With its ‘dual education system,’ resting on the principle of ‘unity of learning and research,’ and the emphasis on apprenticeship, the German higher education system has played an important role in shaping an economic environment wherein individual and collective responsibility, practicality and innovation are the drivers of change and progress.
The German Higher Education System
Although the ongoing reforms stemming from the ‘Bologna Declaration’ – aimed primarily at establishing internationally accepted degrees, enhancing the quality of study courses, and increasing employability – are in the process of doing away with stark contrasts that have existed between education systems of the European countries that have adopted it, certain distinctive features of individual systems are bound to remain in place. The German Federal Government, federal states, and higher education institutions are, within the ‘Bologna Process’ context, undertaking the largest higher education reform in decades; there’s a lot to the German higher education system however, that is time-proven to produce excellent results and should stay in place.
The German higher education system is widely regarded as being one of the best in the world; it is fairly diverse, with a variety of institutions that cover a wide range of academic profiles and confer different types of degrees.
As a general rule, German universities are recognized and held in high esteem worldwide – they perform very well in the international university rankings (usually right below the most prestigious American and British universities). One reason why German universities under-perform in rankings, relative to some of their famous American and British counterparts, may be the fact that some of the most famous independent research institutes such as ‘Max Planck,’ ‘Leibniz,’ and ‘Fraunhofer,’ which although embedded within university clusters, are seldom if ever included as integral parts during university rankings.
Competences over Education
In Germany, it is the 16 individual federal states (Länder) that are given the competences by the German Constitution and Higher Education Act, to decide on all matters pertaining to education. Respective higher education laws of individual states determine the organizational structure and specify the responsibilities of higher education institutions.
Federal states also fund the majority of higher education institutions, and therefore have regulatory control over them. There are however, institutions of higher education that are not under direct state control: Catholic and Protestant Church run higher education institutions as well as state-accredited private institutions (the majority of the latter are the so-called universities of ‘applied sciences’).
The General Division
Institutions of higher education in Germany, be they state (public) or state-accredited, are generally divided into:
- Universities of ‘Applied Sciences’ (a.k.a. “Fachhochschulen”);
- Colleges of Art and Music;
- Cooperative State University of Baden-Wuerttemberg (essentially a university of education, where training is provided for different teaching degrees);
The entire system in Germany totals nearly 400 higher education institutions, with roughly 120 universities (or their equivalents), 189 Fachhochschulen (including universities of public administrative sciences), and over 50 art colleges.
The Dual Education System
An important guiding principle of the German education system as a whole, and one in accordance with which individual higher education institutions regulate activities taking place within them, is the principle of ‘The Unity of Learning and Research,’ which is at the core of, what is referred to as the “the dual education system.”
The combining of the theoretical and practical educations (with a strong emphasis on apprenticeship), makes German higher education institutions into settings where teaching and research not only cohabitate, but prop each other up and act synergistically.
A general prerequisite (as well as the most traditional route) to enrolling into a higher (tertiary) education level institution in Germany is the passing of the final exam and being issued the so-called ‘Abitur’ (or Fachabitur certification – a document containing the grades), which enables students formally to attend a university. ‘Abitur’ is necessary for enrolling into certain higher education institutions, but there also are many exceptions. For students who plan on attending a ‘Fachhoschule,’ for example, holding an ‘Abitur’ (or a “Fachhoschulreife”) is a must. However, alternative routes exist for prospective students who do not hold an ‘Abitur,’ such as the passing of the ‘aptitude test’ known as the “Begabtenprüfung,” which consists of a written and oral examination.
The Advantages of Studying in Germany
German Universities have had a great allure for students from all over Europe (and beyond) for at least the last couple of centuries. One only need check which universities, up until a hundred years ago, most of the Nobel prize laureates were associated with, and the likes of Heidelberg and Tübingen would figure among the most prominent.
Not that the German universities ever lost the attraction they used to garner in the past, but there has been, in the last few decades marking the current age of globalization, a notable increase in the options available to international students, who now can enroll in studies at universities in many far flung places of the globe.
There’s no denying, however, that an increasing number of young people from all over the world are setting their sights on Germany, as the end destination for the pursuit of their higher education goals (particularly Master and Ph.D. studies).
The reasons for this upsurge in interest are not difficult to find:
The Global Importance of Germany:
With its central location in the heart of the continent (it shares a border with nine different countries), Germany is the hub of Europe; to use a cliché: All roads lead through Germany. It is the economic and technological powerhouse of the united Europe, that is increasingly coming to occupy the place it justly deserves in the world political arena.
The Interactive Web of Academia, Research and Industry:
German universities, dispersed all over the country, form a web of higher education institutions (numbering over 300) with the density unparalleled anywhere in the world. Conveniently located near focal points of interaction between industrial plants and scientific/technological research centers, these universities provide opportunities that seldom exist elsewhere for students: find employment upon graduation and live & work in the same city where they studied.
Academic standards at German universities are top-notch; not only are the renowned technical institutes, such as TU Darmstadt, RWTH Aachen, and others, ranked as some of the best in the world, but the study courses offered in a variety of other disciplines such as: medicine, law, social sciences, arts etc., are highly acclaimed internationally.
Funding of Research:
The three preeminent funding sources for research projects at German universities are: German Government, the industrial sector, and the European Union; having this giant pool of funding to draw from, researchers from a wide variety of disciplines have virtually limitless possibilities to conduct research and come up with innovative solutions in their respective fields.
Availability of Courses in English and International Recognition of Credentials:
Although the vast majority of courses offered by German universities are predominantly German taught, there are, due to a growing demand and a steady rise in the influx of foreign students, various universities that are switching to English taught courses, today numbering a total of over 350 university courses taught in English. These courses, offered across the spectrum of disciplines, are internationally recognized, a fact which lays to rest whatever concerns foreign students may have about the validity of their degrees earned in Germany.
International Students in Germany – Statistics
Germany is one of the world leaders in terms of being the country of choice for international students to study or continue their education in; and the reasons for this are many: from the desire to acquire specialized knowledge and improve their language skills, to the expectation that after completing their studies they will have more career opportunities back in their home country or in Germany. Quality teaching, security, great standard of living and low tuition fees, alongside the appeal of the local culture have made Germany an attractive study destination for people all over the world; it is currently ranked fourth in the world, after the US, Great Britain and Australia.
Young students from developing countries, Eastern European countries and countries in transition are particularly interested in studying in Germany and are more likely to recommend their friends pursue studies in Germany after having a great experience in Germany themselves. One of the strongest motivators is the financial one; tuition fees in German universities are very low compared to North America and other developed countries, so it’s liberating not to have to mortgage their future.
In a survey on the internationalization of German universities conducted by the German National Association for Student Affairs (in German: the Deutsches Studentenwerk or DSW for short) the number of students from abroad coming to study in Germany has increased every year since 1997. The number of international students rose from 100,033 in 1997 to 189,450 in 2006.
German students find studying abroad an attractive option as well and are more likely to study overseas than their peers in other industrialized nations. According to the DSW survey there were 75,800 Germans studying abroad in 2006.
Where are the students coming from?
Most students in Germany came from the rest of Europe (51%) followed by Asia (31.9%), while a small percentage came from Africa and America. Only 0.2% came from Australia.
- Requirements and admission
- Financing and costs
- Finding a course and university
- Application for a degree programme
- Language requirements and language courses
- Job and internship
- Finding accommodation
- Human medicine, Dentistry and Vetinary medicine
I’ve already studied a few semesters in my home country and now I’d like to continue studying in Germany. Will the German university recognise my previous degree/ credits in its degree programme?
Each German university is responsible for determining its own admission policies. That’s why you should ask the International Office at the German university of your choice whether you fulfil all the requirements for admission and how much of your previous academic work will be recognised.
Where do I find the requirements for studying in Germany?
You can find general requirements on our website. For specific admission requirements pertaining to your course of study, you should refer to the degree programme’s website.
How can I find out whether my school-leaving certificate will be recognised in Germany?
The DAAD admission database will tell you whether your university entrance qualification is recognised in Germany. You can obtain more specific information about other countries and certificates at Anabin. This database contains information on how foreign secondary school-leaving certificates are evaluated. It provides all relevant information, e.g. whether your certificate will be recognised and whether you will need to meet further requirements. The final decision is always made by the university, to which you apply. Therefore, we recommend asking the International Office at the university of your choice whether you meet all the requirements!
What can I do if they don’t recognise my school-leaving certificate?
If your secondary school-leaving certificate is not recognised in Germany, you can gain entrance qualification to German university by completing a foundation course (“Studienkolleg”). You first have to pass an entrance examination to participate in a foundation course. Good German language skills are a prerequisite (B1 level of the European Framework of Reference for Languages). For more information, see the section on foundation courses.
I want to apply for admission to a bachelor’s programme. What do I have to do?
The first thing to do is to find out whether your university entrance qualification is recognised in Germany. The DAAD admission database can help you with this. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact one of the DAAD offices all around the world.
How much money do I need for my living expenses in Germany?
Compared to other European countries, the cost of living in Germany is quite reasonable. The prices for food, accommodation, clothing, cultural events, etc. are basically in line with the EU average. You will need around 670 euros per month to cover your living expenses. The largest expense is your monthly rent. In most cases, applicants have to prove that they have around 8,000 euros at their disposal for one year.
How high are the tuition fees at German universities?
The tuition at German universities is very low, and some universities charge no tuition fee at all. Most German universities are funded by the government. Normally students in bachelor’s programmes don’t have to pay tuition fees. Low tuition fees are charged, however, for master’s degree programmes. All students have to pay a semester contribution.
How do I get a visa to study in Germany?
Some international students require an entry visa for Germany depending on where they come from and how long they plan to stay. You will find general information on visas and residence permits on our website. For more information about visa requirements, contact the German embassy or German consulate in your home country. On the website of the German Federal Foreign Officeyou can find the addresses of German diplomatic missions abroad.
Where do I find visa information for my country?
On the website of the German Federal Foreign Officeyou can view the most recent visa requirements for all countries.
How do I find a suitable degree programme at a university?
If you’re looking for English-language programmes, check out the DAAD database of International Programmes.
I’m looking for the best university in my area of study. Where can I find it?
As all German universities offer very good education, it’s hard to say which university is the best. The best university for you is the one which best meets your expectations. When choosing a university, you should take several aspects into account, like the range of subjects, the size of the university and city, as well as the cost of living in that city.
Which are the best universities in Germany?
As all German universities offer very good education, it’s difficult to say which university is the best. You might say the best university is the one which best meets your expectations.
I’d like to enrol in a bachelor’s programme in Germany. How can I get a scholarship?
You can find undergraduates scholarships on the DAAD Scholarship Database. The application requirements are listed in the respective description. Please note, however, that very few scholarships are awarded tofirst-time students.
I’d like to enrol in a master’s degree programme in Germany. How can I apply for a scholarship?
You can find scholarships for master’s degree students on the DAAD Scholarship Database. The application requirements are listed in the respective description.
How do I find a scholarship for my subject of study?
You can search for subject-specific scholarships on the DAAD Scholarship Database. Information about application requirements is listed in the respective description.
Which scholarships are available to people from my home country?
You can search for suitable scholarships for various countries on the DAAD Scholarship Database. Information about the application requirements is listed in the respective description.
I want to study in Germany. What do I have to do?
The application procedure depends on which subject you would like to study and where you come from. On our website you can find more information about the application process.
How do I apply to a German university?
Visit our website for information about applying for enrolment in degree programmes at German universities.
How do I apply for enrolment in a degree programme in my area of study?
First of all, you should check the admission requirements in the degree programme of your choice. You’ll find them on the degree programme’s website. That’s where you will also find information about application procedures.
I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I want to know whether you can get into a master’s programme at a German university with a three-year bachelor’s degree.
Unfortunately we cannot provide information about admission criteria because each German university is responsible for determining its admission policies. Nevertheless, you can check out the requirements of the programmes you wish to apply to on their website.
What is a “Studienkolleg” (foundation course)?
If your school-leaving certificate is not recognised in Germany, you can still study at a German university by participating in a “Studienkolleg” (foundation course). Good German language skills are required. To gain admission to a foundation course, you must first pass an entrance examination. Participation in the course is usually free of charge. Foundation courses take one year to complete and conclude with the “Feststellungsprüfung” (university qualification assessment examination).
Can I enrol in an English-language degree programme in Germany?
Yes, there are many courses and degree programmes taught in English, especially master’s courses. You can get an overview in the extensive DAAD database of International Programmes. Having said that, we strongly recommend that you try to learn a little German, because knowing the language will make you feel more at home in Germany and help you make German friends faster.
How do I get a visa for a language course?
If you want to attend a language course, you can apply for a language course visa in many countries. It’s only valid for the duration of the course and cannot be converted into a student visa (“Visum zu Studienzwecken”). If you want to attend a language course in combination with university studies, you have to indicate this on your visa application form. In this case, make sure to apply for either a student applicant visa (“Visum zur Studienbewerbung”) or a student visa (“Visum zu Studienzwecken”).
I want to attend a language course in Germany. How do I gain admission?
You can find German language courses offered at German universities on the DAAD Language and Short Courses database. If you don’t have any German skills yet, we strongly recommend attending a language course in your home country first, for example, at the Goethe-Institut.
I’d like to improve my German using free online sources. Are there any good website you can recommend?
How and where can I get a language certificate?
There are two different tests you can take to demonstrate your language proficiency in German. One is called the “DSH” (German Language University Entrance Examination for Foreign Applicants) and the other is the “TestDaF” (Test of German as a Foreign Language). Language certificates are also issued by the Goethe-Institut.
Do I need to take an English test to apply for admission to a degree programme?
If you want to study in English, universities generally require an official English test such as IELTS or TOEFL. Exemptions are made for native speakers. For a listing of programmes in which English is the language of instruction, check out the DAAD database of International Programmes.
What are my chances of finding a job after my studies in Germany?
With a degree from a German university, you have numerous job opportunities on the German labour market.
I want to work in Germany. Where can I find information on that?
You can find extensive information about working in Germany on the website Make it in Germany
Are there any student job sites for English speakers?
You can find jobs for English speakers on the job database of the Federal Employment agency which includes a search field for key words, e.g. “English”. There is also a section called “Small jobs/ mini jobs” which includes student jobs. Please note that most job descriptions are in German because they require German skills.
How do I find a room in a student residence hall in a particular city?
The Accommodation Finder on our website is a helpful tool for obtaining information about various student residences in your university town.
I’m searching for master’s degree programmes in Dentistry. Where can I find them?
There are no master’s degree programmes in Dentistry in Germany because Dentistry is not split into bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Dentistry programmes usually takes six years to complete and conclude with what we call the “State Examination” (Staatsexamen).
I am interested in doing a postgraduate medical course in Germany. How should I apply to the university? Are there any specific requirements like German language skills?
There are no postgraduate courses for Medicine in Germany because Medicine is not split into bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Medical students in Germany have to complete a six-year programme which concludes with the State Examination (Staatsexamen). There are no courses offered in English, so you will need very good German skills to complete the programme and pass the examinations.
I graduated and I have two years of work experience as a general physician. I would like to do my postgrad work in Germany. How do I know if my degree is recognised in Germany?
Like all special areas of medicine, Internal Medicine is not offered as a course of study at German universities. Candidates must complete a period of medical specialisation training. To be eligible for admission, you will need very good German skills and usually a degree similar to the German State Examination (six years of university study). For more information about working as a doctor in Germany, visit the website of the German Medical Association.