Fachhochschule is either the Allgemeine Hochschulreife (general higher education entrance qualification) or Fachgebundene Hochschulreife (higher education entrance qualification restricted to a specified field of study) on the one hand or the Fachhochschulreife on the other, which as a rule is acquired after twelve ascending grades at a Fachoberschule. However, the Fachhochschulreife can also be obtained by taking additional classes at vocational schools, e.g. Berufsfachschulen and Fachschulen. In addition, previous related practical experience is required for admission to certain courses of study.

In certain subjects (e.g. design) proof of artistic ability is required in addition to a higher education entrance qualification.

Admission to higher education institutions

Many Fachhochschulen restrict the number of students admitted to individual subjects locally due to capacity constraints. As a rule, the Fachhochschule decides on the allocation of study places on the basis of the average mark and waiting time, the result of a test to determine the applicant’s capability to study a specific subject or the result of a selection interview, the vocational education and training or employment of an applicant, or weighted individual marks in the higher education entrance qualification, which provide specific information on the applicant’s capability to study a specific subject. The Fachhochschulen can commission the SfH to implement a service procedure for the corresponding study courses.

Admission requirements to establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

Applicants for courses at the Berufsakademien require a Hochschulreife or a Fachhochschulreife (general or subject-restricted higher education entrance qualification), depending on the regulations in force in the particular Land, and a training contract with a suitable training establishment. Depending on the Land legislation, applicants with professional qualifications but without the higher education entrance qualification can take an entrance examination or the regulations governing admission to higher education institutions for employed persons will apply. Once the training contract has been concluded, applicants are registered at the study institution by the company responsible for training them.

Admission requirements for the Fachschule vary, depending on the department. Admission to a Fachschule for agricultural economy, design, technology and business generally requires

  • either a qualification in a recognised occupation requiring formal training that is relevant to the objective of the respective discipline and at least one year’s experience in a relevant occupation, as well as, if necessary, a qualification from the Berufsschule
  • or a qualification from the Berufsschule or equivalent qualifications and at least five years’ experience in a relevant occupation.

Admission requirements for a Fachschule for social professions are generally the Mittlerer Schulabschluss and successful completion of relevant vocational training.

Curriculum

Curriculum at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education

The structure and contents of the courses of studies are specified in module descriptions, Studienordnungen (study regulations) or Studienplänen (study plans) and Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations). Module manuals or module catalogues describe the individual modules in terms of student workload and the number of credit points awarded. The description of a module contains at least the following information:

  • content and qualification objectives of the module
  • teaching forms
  • prerequisites for attendance
  • applicability of the module
  • prerequisites for the award of credit points
  • credit points and marks
  • frequency at which modules are offered
  • student workload
  • duration of the modules.

As a rule, the study regulations list the individual modules – including the credits to be awarded – required for successful completion of a course of study, and show which subjects are compulsory, elective and optional. Study regulations and module descriptions furnish guidance to the students, on the one hand, while serving as the basis for the planning of the curriculum in each department, on the other.

The Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations), on the other hand, specify the Regelstudienzeit (standard period of study), requirements for entry to examinations, crediting of specific courses and examinations taken, time allowed for completion of a dissertation, examination standards, procedures and examination subjects. The study and examination regulations are often summarised in one charter.

Accreditation of study courses

The aim of the accreditation of Bachelor’s and Master’s courses of study (programme accreditation) is to guarantee standards in terms of subject and content, compliance with structural guidelines and examination of the professional relevance of the qualifications through a formalised and objectively verifiable procedure. Accreditation can also be carried out in the form of system accreditation, the focus of which is the internal quality assurance system of a higher education institution. A positive system accreditation certifies that the higher education institution’s quality assurance system in the field of study and teaching is sufficient to guarantee the achievement of the qualifications objectives and the quality standards of the study courses. The procedure was newly regulated in December 2016 with the State Treaty on the Accreditation of Studies (Studienakkreditierungsstaatsvertrag), which came into force at the beginning of 2018. Accordingly, institutes of higher education use one of the agencies registered with the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) and accredited by an independent Accreditation Council acting on behalf of all Länder. The decision on accreditation is taken by the Accreditation Council on the basis of the provisions of the State Treaty, the relevant Land ordinances and the agency’s report.

The structural guidelines valid for all Länder adopted by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in October 2003 form the basis for the accreditation. These serve as a framework for the planning and conception of study courses. The structural guidelines of October 2003, most recently amended in February 2010, refer, amongst others, to the structure and length of study. They stipulate that Bachelor’s study courses, as study courses which lead to a first degree qualifying for entry into a profession, must provide the academic foundation, methodological skills and qualifications related to the professional field corresponding to the profile of the higher education institution and the study course, and generally ensure a broad academic qualification. Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses are provided with a credit point system which is based upon the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).

Foreign language teaching

To do justice to the importance of foreign language teaching in higher education, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in 1991 issued directives on attainment of a technical language certificate (‘Richtlinien für den Erwerb eines Zertifikats “Fachsprache”‘). Foreign language training is optional; as a rule, this certificate can be obtained after four semesters’ training for a total of 12 to 16 hours of attendance per week during a semester (a workload of 170 to 200 hours in total) and after a final examination. German universities traditionally offer a wide range of foreign language courses, both general and technical in orientation. Classes are given in many European and non-European languages.

Curriculum at colleges of art and music

The observations on regulations governing studies and examinations at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education essentially apply to colleges of art and music as well.

Accreditation of study courses

The structural guidelines for all Länder and the specifications for programme and system accreditation passed by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs also apply to colleges of art and music, with a few specific special regulations.

The Education Ministers of the individual Länder decide whether to include the liberal arts study courses in cooperation with the particular higher education institution. For arts Bachelor courses at colleges of art and music the structural guidelines valid for all Länder provide for the promotion and development of artistic abilities, the teaching of basic scientific principles as well as methodical and professional skills.

Curriculum at Fachhochschulen

The observations on regulations governing studies and examinations at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education essentially apply to Fachhochschulen as well.

Accreditation of study courses

The structural guidelines for all Länder and the specifications for programme and system accreditation passed by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs also apply to Fachhochschulen.

Foreign Language Teaching

Against the background of growing internationalisation, the teaching of foreign languages is becoming increasingly important. Numerous courses of studies at Fachhochschulen include foreign language classes either as a compulsory subject or an elective within the framework of general education subjects. Furthermore, many Fachhochschulen offer optional foreign language courses for students in all departments. The observations on the acquisition of the technical language certificate at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education apply to Fachhochschulen as well.

Dual Study-Courses

Study courses at Fachhochschulen are highly application-oriented and of great practical relevance. Against this background, particularly Fachhochschulen, especially in the fields of engineering and business administration, also offer so-called dual courses of study (duale Studiengänge) in the form of study courses which integrate vocational training, work and practical placements. To this end the higher education institutions conclude cooperation agreements with companies which provide training or traineeships. The study courses which integrate vocational training link the study course with in-company training. The periods of study and work experience are distributed according to various models (sandwich or consecutive model) and subject to the Studienordnung (study regulations) or module description. Study courses at Fachhochschulen which integrate vocational training lead to two qualifications for entry into a profession: graduates are awarded the Bachelor’s degree (in rare cases still the Diplomgrad, to which the word Fachhochschule is added), and, at the same time, they obtain the vocational training leaving certificate. In study courses which integrate practical placements, the students do more practical placements on a bigger scale, in addition to the practical semesters required in study courses at a Fachhochschule. Vocational integration study programmes combine the course of studies with a related professional activity.

In addition, Fachhochschulen in particular organise study courses that accompany training, work or professional practice that allow a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree to be completed alongside a professional activity with no structural or content-related interlocking.

A characteristic feature of duale Hochschulen is that they combine practical training in the company with higher education studies by offering practice-integrating courses of study. There is close cooperation with in-company training centres. The Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) was founded in 2009 and continues the dual model of the former Berufsakademie Baden-Württemberg, which was successful for over 40 years. The organisational structure of the DHBW, which is based on the US American state university system with a central and local level, is also unique in Germany. In Thüringen, the former State Academy of Studies (Staatliche Studienakademie) with its two Berufsakademien was converted into the Gera-Eisenach Cooperative State University in 2016. This gave the establishment the legal status of an institution of higher education.

Curriculum at establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

The students at the BERUFSAKADEMIEN complete parallel training with a company in trade and industry, with comparable establishments in other sectors – particularly in the case of the liberal professions – or at institutions maintained by social services. During the training, periods of study at the study institution (Studienakademie) alternate with periods of on-the-job training in the training establishments. Training is given on the basis of two kinds of study and training plans. Firstly, these are drawn up by the Berufsakademien together with participating companies and social services, and adopted by the ministries responsible in the form of ordinances. Secondly, these are also according to Ausbildungsordnungen (training regulations) and Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations) of the Berufsakademien in accordance with general regulations of the responsible ministries.

Bachelor’s training courses at Berufsakademien should be accredited. With the fulfilment of certain requirements, Bachelor’s degrees obtained at Berufsakademien are thus equivalent to Bachelor’s degrees obtained at institutions of higher education and thus provide access to Master’s study courses. The requirements for the Berufsakademien apply in particular to teaching staff and to the scope of both theoretical and practical training components.

The requirements for admission to continuing vocational training courses and upgrading training at FACHSCHULEN are appropriate vocational training in conjunction with the relevant vocational experience. The compulsory component in the two-year Fachschulen comprises the multi-disciplinary and subject-specific areas in the five subject areas, as well as a practical in youth and community work or in healthcare support for the social services area. Instruction in the multi-disciplinary area serves primarily the acquisition of extended general knowledge, skills and competences. Instruction in the subject-specific areas serves the acquisition of extended vocational knowledge, skills and competences in one of the five subject areas.

Teaching Methods

Teaching methods at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education

Classes take the form of lectures, seminars, practical exercises, work placements and study trips. The main function of the lectures is to impart general and basic knowledge about the various fields of study. The seminars afford an opportunity to deal in depth with a more narrowly defined topic. Practical exercises and practicals, meanwhile, provide the opportunity to develop the theoretical knowledge gained in a practical manner. The Federation and Länder are promoting the use of digital media (multimedia and teleteaching) in the teaching offered which is continuously expanded.

The classes are normally designed for students of a specific degree course and at a particular stage in their studies. However, interdisciplinary classes have been gaining in significance, especially in the more advanced stages. So-called Graduiertenkollegs (providing university graduate training programmes) for the promotion of young scholars, for instance, are also frequently organised along interdisciplinary lines.

Teaching methods at colleges of art and music

One distinctive feature of studying at a college of art or music is that artistic instruction is given one on one or in small groups closely supervised by a member of the teaching staff.

Teaching methods at Fachhochschulen

Particular characteristics of courses of study at Fachhochschulen include practice-oriented training and a variety of teaching forms including lectures, seminars, practical exercises, work placements and study trips in small groups. The seminars afford an opportunity to deal in depth with a more narrowly defined topic, whilst practical classes and work placements enable the theoretical knowledge to be consolidated in a practical context. A further special feature of courses of studies at Fachhochschulen is the integration into the course of one or two Praxissemester (semesters of work experience). The Fachhochschule lays down the rules for and content of these training periods, supervises them and provides parallel classes. They are spent in a company or in another place of work for a duration of at least 20 weeks.

The principle of teaching small groups creates close contacts between teaching staff and students and enables students to interact in the class. 

Teaching methods at establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

A characteristic feature of training at a Berufsakademie is the division of each semester into on-the-job training and a theoretical part of the course at the study institution that lasts between ten and 12 weeks. During the theoretical part of the course, as a rule, students are taught in small groups. In addition to lectures and seminars, active teaching methods like role play, experimental games or case studies are applied.

Progression of Students

Progression of students at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education, colleges of art and music and Fachhochschulen

Students at universities and higher education institutions are not classified in terms of year groups, but rather according to the courses or modules required for the successful completion of the course of study. If a student fails in a module, he or she must repeat that module only, without falling a semester behind his or her fellow students. In practice, however, failing courses usually prolongs a student’s stay at university. Studienordnungen (study regulations) and Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations) lay down the requirements for admission to a certain stage of studies or a particular module. Module examinations can be repeated at least once, in some cases several times.

It is generally possible to change one’s course of study even in later semesters. If it is a course of study with nationwide restrictions on admission, the proviso is that the student in question obtains a study place for the subject of his choice. Previous periods of study and the courses and examinations that have been passed in another study course are to be recognised if there are no significant differences between the competences to be acquired and those demonstrated. Higher education institutions must give reasons for decisions rejecting such applications.

Progression of students at establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

For admission to the final examination at BERUFSAKADEMIEN it is required, as a rule, that students submit the certificates they have obtained throughout their studies, and that they have undergone practical training in the training establishment in accordance with the training plan. The final examination may be retaken once or twice, failed attempts at the dissertation may be repeated only once. The regulations of the Länder or the Berufsakademien apply for the retake of the examination and the dissertation.

The information given in the section on assessment at vocational upper secondary level essentially applies for progression at FACHSCHULEN.

Employability

Measures to facilitate the transition from university to working life

The universities’ student counselling offices and the employment agencies’ career guidance services furnish information and guidance to help graduates move from higher education into the professional world. Higher education institutions are also increasingly setting up so-called Career Centres which combine student counselling and the teaching of professionally-relevant key qualifications. Their prospects on the employment market may be improved by specialising in appropriate fields of study and enrolling in appropriate weiterführende Studiengänge (further study, supplementary and follow-up courses). Work placements afford an opportunity to gain an insight into the working world and establish contact with prospective employers. Proof of work experience (for four to six months, in some cases up to a year) acquired before or while studying is demanded in a number of fields, especially in natural and engineering sciences. To improve the employment prospects of arts and social science graduates, some higher education institutions have set up programmes in collaboration with employment agencies to place them in industry and equip them with key skills (e.g. a grounding in computing, elementary business skills).

The connections between higher education institutions and their former students (Alumni) can also facilitate the entry of their graduates into professional life.

Many institutions of higher education offer measures designed to prepare for self-employment and to encourage students to set up their own businesses.

Measures to facilitate the transition from colleges of art and music to working life

Many of those who complete artistic studies have difficulty finding suitable employment or earning an adequate livelihood from their own artistic endeavours. To improve their prospects, subjects have therefore been added to the curricula that qualify them for practical work (educational sciences/didactics, management in the cultural sector). The transition to working life can be eased by a suitable choice of courses and extra qualifications.

Measures to facilitate the transition from Fachhochschulen to working life

Student counselling offices at Fachhochschulen and the career guidance services of the employment agencies furnish information and guidance to help graduates move from higher education into the professional world. Their prospects on the employment market may be improved by specialising in appropriate fields of study.

The declared aim of a Fachhochschule education is that it should be closely related to professional practice. This purpose is served chiefly by incorporating one or two Praxissemester (semesters of work experience) into the course of study. In many cases the topics of Diplomarbeiten or Bachelorarbeiten (dissertations) derive from problems that students have encountered in the practical semesters. In some cases, they are prepared in collaboration with industry and trade. In this way, students can gain an insight into the working world and establish contact with prospective employers before graduating. The offices for practical training (Praktikantenämter) at the institutions of higher education and the careers advice service of the employment agencies provide help finding placements. In addition, it is also possible to look for placements in Internet marketplaces for practical training (Praktikantenbörsen).

In dual study courses or at duale Hochschulen vocational training or a vocational traineeship is already integrated into the study and is carried out in cooperation with suitable companies.

Fachhochschulen can also facilitate the entry of their graduates into professional life through connections with their former students (Alumni).

Measures to facilitate the transition from Berufsakademien to working life

Thanks to the combination of theoretical and practical training, graduates of the professional training courses based on a dual system offered by the Berufsakademien are prepared for working life during their actual studies. It is often the case that students are even taken on after obtaining their qualification for entry into a profession at the Berufsakademie by the very company that trained them.

Student Assessment

Student assessment at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education

Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses are subject to quality assurance through accreditation. For the accreditation of a study course, it is to be established that the course is modularised; the examinations are in general performed as an accompaniment to studies. In addition, the study courses are provided with a credit point system. The credit points are related to instruction as such, as well as to the time needed to prepare and go over the taught subject-matter, preparation for examinations and the examinations themselves and, if applicable, to internships. For a Bachelor’s degree, no less than 180 ECTS points must be submitted. A written dissertation (Bachelor’s thesis/ Master’s thesis) is obligatory for both Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses. Students are to demonstrate the ability to independently address a problem from their subject within a specified period of time using academic methods. The scope of the work for the Bachelor’s dissertation comprises a minimum of 6 ECTS credits and must not exceed 12 ECTS credits.

The Prüfungsordnungen (examination regulations) prescribe the objectives of and subject-matter on the examinations, the required standards and the examining procedures for each study course. In modularised courses of study, the individual modules are to be determined, inter alia, with regard to course contents and objectives, the workload, the credit points to be awarded and the examination requirements.

Credit points and grades must be shown separately. Alongside the grade based on the German grading scale from 1 to 5, in the final grade a relative grade is also to be shown.

Student assessment at colleges of art and music

Certificates are issued for classes successfully completed at art colleges, too. In addition to written and oral examinations, it is above all artistic abilities that are tested.

For consecutive Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses with a total standard study period of six years in one of the core arts subjects a Master’s degree requires 360 ECTS points in principle including the previous course of study.

Student assessment at Fachhochschulen

For student assessment in Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses at Fachhochschulen, the observations on student assessment at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education apply.

Student assessment at establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

Bachelor’s and Master’s training courses are subject to quality assurance through accreditation. For the accreditation of a training course, it is to be established that the course is modularised and provided with a credit point system; the examinations are in general performed as an accompaniment to studies. The general information on assessment of performance in Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses at universities and equivalent higher education instructions also apply to Bachelor’s degree courses at Berufsakademien (professional academies). In the theoretical section of the training course, intermediate examinations consist amongst others of written examinations, seminar papers, oral examinations, presentations and scientific papers. In practical professional training, intermediate examinations for the most part consist of project papers.

Certification

Certification at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education

With regard to higher education degrees, a distinction is drawn between academic, state and ecclesiastical examinations. As a rule, a higher education qualification for a profession is conferred on the basis of these examinations.

Institutions of higher education are authorised by law to administer Hochschulprüfungen (academic examinations). The Bachelor examination is an academic examination on the basis of which the Bachelor’s degree is conferred.

Bachelor’s study courses lay academic foundations, provide methodological skills and lead to qualifications related to the professional field corresponding to the profile of the higher education institution and the study course. The Bachelor’s degree provides the same rights as Diplom qualifications obtained at a Fachhochschule.

The following designations are used for Bachelor’s degrees at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education:

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.)
  • Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)
  • Bachelor of Education (B. Ed.)

A Magister degree is awarded in full theology, non-graduated courses of study with a standard period of study of five years.

Universities and equivalent institutions of higher education add a diploma supplement to the leaving certificate, that describes, usually in English, the progress of the studies and the performance of the graduate.

On the basis of agreements with a foreign institution of higher education, some universities also award a foreign degree (double degree) or a joint degree in addition to the German degree.

Certification at colleges of art and music

The artistic qualification awarded on completion of a first degree course of study is the Bachelor or the Diplom. In December 2004, as part of the structural requirements that are binding for all Länder, the Standing Conference passed a resolution for the accreditation of Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses at colleges of art and music. The following designations are used for Bachelor’s degrees at colleges of art and music:

•    Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
•    Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
•    Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.)

Apart from artistic training, colleges of art and music also provide courses of teacher training, which entitle students to teach art or music at schools after passing their Staatsprüfung (state examination) or acquiring a Master’s degree and undergoing Vorbereitungsdienst (preparatory service). In 2003 and 2004, the Standing Conference adopted general guidelines for training in the subjects art and music for all teaching careers. Information on teacher training courses conveying the educational prerequisites for teaching positions are available in the section on initial teacher education in the school sector.

The number of Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses at Kunsthochschulen and Musikhochschulen (colleges of art and music) has rapidly increased over the past few years. Just less than 82.1 per cent of all study courses on offer at German colleges of art and music are Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses.

Certification at Fachhochschulen

Fachhochschulen award the Bachelor’s degree and the Master’s degree as a final qualification at the end of the degree course; the Diplomgrad is also still awarded at present to a lesser extent. On the basis of agreements with a foreign institution of higher education, some Fachhochschulen, confer a foreign degree (double degree) or a joint degree in addition to the German Diplom.

Bachelor’s study courses lay academic foundations, provide methodological skills and lead to qualifications related to the professional field corresponding to the profile of the higher education institution and the study course and lead to the Bachelor’s degree. The Bachelor’s degree generally provides the same rights as Diplom qualifications acquired at a Fachhochschule.

The following Bachelor’s degrees can be obtained at Fachhochschulen:

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.)
  • Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.)

The Fachhochschulen add a diploma supplement to the leaving certificate of the Diplom and Magister study courses, as well as to the Bachelor/Master study courses, that describes, usually in English, the study course, the progress of the studies and the performance of the graduate. 

Certification at establishments outside the higher education system – Berufsakademien, Fachschulen

Berufsakademien

In October 2004, the Standing Conference has passed criteria for the accreditation of Bachelor’s training courses at Berufsakademien. The state-recognised Bachelor’s degrees obtained after the completion of training courses which have been accredited on this basis are equivalent to Bachelor’s degrees obtained at institutions of higher education. The academic equivalence of the Bachelor’s degrees is linked to their equivalence with regard to the right to practise certain professions. However, the designation does not refer to a higher education degree but to a state-recognised degree.

Fachschulen

Depending on the discipline, successful completion of the two-year Fachschule entitles graduates to use the occupational titles state-certified agricultural economist (Staatlich geprüfter Agrarbetriebswirt), state-certified technician (Staatlich geprüfter Techniker), state-certified business economist (Staatlich geprüfter Betriebswirt) or, in the field of home economics, state-certified home economics manager (Staatlich geprüfter hauswirtschaftlicher Betriebsleiter),  and state-certified designer (Staatlich geprüfter Gestalter), as well as other occupational titles in the social professions, e.g. state-recognised youth or child-care workers (Staatlich anerkannter Erzieher). It is also possible to obtain the Fachhochschulreife at the Fachschule.

Second Cycle Programmes

Branches of Study

For a detailed discussion of the branches of study offered at institutions of the tertiary sector, the information provided in the section on Bachelor’s courses of study applies.

The standard period of study for Master’s study courses can be two, three or four semesters.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirement for a Master’s study course is, as a rule, a higher education degree qualifying for entry into a profession. Under Land higher education laws, in clearly defined exceptional cases for Master’s study courses providing further education and for artistic Master’s study courses, an entrance examination may take the place of the requirement for a higher education degree qualifying for a profession. For quality assurance purposes or on grounds of capacity, additional admission requirements may be laid down for Master’s study courses. Admission requirements are subject to accreditation. The Länder may reserve the right to approve admission requirements.

For admission to artistic Master’s study courses, the special artistic aptitude required for this must be demonstrated in addition to the Bachelor’s qualification. This can also be done by a special aptitude examination.

For admission to Master’s study courses providing further education, also evidence of qualified employment is required for a period of not less than one year as a rule.

Curriculum

The ‘Common structural guidelines of the Länder for the accreditation of Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses” (‘Ländergemeinsame Strukturvorgaben für die Akkreditierung von Bachelor- und Masterstudiengängen‘) distinguish between research-oriented Master’s study courses and practice-oriented ones as well as consecutive Master’s study courses and Master’s study courses providing further education. Master’s study courses providing further education should take professional experience into account and build on it.

Master’s degree courses at colleges of art and music should have a special artistic profile which must be laid down in the accreditation and set out in the Diploma Supplement. More detailed information on the Diploma Supplement is provided in the section on Bachelor’s courses of study.

Student assessment

A Master’s degree requires 300 ECTS points, including the preceding course of study for the first qualification for entry into a profession. This requirement can be waived in special cases where students can demonstrate that they are suitably qualified.

The scope of the work for the Master’s dissertation should range from 15–30 ECTS credits.

For consecutive Bachelor’s and Master’s study courses with a total standard study period of six years in one of the core arts subjects a Master’s degree requires 360 ECTS points in principle including the previous course of study.

Credit points and grades must be shown separately. Alongside the grade based on the German grading scale from 1 to 5, in the final grade a relative grade is also to be shown.

Certification

In designating consecutive Master’s degrees, no distinction is made between the profile types “practice-oriented” and “research-oriented”. The Master’s degree provides the same rights as Diplom and Magister qualifications of universities and equivalent higher education institutions.

The following designations are used for Master’s degrees in consecutive Master’s study courses at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc.)
  • Master of Engineering (M.Eng.)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)

The following designations are used for Master’s degrees in consecutive Master’s study courses at colleges of art and music:

  • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Music (M.Mus.)

In the courses of study at art and music colleges, which provide the educational prerequisites for a teaching position, a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in music or fine arts is awarded.

The following designations are used for Master’s degrees in consecutive Master’s study courses at Fachhochschulen:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Science (M.Sc.)
  • Master of Engineering (M.Eng.)
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)

Bachelor’s degrees generally confer the same rights as Diplom degrees at Fachhochschulen, Master’s degrees confer the same rights as Diplom and Magister degrees at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education.

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Particularly well-qualified students may also choose to complete a doctorate. The disciplines in which it is possible to obtain a doctorate at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education are listed on the internet.

The PhD proves the ability to carry out more in-depth, independent academic or scientific work. It embodies a separate research achievement and is not seen as a third phase of the course of studies in Germany. The goal of the PhD phase is to qualify for an activity in research and science, though also for leadership tasks in the scientific society.

The paths to a doctorate in Germany are varied. The leading model in Germany is the individual, supervised doctorate. Structured doctoral programmes are also becoming increasingly important. Doctoral studies are, as a rule, completed at universities or equivalent institutions of higher education, to some extent in cooperation with non-university research institutes and Fachhochschulen. The acquisition of a doctorate at a Fachhochschule is only possible in exceptional cases. There are currently just less than 111,000 doctoral students enrolled at the institutions of higher education. The total number of doctoral students in Germany is estimated at being just less than 200,000. Over 28,000 obtained their doctorate in 2016.

Organisation of Doctoral Studies

In order to support the up-and-coming academics, Graduiertenkollegs, financed by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG), have been set up at institutions of higher education since 1990 to provide students with the opportunity to prepare their doctorate within the framework of a systematic programme. In 2017 there were 241 Graduiertenkollegs in Germany. Since 1998, there has been a larger number of other structured forms of training for doctoral students. These include international doctoral programmes, International Max-Planck Research Schools and Graduate Schools.

Admission Requirements

Admittance to doctoral studies is regulated in the Higher Education Acts of the Länder and in the doctoral regulations (Promotionsordnungen) of the higher education institutions with the right to award a Doktorgrad. Master’s degrees obtained at universities and equivalent higher education institutions, or at Fachhochschulen, always provide entitlement to doctoral studies.  A pass in the Erste Staatsprüfung (First State Examination) also provides entitlement to doctoral studies.

Particularly well-qualified holders of a Bachelor’s degree may also be admitted directly to doctoral studies without first acquiring a further degree by means of a procedure to determine aptitude. Higher education institutions with the right to award a Doktorgrad will regulate admission as well as the organisation of the procedure to determine aptitude  in their doctoral regulations. In addition to their respective qualification, students are required to complete preparatory academic studies in the subjects to be studied at doctorate level and/or a supplementary period of study at the university in question or have to sit an aptitude test (Promotionseignungsprüfung).

Master’s degrees obtained at colleges of art and music entitle graduates to embark on doctoral studies if the Master’s study course provided a sufficient qualification.

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates

Some doctoral students are employed, while others are funded by grants or finance their own doctoral studies. Grants and funding programmes are provided by the Federation, Länder, research and funding organisations, organisations for the promotion of young talent and political foundations. The rate of funding varies.

Assessment

A doctorate is conferred on the strength of a doctoral thesis, which must be based on independent research, and oral examinations called Rigorosum. Oral examinations may be replaced by a defence of the student’s thesis (Disputation) or a comparable achievement. A doctoral thesis need not be written within any prescribed length of time.

Certification

The doctorate entitles a graduate to bear the Doktorgrad (title of Doktor).

Mobility in Higher Education

Student mobility

Globalisation, the fact that Europe is growing closer together and the formation of a European Higher Education Areaopens up new horizons for graduates. Good knowledge of foreign languages and personal experience of both the economic and social conditions and the culture and mentality of other countries are nowadays regarded as basic requirements for graduates in many sectors of the labour market. It is this trend that has prompted the development of EU programmes to promote cooperation in higher education and student mobility and also the national, regional and bilateral initiatives that provide incentives for study/placements abroad and fund and develop new courses of study. National initiatives include, amongst other examples, the increased promotion of study abroad and in particular of a full course of study in another EU country or in Switzerland as part of the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz – BAföG) and likewise special support programmes implemented by some Länder.

In April 2013 the Federation and the Länder adopted a joint Strategy of the Federal and Länder Ministers of Science for the Internationalisation of Institutions of Higher Education in Germany (Strategie der Wissenschaftsminister/innen von Bund und Ländern für die Internationalisierung der Hochschulen in Deutschland). This develops joint objectives for areas of action relating to internationalisation. The paper is based on the main idea that internationalisation is a central element for the development of an institutional profile for German institutions of higher education. The Federation and Länder want to support this process and have agreed on joint objectives and approaches in nine fields of action:

  • Strategic internationalisation
  • Improving the legal framework
  • Establishing a welcoming culture
  • Establishing an international campus
  • Increasing the international mobility of students
  • Improving the international appeal of Germany as a higher education location
  • Attracting excellent junior scientists from abroad
  • Extending international research collaborations
  • Establishing offers for transnational university education

The internationalisation goals are to be realised by the Länder and the Federation at their own responsibility within the scope of the constitutional responsibilities and respecting the autonomy of the institutions of higher education.

Through placements abroad during courses of study, prospective academics can acquire additional competences and develop personally. International experiences are moreover becoming increasingly important on the labour market and in science. The Federation and the Länder therefore seek to ensure that one in two higher education graduates has gained study-related experience abroad and at least one in three can provide evidence of a period of study abroad lasting at least three months or equivalent to 15 ECTS.

Mobility is already well developed even now. In total in the 2017/2018 winter semester 374,583 international students studied at German higher education institutions. At the same time more and more German students are studying abroad with the aim of obtaining a higher education qualification: in 2016 in total around 144,900 German students were enrolled at higher education institutions abroad. Compared to the total number of German students studying in Germany, the share of German students abroad rose from 2 per cent in 1991 to 5.5 per cent in 2016.

The main host countries for German students wishing to obtain their degree abroad are Austria, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, China and France. These seven states accounted for 72.4 per cent of German students abroad. The member states of the European Union accounted for more than two thirds (68.4 per cent) of German students abroad, while a further 14.0 per cent went to other European countries. A total of 82.4 per cent of German students abroad therefore remained in Europe. 8.6 per cent of German students abroad opted for the Americas, 6.9 per cent for Asia, 1.5 per cent for Australia and Oceania and 0.6 per cent for Africa.

In Germany, the task of promoting relations between higher education institutions and foreign countries through the exchange of students and academics is the responsibility of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD), a self-governing organisation of German higher education institutions. The programmes of the DAAD to promote internationalisation at German higher education institutions aim at creating the organisational and financial framework for studies/a placement abroad, international cooperation and the establishment of strategic partnerships between higher education institutions as well as further development of courses of study and higher education qualifications. Furthermore, the measures already carried out shall be incorporated into a strategy for internationalisation involving the entire institution of higher education.

The internationalisation of higher education institutions is regarded as a complex process which links the interests of students and academics, the higher education institutions, the aims of foreign cultural and education policy, national science policy, development cooperation, and the requirements of all international partners.

At the start of 2013 the DAAD presented its “2020 Strategy”. This covers the three strategic fields of activity “Scholarships for the Best”, “Structures for Internationalisation” and “Ex-pertise for Academic Collaboration”.

Scholarships for the Best – Providing scholarships remains the DAAD’s “core business”. In 2018 alone it was able to support just less than 25,600 German and international students, doctoral candidates and researchers with scholarships and individual programmes.

Structures for internationalisation – The second action area focuses on creating and maintaining the structures that make academic exchange and mobility possible. This includes international degree programmes, and the PROMOS programme to enhance the mobility of German students, which finances short stays for German students abroad. As part of the programme launched in 2010 with funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF), in 2018 13,095 scholarships were awarded by 306 higher education institutions. In order to meet the specific requirements of Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften, the BMBF has launched a specific programme for the internationalisation of Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften via the DAAD. Initiation and preparation measures, the development of model and cooperation projects with international partners as well as individual scholarships for students, lecturers and researchers are awarded.

Expertise for academic collaborations – In the future, the DAAD will apply its compe-tences and expertise even more to providing information and advisory services to institutions of higher education and other academic exchange stakeholders, both in Germany and abroad. With its decades of experience in programme work and its unique worldwide network of 15 regional offices and 57 Information Centres, the DAAD brings tremendous knowledge of higher education systems and national science systems around the world.

Within the scope of Erasmus+ (2014–2020), DAAD also acts as a National Agency on behalf of the BMBF and is therefore responsible for the implementation of Erasmus+ in the higher education sector. As part of this mobility programme, the international mobility of students (courses of study and practical placements) is supported inter alia. The prerequisite for funding is cross-border higher education agreements and the undertaking to guarantee the full recognition of the credits obtained abroad by the university of origin. Moreover, the participating institutions of higher education must possess a valid Erasmus Charta for Higher Education. Between the beginning of June 2016 and the end of May 2018 a total of 32,138 students from Germany were given funding for a period of study abroad, and 8,491 students for a work placement abroad. More information can be found on the Internet.

Grants for periods of study abroad are also provided under the Federal Training Assistance Act. Students are able to receive assistance under the Federal Training Assistance Act for a full course of study in a member state of the European Union. Furthermore, financial assistance is provided for practical training and studies of limited duration inside and outside of Europe.

Alongside these funding opportunities at national level, in some Länder there are Land-level programmes to support international student mobility.

Academic Staff Mobility

In foreign educational and cultural policy, special importance is attached to exchange measures in the sector of research and higher education institutions. The exchange of individuals takes place under grant programmes for lecturers and other higher education staff which are predominantly organised by the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation. Evaluation of international exchange programmes is generally performed by independent agencies or experts.

In 2017, around 47,500 foreign scientists will be employed at German institutions of higher education, including around 3,200 professors. Since 2007, the number of foreign academic staff has risen by 91 per cent, and by 5 per cent since 2016. At 36 per cent, the largest group of foreign academic staff comes from Western Europe. In second and third place among the regions of origin are Asia and the Pacific region (18%) and Central and South Eastern Europe (14%). The most important countries of origin are Italy, China, Austria and India. Of the foreign professors, 67% come from Western Europe alone. Foreign academics make up 12 per cent of the total academic staff.

Just less than 11,800 scientists of foreign nationality were involved in research at the four biggest extramural research organisations in Germany (Max Planck Society, Helmholtz Asso-ciation, Leibniz Association, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft) in 2017. They make up 25 percent of all scientists at these four institutions. Compared to the previous year, their number has risen by 12 percent. At 40 percent, the Helmholtz Association employs the majority of them. In addition, there are guest academics/scientists who are supported by the DAAD, the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG) or the Alexander von Hum-boldt Foundation (around 33,000 in 2017) and more than 2,700 Erasmus guest lecturers who teach in Germany.

The data situation on German scientists employed abroad is currently still incomplete. Only a few countries are currently in a position to record the number of foreign scientists working at their institutions of higher education according to their countries of origin. The Austrian institutions of higher education (44%) have by far the highest proportion of German scientists and scholars among all foreign academic staff. In Switzerland this figure is 30 per cent, in the Netherlands 15 per cent and in Great Britain 9 per cent.

Switzerland is also the country with the highest number of German professors. 1,279 German professors taught and researched at Swiss institutions of higher education in 2017. It was followed by Great Britain with 820 and Austria with 787 German professors. The proportion of German professors is again highest in Austria: Almost three quarters of all foreign professors have German citizenship (72%).

In 2017, around 14,700 stays by German guest researchers abroad were funded by domestic and foreign organisations. 80 percent of them were supported by the DAAD, 6 percent by the DFG, 10 percent by other German funding organisations and 4 percent by foreign funding organisations. 64 percent of the funded stays were carried out by postdoctoral researchers, including professors and experienced researchers, and 34 percent by postgraduates. The USA is the most important host country for funded stays by German scientists. This is where 16 percent of all stays were completed. Other important host countries are Great Britain, Russia, Japan, China and France.

The most important host regions are Western Europe (26%), Asia and the Pacific, and North America (19% each). In addition, 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively, of the funded German guest researchers are located in Central and South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Postgraduates spend a relatively high proportion of their time abroad in Western Europe (37%) and North America (23%). Postgraduate researchers, on the other hand, are somewhat more likely to spend time teaching and research in Asia and the Pacific (19%), Central and South-Eastern Europe (14%) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (13%). In 2017, a total of around 3,200 guest lecturers from Germany spent time abroad as part of the Erasmus+ programme. Compared to the previous year, their number has risen by 8 per cent.

Within the framework of the European Union Erasmus+ programme the DAAD, as the National Agency for higher education cooperation within the EU, also promotes the outward mobility of lecturers and other higher education staff. Between the beginning of June 2016 and the end of May 2018 a total of 5,960 study periods abroad were funded for teaching and continuing education purposes. More information may be found on the internet.

Statistics on the international mobility of scientists and researchers may be found in the publication Wissenschaft weltoffen.

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European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

The EHEO general plan stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected.
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders.

Thus, EHEO plans:

  • improve academic and scientific interaction of universities;
  • protect the interests of universities;
  • interact more closely with public authorities of European countries;
  • popularize European higher education in the world;
  • develop academic mobility;
  • seek funding for European universities.