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Education in Germany

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Responsibility for educational oversight in Germany lies primarily with the states while the federal government only has a minor role. Optional kindergarten education is provided for all children between three and six years old, after which school attendance is compulsory for ten to thirteen years. Home-schooling is only permitted if it is performed by a qualified, certified educator.[1]

Primary education usually lasts for four years and public schools are not stratified at this stage.[2] In contrast, secondary education includes four types of schools based on a pupil's ability as determined by teacher recommendations: the Gymnasium includes the most gifted children and prepares students for university studies; the Realschule has a broader range of emphasis for intermediary students; the Hauptschule prepares pupils for vocational education, and the Gesamtschule or comprehensive school combines the three approaches.[2] In order to enter a university, high school students are required to take the Abitur examination, however students possessing a diploma from a vocational school may also apply to enter. A special system of apprenticeship called Duale Ausbildung allows pupils in vocational training to learn in a company as well as in a state-run school.[2] Although Germany has had a history of a strong educational system, recent PISA student assessments demonstrated a weakness in certain subjects. In the test of 31 countries in the year 2000, Germany ranked 21st in reading and 20th in both mathematics and the natural sciences, prompting calls for reform.[3]

In the annual league of top-ranking universities compiled by Shanghai Jiaotong University in 2004, Germany came 4th overall, with 7 universities in the top 100. The highest ranking German university, at number 45, was the Technical University of Munich.[4] Most German universities are state-owned and until recently did not charge for tuition; a 2006 education reform measure calls for fees of around €500 per semester from each student.[5]

Overview of the German school system

Grundschule (Elementary school) can be preceded by voluntary Kindergarten or Vorschulklassen (preparatory classes for elementary school) and lasts four or six years, depending on the state.

Parents who are looking for a suitable school for their child have a considerable choice of elementary schools in Germany today:

  • State school in their neighborhood (the huge majority in Germany)
  • or, alternatively
    • Waldorf School (187 schools in 2003)
    • Montessori method school (272)
    • Freie Alternativschule (65)
    • Protestant (63) or Catholic (114) parochial schools

Teachers possess different qualifications at all these schools, but parents have to pay additional costs at non-state schools, since the state does not cover the full costs of tuition and administration; these non-state schools may also not be close to the student's home.

After Grundschule (at 10 years of age), there are basically four options as to secondary schooling:

  • Hauptschule (the least academic, much like a modernized Volksschule [elementary school]) until grade 9.
  • Realschule (in Saxony Mittelschule [middle school]) until grade 10.
  • Gymnasium (Grammar School) until grade 12 or 13 (with Abitur as exit exam, qualifying for university).
  • Gesamtschule (comprehensive school) with all the options of the three "tracks" above.
  • After all of those schools the graduates can start a professional career with an apprenticeship in the Berufsschule (vocational school). The Berufsschule is normally attended twice a week during a two, three, or three-and-a-half year apprenticeship; the other days are spent working at a company. This should bring the students knowledge of theory and practice. Notice that the apprenticeship can only be started if a company accepts the apprentice. After this (s) he will be registered on a list at the Industrie und Handelskammer IHK (board of trade). During the apprenticeship (s) he is a part-employee of the company and receives a salary from the company. After successful passing of the Berufsschule and the exit exams of the IHK, he/she receives a certificate and is ready for a professional career up to a low management level. In some areas the apprenticeship is teaching skills that are required by law (special positions in a bank, assistance of a lawyer ...).

In five states (Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Rhineland-Palatinate), children have to attend two years (grades 5 and 6) in Orientierungsstufe ("orientation phase"), a special school type that follows the Grundschule, and is intended to help decide whether the student should be sent on to Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium (or in any case Gesamtschule). Primary school teachers or Orientierungsstufe teachers counsel parents on where to send their child. Depending on the state, parents or teachers make the final decision. In Berlin and Brandenburg the Grundschule includes grades 5 and 6 which then serve the same purpose as the Orientierungsstufe.

Also, in states without Orientierungsstufe, grades 5 and 6 are seen as an orientation phase in which initial decisions can be reversed. Achievements in the subjects of Mathematics, Sciences, German, and the chosen foreign language (commonly English, French, Russian or Latin), are considered to be most important in the decision about the school that the child will attend.

In Germany, the 16 states have the exclusive responsibility in the field of education. The federal parliament and the federal government can influence the educational system only by financial aid (to the states). Therefore, there are many different school systems; however, in every state the starting point is Grundschule (elementary school) for a period of 4 years (6 in Berlin and Brandenburg).

All German states have Gymnasium as one possibility for skilled children, and all states - except Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia - have Gesamtschule, but in different forms. Some eastern states (Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia in particular) only have Gymnasium and Regelschule or Mittelschule (in Saxony) (Secondary school until the 10th grade). In most of the 16 states, there are all of the kinds of secondary schools described above.

English is compulsory statewide in secondary schools. In some states, foreign language education starts in Grundschule. For example, in North Rhine-Westphalia, English starts in the 3rd year of school; Baden-Württemberg starts either English or French in the 1st year; in Brandenburg, it is English or Polish.

It is often problematic for families to move from one state to another, because there are extremely different curricula for nearly every subject.

History of German education

The Prussian era (1814–1871)

Historically, the Lutheran denomination had a strong influence on German culture, including its education. Martin Luther advocated compulsory schooling and this idea became a model for schools throughout Germany.

During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia was among (if not) the first countries in the world to introduce free and generally compulsory primary education, comprising of an eight-year course of primary education, Volksschule. It provided not only the skills needed in an early industrialized world (reading, writing, and arithmetics), but also a strict education in ethics, duty, discipline, and obedience. Affluent children often went on to attend preparatory private schools for an additional four years, but the general population had virtually no access to secondary education.

In 1810, after the Napoleonic wars, Prussia introduced state certification requirements for teachers, which significantly raised the standard of teaching. The final examination, Abitur, was introduced in 1788, implemented in all Prussian secondary schools by 1812, and extended to all of Germany in 1871.EDUCATION BITES

German Empire (1871-1918)

When the German Empire was formed in 1871, the school system became more centralized. As learned professions demanded well-educated young people, more secondary schools were established, and the state claimed the sole right to set standards and to supervise the newly established schools.

Four different types of secondary schools developed:

  • A nine-year classical Gymnasium (focusing on Latin and Greek or Hebrew, plus one modern language)
  • A nine-year Realgymnasium (focusing on Latin, modern languages, science and mathematics)
  • A six-year Realschule (without university entrance qualification, but with the option of becoming a trainee in one of the modern industrial, office or technical jobs) and
  • A nine-year Oberrealschule (focusing on modern languages, science and mathematics)

By the turn of the 20th century, the four types of schools had achieved equal rank and privilege, although they did not have equal prestige. In 1872, Prussia recognized the first separate secondary schools for girls.

Weimar Republic (1919-1933) to the present

After World War I, the Weimar Republic established a free, universal 4-year elementary school (Grundschule). Most students continued at these schools for another 4-year course and those who were able to pay a small fee went on to an Intermediate school (Mittelschule) that provided a more challenging curriculum for an additional one or two years. Upon passing a rigorous entrance exam after year 4, students could also enter one of the four types of secondary school.

During the Nazi era (1933-1945), indoctrination of Nazi ideologies was added to student education, however, the basic education system remained unchanged.

After World War II, the Allied powers (Soviet Union, France, Britain, and the USA) saw to it that the Nazi ideas were eliminated from the curriculum. They installed educational systems in their respective occupation zones that reflected their own ideas. When West Germany gained partial independence in 1949, its new constitution (Grundgesetz) granted educational autonomy to the state (Länder) governments. This led to a widely varying landscape of school systems, often making it difficult for children to continue schooling whilst moving between states.

More recently, multi-state agreements ensure that basic requirements are universally met by all state school systems. Thus, all children are required to attend one type of school on a full-time basis (i.e. five or six days a week) from the age of 6 to the age of 16. It is possible to change schools if a student shows exceptionally good (or exceptionally poor) abilities. Graduation certificates from one state are recognized by all the other states, and training qualifies teachers for teaching posts in every state.

Education in East Germany

Main article: Education in East Germany

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) started its own standardized education system in the 1960s. The East German equivalent of both primary and secondary schools was the Polytechnische Oberschule (poly-technical high school), which all students attended for 10 years, from the ages of 6 to 16. At the end of the 10th year, an exit examination was given, and depending upon the results, a student could choose to end their education or choose to undertake an apprenticeship for an additional two years, followed by an Abitur. Students who performed very well and displayed loyalty to the ruling party could change to the Erweiterte Oberschule (extended high school), where they could take their Abitur examinations after 12 school years. This system was abolished in the early 1990s, but continues to influence school life in the eastern German states.

Life in a German school

Standard classroom at a secondary school in Germany in 1998
Standard classroom at a secondary school in Germany in 1998

Although German students are not very different from other students across the world, there are organizational differences. The main points are outlined below; however, it should be noted that there are additional differences across the 16 states of Germany.

  • Each group of students born in the same year forms one grade or class, which remains the same for elementary school (years 1 to 4), orientation school (if there's orientation school in the state) or orientation phase (at Gymnasium years 5 to 6), and secondary school (years 5 to 11). Changes are possible, though, when there is a choice of subjects, e.g. additional languages, and the class is split.
  • Most subjects (except PE, art, sciences, and music) are taught in the students' own classroom (similar to a "home room"); the pupils stay in their room whilst the teachers move from class to class. This is common throughout school up to year 11 (5 in Saxony).
  • There are usually no security guards at German schools; at some schools there are, however, Schülerlotsen, mostly older pupils who patrol the roads by the school.
  • Students sit at tables, not desks (usually two pupils at one table), sometimes arranged in a semi-circle or another geometric or functional shape. During exams in classrooms, the tables are usually arranged in columns with one pupil per table (if permitted by the room's capacities) in order to prevent cheating.
  • Teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships are relaxed, sometimes even casual (though this has its limits, which are often difficult to detect for foreigners). This practice also varies between states and schools (Grundschulen and Gesamtschulen usually being the least formal).
  • There normally is no school uniform or dress code other than the most basic rules of decency. Many private schools have a very simple dress code consisting of, for example, "no shorts, no sandals, no clothes with holes". Some schools are trying out school uniforms, but those aren't as formal as seen in for example the UK. They mostly consist of a normal pullover/shirt and jeans of a certain color, sometimes with the school's symbol on it.
  • School usually starts at 8 a.m. and can finish as early as 12; instruction at lower classes almost always ends before lunch. In higher grades, however, afternoon lessons are very common and periods may have longer gaps without teacher supervision between them.
  • After each period, there are breaks of 5, 10, 15, and maybe even 20 minutes. There is no lunch break as school usually finishes before 1:30 for junior school. At schools that have "Nachmittagsuntericht" (= afternoon classes) ending after 1:30 there's sometimes a lunch break of 45 to 90 minutes, though many school lack any special break in general. Many schools that have regular breaks of 5 minutes between periods have additional 10 or 15 minute breaks after the second and fourth period.
  • In German state schools periods are exactly 45 minutes followed by 5 minute breaks. Each subject is usually taught for two to three periods every week (main subjects like Mathematics, English, German, .. taught for four to six periods) and no more than two periods consecutively. The beginning of every period and, usually, break is generally announced with an audible signal such as a bell.
  • Exams (which are always supervised) tend to be essay based, rather than multiple choice. As of 11th grade exams usually consist of no more than three separate exercises. While most exams in the first grades of secondary schools usually span no more than 90 minutes, exams in 11th to 13th grade may span four periods or more (without breaks).
  • At every school type, students study one foreign language (in almost all cases English) for at least five years. The study of English is, however, far more rigorous in Gymnasium. Students leaving Hauptschule rarely attain fluency. In Gymnasium, students can choose from a wider range of languages (mostly English, French, or Latin) as the first language in 5th grade, and a second mandatory language in 6th or 7th grade. Some types of Gymnasium also require an additional third language (such as Spanish, Italian, Russian or Ancient Greek) or an alternative subject (usually based on one or two other subjects, e.g. English politics (English & politics), dietetics (biology) or media studies (arts & German) in 9th or 11th grade.
  • A small number of schools have a Raucherecke (smokers' corner), a small area of the schoolyard where students over the age of sixteen are permitted to smoke in their breaks. Those special areas were banned in the states of Berlin, Hessen and Hamburg at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. (Bavaria 2006-07)). From now on schools in these states forbid smoking for pupils and teachers and offences at school will be punished. Some other states in Germany are planning to introduce similar laws.
  • As state schools are public, smoking is universally prohibited inside the buildings. Smoking teachers are generally asked not to smoke while at or near school.
  • Students aged 18 and above and, in many schools, 11th grade and above, are permitted to leave the school compound during breaks. Teachers or school personnel usually prevents younger pupils from leaving early and strangers from entering the compound without permission.
  • Tidying up the classroom and schoolyard is often the task of the pupils. Unless a group of pupils volunteers, individuals are picked sequentially.
  • Many schools have AGs or Arbeitsgruppen (clubs) for afternoon activities such as sports, music or acting, but participation is not necessarily common. Some schools also have special mediators, who are student volunteers trained to resolve conflicts between their classmates or younger pupils.
  • Only few schools have actual sports teams that compete with other schools'. Even if the school has a sports team, most students are not very aware of it.
  • While student newspapers used to be very common until the late 20th century, many of them are now very short-lived, usually vanishing when the team graduates. Student newspapers are often financed mostly by advertisements.
  • Usually schools haven't their own radio stations or TV channels. Larger universities often have a local student-run radio station, however.
  • Although most German schools and state universities do not have classrooms equipped with a computer for every student, schools usually have at least one computer room and most universities offer a limited number of rooms with computers on every desk. State school computers are usually maintained by the same exclusive contractor in the entire city and updated slowly. Internet access is often provided by phone companies free of charge.
  • At the end of their schooling, students usually undergo a cumulative written and oral examination (Abitur in Gymnasiums or Abschlussprüfung in Realschulen and Hauptschulen).
  • After 10th grade Gymnasium students may quit school for at least one year of job education if they do not wish to continue. Realschule and Hauptschule students who have passed their Abschlussprüfung may decide to continue schooling at a Gymnasium, but are required to take additional courses in order to catch up.
  • Corporal punishment was banned in 1949 (East Germany) and in 1973 (West Germany).
  • Fourth grade (or sixth, depending on the state) is often quite stressful for students and families. Many feel tremendous pressure when trying to achieve placement in Gymnasium, or at least when attempting to avoid placement in Hauptschule. Germany is unique compared to other western countries in its early segregation of students based on academic achievement.

The school year

The school year starts after the summer break (different from state to state, usually end/mid of August) and is divided into two semesters. There are typically 12 weeks of holidays, in addition to public holidays. Exact dates differ between states, but there are generally 6 weeks of summer and two weeks of Christmas holiday. The other holiday periods are given in spring (usually around Easter Sunday) and autumn (the former "harvest holiday", where farmers used to need their children for field work). Schools can also schedule one or two special days off per semester.

Report cards (Zeugnisse) are issued twice a year at the end of the semester, usually in February and June or July. The grade scale ranges from 1 to 6, where 1 is sehr gut or "Excellent" (corresponding to an A+ in America) and 6 is ungenügend or "Failed" (literally "insufficient"). After 11th grade the scale is replaced by a point system with a maximum of 15 points (exceptional achievement) corresponding to grade 1, 4 points or less (grade 4- or less) counting as a deficite as of 12th grade and jeopardising the admission to the Abitur exams. Students who do not measure up to minimum standards (usually no 6, no more than one 5 unless there are other subjects with 3 or better) have to repeat a year (which happens to almost 5% of students every year). Once they have reached 12th grade, students may usually not fail more than twice in succession or they will not be admitted to the Abitur exams at the end of 13th grade.

Model timetables

Students have about 30-36 periods of 45 minutes each per week, but especially secondary schools today switch to 90 minutes lessons (Block) which count as two 'traditional' lessons. To manage classes that are taught three lessons per week there is still one 45 minute lesson each day, mostly between the first two blocks. There are about 12 compulsory subjects: two or three foreign languages (one to be taken for 9 years, another for at least 3 years), physics, biology, chemistry and usually civics/social studies (for at least 5, 7, 3, and 2 years, respectively), and mathematics, music, art, history, German, geography, PE and religious education/ethics for 9 years. A few afternoon activities are offered at German schools - mainly choir or orchestra, sometimes sports or drama. Many of these are offered as semi-scholar AG's (Arbeitsgemeinschaften - literally "working groups"), which are mentioned, but not officially rated in the testimonials. Other common extracurricular activities are organized as private clubs, which are very popular in Germany.

image:timetable2.png Typical grade 10 timetable at a Gymnasium in 2003
"F3" means third foreign language ("Fremdsprache"), which is usually either Latin or French, though Spanish and Ancient Greek are not uncommon


image:timetable.png Typical grade 10 timetable at a middle school in 2003

In grades 11-13, 11-12, or 12-13 (depending on the school system), each student majors in two or three subjects ("Leistungskurse", "Grundkurse"/"Profilkurse"). These are usually taught five hours per week. The other subjects are usually taught three periods per week.

There are many differences in the 16 states of Germany and there are alternatives to this basic pattern, e.g. Waldorfschulen or other private schools. Adults can also go back to evening school and take the Abitur exam.

Organizational aspects

In Germany, education is the responsibility of the states (Länder) and part of their constitutional sovereignty (Kulturhoheit der Länder). Teachers are hired by the Ministry of Education for the state and usually are employed for life after a certain period (which, however, is not comparable in timeframe nor competitiveness to the typical tenure track, e.g. in the US). A parents' council is elected to voice the parents' views to the school's administration. Each class elects one or two "Klassensprecher" (class presidents, if two are elected usually one is male and the other female), the class presidents meet several times a year as the "Schülerrat" (students' council). A team of school presidents is also elected by the students each year, the school presidents' main purpose is organisating school parties, sports tournaments and the like for their fellow students. The local town is responsible for the school building and employs the janitorial and secretarial staff. For an average school of about 600–800 students, there may be two janitors and one secretary. School administration is the responsibility of the teachers (who will receive a reduction in their teaching obligations if they participate).

Recent developments

After much public debate about Germany's international ranking (PISA - Programme for International Student Assessment), some things are beginning to change. There has been a trend towards a less ideological discussion on how to develop schools. These are some of the new trends:

  • Establishing federal standards on quality of teaching
  • More practical orientation in teacher training
  • Transfer of some responsibility from the Kultusministerium (Ministry of Education) to local school

Since the 1990s, a few changes have already been taking place in many schools:

  • Introduction of bilingual education in some subjects
  • Experimentation with different styles of teaching
  • Equipping all schools with computers and Internet access
  • Creation of local school philosophy and teaching goals ("Schulprogramm"), to be evaluated regularly
  • Reduction of Gymnasium school years (Abitur after grade 12) and introduction of afternoon periods as in many other western countries

College and university

Since the end of World War II, the number of youths entering universities has more than tripled, but university attendance still lags behind many other European nations. This is partly because of the dual education system, with its strong emphasis on apprenticeships (see also German model). In the annual league of top-ranking universities compiled by Shanghai Jiaotong University in 2004, Germany came fourth overall, but had only seven universities in the top 100 (compared to 51 in the U.S.). The highest-ranking German university, at number 45, was the Technical University of Munich.

Universities in Germany are part of the free state education system, which means that there are very few private universities and colleges. Private universities and colleges in Germany are generally less well regarded than public universities. While the organizational structure claims to go back to the university reforms by Wilhelm von Humboldt in the early 19th century, it has also been criticized by some (including the German-born, former Stanford University president Gerhard Casper) for having an unbalanced focus, more on education and less on research, and the lack of independence from state intervention. Many of today's German public universities, in fact, bear less resemblance to the original Humboldt vision than, for example, a typical US institution.

German university students largely choose their own programme of study and professors choose their own subjects for research and teaching. This elective system often results in students spending many years at university before graduating, and is currently under review. There are no fixed classes of students who study together and graduate together. Students change universities according to their interests and the strengths of each university. Sometimes students attend two, three or more different universities in the course of their studies. This mobility means that at German universities there is a freedom and individuality unknown in the USA, the UK, or France.

Generally, it can be said that Germany does not have "colleges" in the sense that is used in the US. Upon leaving school, students may choose to go on to university; however, most (male) students will have to serve nine months of military or alternative service (Zivildienst) beforehand.

The Gymnasium graduation (Abitur) opens the way to any university; there are no entrance examinations. The Abiturdurchschnittsnote (similar to GPA in the US, or A-Level results in the UK) is the deciding factor in granting university places; an institution may quote an entry requirement for a particular course. This is called numerus clausus (literally "restricted number"), but it generally only applies to popular courses with very limited places; for example a medical course could require an Abitur grade of between 1.0 to 1.5, approximately equivalent to a 3.9 - 4.5 GPA in the USA.

Yet another difference: while at Gymnasium a student cannot take courses that result in university credits. This might also have to do with the fact that the credit system is unknown in Germany so far, although it is being introduced with the Bologna process that is intended to unify education and degrees for all EU states. What counts at the end of one's studies is a bundle of certificates ("Scheine") issued by the professors proving that the required courses (and/or exams) were successfully taken. With a few exceptions students may not receive certificates for courses they attend before officially immatriculating at the university (i.e. while at Gymnasium), although their attendance may sometimes be counted as such. Usually there are few required specific courses, rather students choose from a more or less broad range of classes in their field of interest, while this varies greatly upon the choice of subject. Once a student has acquired the needed number of such certificates and can (if he or she is a Magister student) very his or her regular attendance at a minimum number of optional courses, he or she can decide to register for the final examinations. In many cases, the grades of those certificates are completely discarded and the final diploma grade consists only of the grades of the final exams and master thesis. This can potentially impair the student's motivation to achieve excellence during their studies, although most students try to aim for higher scores in order to comply with requirements for BAFöG or scholarships, or, simply, for vanity.

At Gymnasium, students are under strict observation by teachers, and their attendance at all courses is checked regularly. At German universities, however, class attendance is only checked for courses in which the student requires a certificate, and attendance checks are usually a lot more liberal (usually a signature or sign is considered proof of attendance, even if the signing is not supervised) and sporadical, although repeated failure to attend a course without a proper excuse (i.e. sick note) usually results in the loss of the chance to get a certificate. Life at German universities may seem anonymous and highly individual at first, but most students find a group of fellow students with common interests in their first year, and then often take courses together and study in this group up to the final exam studies.

While there are curricula for the first two or three years in the sciences, in the liberal arts, every student picks the lectures and seminars he or she prefers (usually admission to the Zwischenprüfung requires three certificates, which may each be earned in one of several different seminars), and takes the exams at the end of the study period. Each student decides for him- or herself when he or she feels ready for the final exam. Some take the minimum 4 years, most take 5-6 years, some may even spend 10 years at university (often because they changed subjects several times). After 13 years at school plus maybe 1 year in the military, graduates may sometimes be almost 30 years old when they apply for their first real job in life, although most will have had a number of part-time jobs or temporary employments between semesters.

If they have successfully studied at university for two years (after a Zwischenprüfung/Vordiplom), students can transfer to other countries for graduate studies. Usually they finish studies after 4-6 years with a degree called the Diplom (in the sciences) or Magister (in the arts), which is equivalent to a M.Sc. or M.A., or a Magister Artium.

However, there is another type of post-Abitur university training available in Germany: the Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Science), which offer similar degrees as classic universities, but often concentrate on applied science (as the English name suggests). While in classic universities it is an important part to study WHY a method is scientifically right that point is not so important to students at Univerities of Applied Science. There it is stressed to study what systems and methods exist, where they come from, their pros and cons, how to use them in practise and last but not least when are they to use and when not. Students start their courses together and graduate (more or less) together and there is little choice in their schedule (but this must no be at several studies). To get on-the-job experience, internship semesters are a mandatory part of studying at a Fachhochschule. Therefore the sutdents at U-o-A-S are better trained in transferring learned knowledge and skills into practise while students of classic Universities are better trained in method developing. But as professors at U-o-A-S have done their doctorate at classic universities and classic unversities have regarded the importance of practise both types are coming closer and closer. Its nowadays more a differentiation between practise orientation and theoretical orientation of science.

After about 4-5 years (depending on how a student arranges the courses he or she takes over the course of his studies, and on whether he or she has to repeat courses) a Fachhochschule student has a complete education and can go right into working life. Fachhochschule graduates received traditionally a title that starts with "Dipl." (Diploma) and ends with "(FH)", e.g. "Dipl. Ing. (FH)" for a graduate engineer from a Fachhochschule. The FH Diploma is roughly equivalent to a Bachelor degree. An FH Diploma does not usually qualify the holder for a Ph.D. program directly -- many universities require an additional entrance exam or participation in theoretical classes from FH candidates. The last point is based on the history. When FHs or U-o-A-S were set up the professors were mainly teachers from higher schools but did not hold a doctorate. This has completely changed since the end of the eigthies but professors of classic universities still regard themselves as "the real professors" which indeed does no longe be true. Due to the Bologna process the bachelor and master degrees are introduced to classic universities and universities of applied sciences in the same way.

Perhaps one of the most important differences: All courses at the roughly 250 classic universities and universities of applied sciences are - like any school in Germany - free. One might also say the government offers a full scholarship to everyone. However, students that take longer than the Regelstudienzeit ("regular length of studies", a statistically calculated average that is the minimum amount of time necessary to successfully graduate) do have to pay Langzeitstudiengebühren ("long-time study fees") of about 500 EUR per semester, in a growing number of states. Today there are a few private institutions (especially business schools) that charge tuition fees, but they do only few have high recognition and high standards as public universities have.

One does have to pay for one's room and board plus one's books. After a certain age, one must obtain obligatory student health insurance (50 EUR per month), and one always has to pay for some other social services for students (40-100 EUR per semester). Students often enjoy very cheap public transport (Semesterticket) in and around the university town. There are cheap rooms for students built by the Studentenwerk, an independent non-profit organization partially funded by the state. These may cost 150 EUR per month, without any food. Otherwise an apartment can cost 500 EUR, but often students share apartments, with 3 or 5 people per apartment. Food is about 100 EUR (figures for 2002). Many banks provide free accounts to students up to a certain age (usually around 25).

The German Constitutional Court recently ruled that a federal law prohibiting tuition fees is unconstitutional, on the grounds that education is the sole responsibility of the states. Following this ruling, several state governments (e.g. in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westfalia) proclaimed their intention to introduce tuition of around €500 per semester within the next year. Many state legislatures have passed laws that allow, but do not officially force, universities to demand tuition up to a limit, usually €500. In preparation to comply with several local laws aiming to give universities more liberty in their decisions but requiring them to be more economical (effectively privatising them), many universities hastily decided to introduce the fees, usually without any exceptions other than a bare minimum. As a direct result, student demonstrations in the scale of 100 to 10000 participants are frequent in the affected cities, most notably Frankfurt in Hessen, where the state officially considered introducing universal tuition fees in the €1500 range.

There are no university-sponsored scholarships in Germany, but a number of private and public institutions hand out scholarships, usually to cover the cost of living and books. Moreover, there is a law (BAFöG or Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz) that sees to it that needy people can get up to 550 EUR per month for 4-5 years if they or their parents cannot afford all the costs involved with studying. Part (typically half) of this money is given as an interest-free loan and has to be paid back. Many universities planning to introduce tuition fees have announced their intention to use a part of the money to create scholarship programmes, although the exact details are mostly vague.

Most students will move to the university town if it is far away. Getting across Germany from Flensburg to Konstanz takes a full day (1000 km or 620 miles). But, as mentioned above, there is no university-provided student housing on campus in Germany, since most campuses are scattered all over the city for historical reasons. Traditionally, university students rented a private room in town, which was their home away from home. This is no longer the standard, but one still finds this situation. One third to one half of the students works to make a little extra money, often resulting in a longer stay at university.

Figures for Germany are roughly:

  • 1,000,000 new students at all schools put together for one year
  • 400,000 Abitur graduations
  • 30,000 doctoral dissertations per year
  • 1000 habilitations per year (qualification to become a professor)

Degrees: Most courses lead up to a diploma called Diplom or Magister and these are equivalent to the Masters degree in other countries (after a minimum of 4 to 5 years). The doctoral degree usually takes another 3-5 years, with no formal classes, but independent research under the tutelage of a single professor. Most doctoral candidates work as teaching- or research assistants, and are paid a reasonably competitive salary. This is different in medicine, where an M.D. is (effectively) required for work and hence a more streamlined process applies.

Recently, changes related to the so-called Bologna-Agreement have started taking place to install a more internationally acknowledged system, which includes new course structures - the (hitherto unknown) Bachelor degree and the Master degree - and ETCS credits. These changes have not been forced on the universities and the hope has been that they will develop them from the bottom up. So far, students have been reluctant to start these new courses because they know that within Germany, employers are not used to them and prefer the well-known system. In the winter semester of 2001, only 5% of all students aspired to complete either a bachelor or master degree, but this has changed as many universities and universities of applied sciences change their course offerings to exclusively provide only bachelor or master degree certificates (e.g. Bremen or Erfurt).

In addition, there are the courses leading to Staatsexamen (state examinations), e. g. for lawyers and teachers, that qualify for entry into German civil service, but which are not recognized elsewhere as an academic degree (although the courses are sometimes identical).


  1. ^ Zeise, Ann. A to Z Home's Cool (Homeschool) - Homeschooling Information Tuesday, February 20, 2007. Retrieved 2007
  2. ^ a b c COUNTRY PROFILE: GERMANY U.S. Library of Congress. December 2005. Retrieved 2006, 12-04
  3. ^ Experts: Germany Needs to Step up School Reforms Deutsche Welle. April 12, 2006. Retrieved 2006, 12-04
  4. ^ Top 500 World Universities Shanghai Jiao Tong University. 2006. Retrieved 2006, 12-04
  5. ^ Tuition Fees in Germany German Academic Exchange Service. Retrieved 2006, 11-30

See also

Education by country

Education by subject

Educational stages

Alternative education

General topics
  • Education in East Germany (historical)
  • Diplom
  • Doctorate
  • Habilitation
  • List of schools in Germany
  • List of universities in Germany.

External links

  • List of schools in Germany
  • German Academic Exchange Service
  • Doing Higher Education in Germany
  • German Education Server
  • The German education system: basic facts
  • German Instruction Aid For Teachers
  • BAföG - german student financial assistance scheme
  • German Federal Law on Support in Education - BAföG
  • german education financing by BAföG
  • Uebergebuehr: Website against tuition fees in Germany
  • Free union of student bodies (FZS) of Germany
  • Despite Detractors, Germany Pursues Elite Schools
  • Germany Announces Short List for Elite Universities
  • Germany Plans Billion-Euro Investment in Universities
  • Tuition Fees Likely to Deter Foreigners
  • Seeking Quality, German Universities Scrap Equality
  • European universities fear "Americanization"
  • Application-Standards for students and pupils in Germany
  • The New Student's Reference Work/German Universities (1914)
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