Higher education in Germany

Higher education in Germany

Reflecting the streaming that takes place in German secondary education, there are three different types of institutions in the German higher education system.

Universities (Universitäten)

Offering the largest range of subjects, universities (Universitäten) provide students with an in-depth academic education, focusing primarily on theoretical knowledge and methodological expertise. Of all higher institutions, only universities have the right to award doctorates. Technical universities (Technische Universitäten) and colleges of education (Pädagogische Hochschulen) also belong to this category of higher education, the only difference being that they tend to focus on a single subject area.

To attend university, you need a university entrance qualification (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung) - either the German Abitur or a foreign equivalent. As of 2019, there are around 130 universities across Germany, teaching over 1,8 million students.

Universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen)

As the name suggests, at universities of applied science (Fachhoschulen), the focus is primarily on the application of scientific knowledge and professional practice. Courses will also include practical experience via work placements and internships, which can last up to entire semesters. Universities of applied science usually offer bachelors and masters degrees in the following subject areas:

  • Technology
  • Medicine
  • Economics
  • Business
  • Social affairs
  • Media

The strength of the German economy is at least partly based on the multiple options for further education given to students wishing to pursue vocational occupations. There are currently around 250 universities of applied science with over 1 million enrolled students.

To attend a university of applied science, you usually need an Abitur qualification or a foreign equivalent. However, there are also an increasing number of pathways through the German school system that enable students with other qualifications and practical experience to attend higher education institutions like Fachhochschulen.

Colleges of art & music (Kunsthochschulen & Musikhochschulen)

Catering to the more creative pursuits, colleges of art and music offer qualifications in the following disciplines:

  • Visual arts
  • Music
  • Architecture
  • Drama
  • Dance
  • Fashion design
  • Film
  • Screenwriting

In addition to fulfilling other entry requirements, applicants will usually have to display artistic talent, either by submitting work or attending auditions. Exceptionally talented individuals may be able to apply without any qualifications, but the exact entry requirements vary from college to college.

There are around 35.000 students attending 50 colleges of art and music in Germany. Note that these colleges rarely offer courses with instruction in English.

Postgraduate education in Germany

If you have completed a bachelors degree, you might consider embarking on postgraduate education, such as a master’s or doctoral degree.

Master’s degree

Master’s degrees are offered by all kinds of higher education institutions in Germany.

PhD or doctorate

With a strong emphasis on research in its universities, Germany is an increasingly popular destination for PhD candidates. The only higher education institutions permitted to award doctoral degrees In Germany are universities (Universitäten).

Private and public universities in Germany

Around 60% of higher education institutions in Germany are state-funded and the majority of those studying in Germany are enrolled at these kinds of institutions. This means that, with the exception of those attending universities in Baden-Württemberg, most students in Germany do not pay any tuition fees.

There are, however, around 120 private colleges that offer state-approved degrees, amounting to around 30% of higher education institutions in Germany. Most of these private institutions are universities of applied science with close ties to industry or an international outlook. While they often charge higher tuition fees, they usually also have generous scholarship programmes on offer.

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