Tertiary Education

Germany's universities are recognised internationally; in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) for 2008, six of the top 100 universities in the world are in Germany, and 18 of the top 200. Germany ranks third in the QS World University Rankings 2011.

Most of the German universities are public institutions, charging fees of only around €60-200 per semester for each student, usually to cover expenses associated with the university cafeterias and (usually mandatory) public transport tickets. Thus, academic education is open to most citizens and studying is very common in Germany. The dual education system combines both practical and theoretical education but does not lead to academic degrees. It is more popular in Germany than anywhere else in the world and is a role model for other countries.

The oldest universities of Germany are also among the oldest and best regarded in the world, with Heidelberg University being the oldest (established in 1386 and in continuous operation since then). It is followed by Cologne University (1388), Leipzig University (1409), Rostock University (1419), Greifswald University (1456), Freiburg University (1457), LMU Munich (1472) and the University of Tübingen (1477).

While German universities have a strong focus on research, a large part of it is also done outside of universities in independent institutes that are embedded in academic clusters, such as within the Max Planck, Fraunhofer, Leibniz and Helmholtz institutes. This German peculiarity of "outsourcing" research leads to a competition for funds between universities and research institutes and may negatively affect academic rankings.

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 (possible way to qualify as a professor)

Types of universities
The German tertiary education system distinguishes between two types of institutions: The term Universität (university) is reserved for institutions which have the right to confer doctorates. Other degree-awarding higher education institutions may use the more generic term Hochschule.

Only Universitäten have the right to confer doctorates and habilitations. Some universities use the term research university in international usage to emphasize their strength in research activity in addition to teaching, particularly to differentiate themselves from Fachhochschulen. A university covering the full range of scientific disciplines in contrast to more specialized universities might refer to itself as Volluniversität. These specialized universities include Technische Universitäten. The excellence initiative has awarded eleven universities with the title University of Excellence. Professors at universities were traditionally required to have a doctorate as well as a habilitation. Since 2002, the junior professorship was introduced to offer a more direct path to employment as a professor for outstanding doctoral degree.

Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences)
There is another type of post-Abitur university training in Germany: the Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences), which offer the same degrees as Universitäten, but often concentrate on applied science (as the English name suggests). Fachhochschulen have a more practical profile with a focus on employability. In research, they are rather geared to applied research instead of fundamental research. At a traditional university, it is important to study "why" a method is scientifically right; however, this is less important at Universities of Applied Sciences. Here the emphasis is placed on what systems and methods exist, where they come from, what their advantages and disadvantages are, how to use them in practice, when they should be used, and when not.

For professors at a Fachhochschule, at least three years of work experience are required for appointment while a habilitation is not expected. This is unlike their counterparts at traditional universities, where an academic career with research experience is necessary.

Prior to the Bologna process, Fachhochschule graduates received a Diplom. To differentiate it from the Diplom which was conferred by Universitäten, the title is indicated starting with "Dipl." (Diplom) and ending with "(FH)", e.g., Dipl. Ing. (FH) Max Mustermann for a graduate engineer from a Fachhochschule. The FH Diploma is roughly equivalent to a 4-year Honours degree. An FH Diploma qualifies the holder for a doctoral program directly but in practice many universities require an additional entrance exam or participation in theoretical classes from FH candidates.

University entrance qualification

Students wishing to attend a German Universität must, as a rule, hold the Abitur or a subject-restricted qualification for university entrance (Fachgebundene Hochschulreife). For Fachhochschulen, the Abitur, the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife certification or the Fachhochschulreife certification (general or subject-restricted) is required.
Lacking these school leaving certifications, in some states potential students can qualify for university entrance if they present additional formal proof that they will be able to keep up with their fellow students. This may take the form of a test of cognitive functioning or passing the Begabtenprüfung ("aptitude test", consisting of a written and oral exam). In some cases, students who do not hold the Abitur may enter university even if they do not pass the aptitude or cognitive functioning tests if they 1) have received previous vocational training, and 2) have worked at least three years and passed the Eingangsprüfung (entrance exam). Such is the case, for example, in Hamburg.
While there are numerous ways to achieve entrance qualification to German universities, the most traditional route has always been graduation from a Gymnasium with the Abitur; however this has become less common over time. As of 2008, less than half of university freshmen in some German states had graduated from a Gymnasium. Even in Bavaria (a state with a policy of strengthening the Gymnasium) only 56 percent of freshmen had graduated from a Gymnasium. The rest were awarded the Abitur from another type of school or did not hold the Abitur certification at all.

High school diplomas received from countries outside of Germany are, in many cases, not considered equivalent to the Abitur, but rather to a Realschulabschluss and therefore do not qualify the bearer for admission to a German university. However, it is still possible for such aaplicants to be admitted to a German university if they fulfill additional formal criteria, such as a particular grade point average or points on a standardized admissions test. These criteria depend on the school leaving certificate of the potential student and are agreed upon by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. For example, holders of the US high school diploma with a combined math and verbal score of 1300 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT may qualify for university admission.
Foreign students lacking the entrance qualification can acquire a degree at a Studienkolleg, which is often recognized as an equivalent to the Abitur. The one-year course covers similar topics as the Abitur and ensures sufficient language skills to take up studies at a German university.

Admissions procedure
The process of application depends on the degree program applied for, the applicant's origin and the university entrance qualification. Generally, all programs of study follow one of three admissions procedures.
Free admissions: Every applicant who fulfills the university entrance qualification will be admitted. This is usually practiced in subjects in which many students quit their studies, e.g., mathematics, physics or engineering. Sometimes, the number of students who fail a course can be as high as 94 percent in these programs.
Local admission restrictions: For degree programs where only a limited number of places is available (numerus clausus, often abbreviated NC), criteria by which applications will be evaluated differ from university to university and from program to program. Commonly used criteria include the final grade of the university entrance qualification (which takes into account the grades of the final exams as well as course grades), a weighted grade point average which increases the weight of relevant school subjects, interviews, motivational letters, letters of recommendation by previous professors, essays, relevant practical experience, and subject-specific entrance exams. Such restrictions are increasingly common at German universities.

Nationwide admission restrictions: In the subjects medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and pharmacy, a nationwide numerus clausus is in place. In these subjects, applications of Germans and foreigners who are legally treated like Germans (e.g., EU citizens) are handled centrally for all universities by a public trust (Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung). The following quotas are applied in this procedure:

20 percent of available admission slots are admitted by the final grade of the university entrance qualification
20 percent of slots are granted to students who have the highest number of so called waiting semesters in which they were not enrolled at university
60 percent of slots are awarded by criteria at the university's discretion. Criteria universities commonly apply are: 1) final grade of the university entrance qualification (used most often), 2) interviews, 3) essays or motivational letters, and 4) entrance exams.
some additional slots are reserved for special cases and do not count into the previous three quotas: For example, up to 2 percent of slots can be so called hardship cases (Härtefälle), which are granted preferential admission. An applicant may be counted as a hardship case only if there are exceptional circumstances making it impossible for the applicant to wait even a single semester for a place at university, e.g., because of a progressing disease.

According to German law, universities are not permitted to discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on basis of race, ethnic group, gender, social class, religion or political opinion.

Tuition fees
Public universities in Germany are funded by the federal states and do not charge tuition fees. However, all enrolled students do have to pay a semester fee (Semesterbeitrag). This fee consists of an administrative fee for the university (only in some of the states), a fee for Studentenwerk, which is a statutory student affairs organization, a fee for the university's AStA (Allgemeiner Studentenausschuss, students' government) and Studentenschaft (students' union), at many universities a fee for public transportation, and possibly more fees as decided by the university's students' parliament (e.g., for a cooperation with a local theater granting free entry for students). Summed up, the semester fee usually ranges between €150 and €350.

In 2005, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a federal law prohibiting tuition fees was unconstitutional, on the grounds that education is the sole responsibility of the states. Following this ruling, seven federal states introduced tuition fees of €500 per semester in 2006 and 2007. Due to massive student protests and a citizens' initiative which collected 70,000 signatures against tuition fees, the government of Hesse was the first to reverse course before the state election in 2008; other state governments soon followed. Several parties which spoke out for tuition fees lost state elections. Bavaria in 2013 and Lower Saxony in 2014 were the last states to abolish tuition fees.

Since 1998, all German states had introduced tuition fees for long-time students (Langzeitstudiengebühren) of €500 up to €900 per semester. These fees are required for students who study substantially longer than the standard period of study (Regelstudienzeit), which is a defined number of semesters for each degree program. Even after the abolition of general tuition fees, tuition fees for long-time students remain in six states. Additionally, universities may charge tuition fees for so called non-consecutive master's degree programs, which do not build directly on a bachelor's degree, such as a Master of Business Administration.

There are no university-sponsored scholarships in Germany, but a number of private and public institutions award scholarships--usually to cover living costs and books. Moreover, the BAföG program (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, "Federal Education Aid Act") ensures that less wealthy students can receive up to €735 per month for the standard period of study if they or their parents cannot afford all of the costs involved with studying. Part (typically half) of this money is an interest-free loan that is later repaid. Repayment is also capped at €10,000.

Since the end of World War II, the number of young people entering a university has more than tripled in Germany, but university attendance is still lower than that of many other European nations. This can be explained with the dual education system with its strong emphasis on apprenticeships and vocational schools. Many jobs which do require an academic degree in other countries (such as nursing) require completed vocational training instead in Germany.

The rate of university graduates varies by federal state. The number is the highest in Berlin and the lowest in Schleswig-Holstein. Similarly, the ratio of school graduates with university entrance qualification varies by state between 38% and 64%.

The organizational structure of German universities goes back to the university model introduced by Wilhelm von Humboldt in the early 19th century, which identifies the unity of teaching and research as well as academic freedom as ideals. This model lead to the foundation of Humboldt University of Berlin and influenced the higher education systems of numerous countries. Some critics argue that nowadays German universities have a rather unbalanced focus, more on education and less on research.

At German universities, students enroll for a specific program of study (Studiengang). During their studies, students can usually choose freely from all courses offered at the university. However, all bachelor's degree programs require a number of particular compulsory courses and all degree programs require a minimum number of credits that must be earned in the core field of the program of study. It is not uncommon to spend longer than the regular period of study (Regelstudienzeit) at university. There are no fixed classes of students who study and graduate together. Students can change universities according to their interests and the strengths of each university. Sometimes students attend multiple different universities over 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. Professors also choose their subjects for research and teaching freely. This academic freedom is laid down in the German constitution.

Since German universities do not offer accommodation or meals, students are expected to organize and pay for board and lodging themselves. Inexpensive places in dormitories are available from Studentenwerk, a statutory non-profit organization for student affairs. However, there are only enough places for a fraction of students. Studentenwerk also runs canteens and cafés on campus, which are similarly affordable. Other common housing options include renting a private room or apartment as well as living together with one or more roommates to form a Wohngemeinschaft (often abbreviated WG). Furthermore, many university students continue to live with their parents. One third to one half of the students works to make a little extra money, often resulting in a longer stay at university.

Recently, the implementation of the Bologna Declaration introduced bachelor's and master's degrees as well as ECTS credits to the German higher education system. Previously, universities conferred Diplom and Magister degrees depending on the field of study, which usually took 4-6 years. These were the only degrees below the doctorate. In the majority of subjects, students can only study for bachelor's and master's degrees, as Diplom or Magister courses do not accept new enrollments. However, a few Diplom courses still prevail. The standard period of study is usually three years (six semesters) for bachelor's degrees and two years (four semesters) for master's degrees. The following Bologna degrees are common in Germany:
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.); Master of Arts (M.A.)
Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.); Master of Science (M.Sc.)
Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng.); Master of Engineering (M.Eng.)
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.); Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.); Master of Music (M.Mus.)

In addition, there are courses leading to the Staatsexamen (state examination). These did usually not transition to bachelor's and master's degrees. For future doctors, dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists, and lawyers, the Staatsexamen is required to be allowed to work in their profession. For teachers, judges, and public prosecutors, it is the required degree for working in civil service. Students usually study at university for 4-8 years before they take the First Staatsexamen. Afterwards, they go on to work in their future jobs for one or two years (depending on subject and state), before they are able to take the Second Staatsexamen, which tests their practical abilities. While it is not an academic degree formally, the First Staatsexamen is equivalent to a master's degree and qualifies for doctoral studies. On request, some universities bestow an additional academic degree (e.g., Diplom-Jurist or Magister iuris) on students who have passed First Staatsexamen.

The highest German academic degree is the doctorate. Each doctoral degree has a particular designation in Latin (except for engineering, where the designation is in German), which signifies in which field the doctorate is conferred in. The doctorate is indicated before the name in abbreviated form, e.g., Dr. rer. nat. Max Mustermann (for a doctor in natural sciences). The prefix "Dr." is used for addressing, for example in formal letters. Outside of the academic context, however, the designation is usually dropped.

While it is not an academic degree formally, the Habilitation is a higher, post-doctoral academic qualification for teaching independently at universities. It is indicated by appending "habil." after the designation of the doctorate, e.g., Dr. rer. nat. habil. Max Mustermann. The holder of a Habilitation may work as Privatdozent.