Facts about the German higher education system

Studentin aus Ghana Увеличаване на снимка (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Some 1.98 million students are currently studying at German institutions of higher education. Almost half of the them (48%) are women. A total of 376 higher education institutions offer study programmes, including 102 universities, 170 universities of applied sciences and 69 private colleges. In recent years, the number of foreign students has significantly increased.

University Ranking

Lernendes Mädchen Увеличаване на снимка (© iStock)

How satisfied are the students in a particular department? How good are its study facilities? Students have lots of questions when they are looking for the right university or college. In Germany they can find appropriate answers in the rankings compiled by the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE). The CHE list is considered the most comprehensive and most detailed comparison of German-speaking universities and universities of applied sciences. It covers a total of 35 subjects and can thus help three-quarters of all new students. In addition to facts about courses, teaching, facilities and research, the ranking incorporates more than 250,000 students’ appraisals of the study conditions at their higher education institution as well as the reputation of departments among professors of individual subjects.

The German higher education system

Studenten im historischen Hörsaal am Institut für Anatomie der Universität in Leipzig Увеличаване на снимка (© picture-alliance/ ZB)

University of applied sciences, college of technology, university, university of cooperative education – the German higher education system has many facets, many different types of institution. This diversity enables students to select the best course for their needs. If you put more emphasis on practical knowledge, then you will be in good hands at a university of applied sciences; if you are interested in theoretical research, then a university is the place for you.


Research centres: the university is the traditional form of higher education institution. Germany’s 102 universities closely link research and teaching. Most universities offer the full range of subjects. However, a university with a strong technological orientation is known as Technische Universität (TU, technical university) or Technische Hochschule (TH, college of technology). Compared to universities of applied sciences, they place greater emphasis on basic research.


Practical training: Germany’s 170 Fachhochschulen (FH, universities of applied sciences) have a strong practical orientation and close ties with the world of work. The main emphases are technology, business, design and the social sector. However, you cannot study medicine or law or complete a doctorate at a university of applied sciences.

Kunst-, Musik- und Filmhochschule

The art of learning: 53 state recognized colleges of art, music and film usually only admit students who successfully complete an entrance examination. Germany’s 23 colleges of music are particularly popular with foreign students: the proportion of foreign students at these institutions is 35.7%. Although the entrance requirements for these arts colleges are high, the training given – frequently by individual tuition or in small groups – is excellent.


For career beginners: Germany’s 38 Berufsakademien (BA, universities of cooperative education) are not institutions of higher education, but some of their qualifications are recognized as comparable with of those universities of applied sciences. These institutions offer a specialized education in business, technology or the social sector combined with a vocational training programme. You can only study at a Berufsakademie if you have a trainee contract with an employer. Graduates have good job prospects with global players.

Private Hochschulen

For self-payers: 69 private colleges primarily offer small study groups, close ties with industry combined with a high level of practical orientation and short courses – for tuition fees ranging between 1,800 and 4,700 euros a semester. However, not all private colleges meet expectations. It is very important to check whether a private university or college is state recognized. Otherwise its degrees will not be accepted, which can lead to major problems when looking for a job.

Facts about the German higher education system

Vorlesung im Anatomie-Hörsaal der Universität in Leipzig