Types of Universities in Germany

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. Specialized universities which have the formal status of Universität include Technische Universitäten, Pädagogische Hochschulen (Universities of Education), Kunsthochschulen (Universities of Arts) and Musikhochschulen (Universities of Music). The excellence initiative has awarded eleven universities with the title University of Excellence. Professors at regular 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 university in Germany: the Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences), which offer mostly the same degrees as Universitäten, but often concentrate on applied science (as the English name suggests) and usually have no power to award PhD-level degrees, at least not in their own right. 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 bachelor's degree. An FH Diploma does not qualify the holder for a doctoral program directly, but in practice universities admit the best FH graduates on an individual basis after an additional entrance exam or participation in theoretical classes.