Higher Education Students in Germany

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 US, 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.