With its ‘dual education system,’ resting on the principle of ‘unity of learning and research,’ and the emphasis on apprenticeship, the German higher education system has played an important role in shaping an economic environment wherein individual and collective responsibility, practicality and innovation are the drivers of change and progress.The German Higher Education System:
Although the ongoing reforms stemming from the ‘Bologna Declaration’ – aimed primarily at establishing internationally accepted degrees, enhancing the quality of study courses, and increasing employability – are
in the process of doing away with stark contrasts that have existed between education systems of the European countries that have adopted it, certain distinctive features of individual systems are bound to remain
in place. The German Federal Government, federal states, and higher education institutions are, within the ‘Bologna Process’ context, undertaking the largest higher education reform in decades; there’s a lot to the
German higher education system however, that is time-proven to produce excellent results and should stay in place.
The German higher education system is widely regarded as being one of the best in the world; it is fairly diverse, with a variety of institutions that cover a wide range of academic profiles and confer different types of degrees.
As a general rule, German universities are recognized and held in high esteem worldwide – they perform very well in the international university rankings (usually right below the most prestigious American and British universities). One reason why German universities under-perform in rankings, relative to some of their famous American and British counterparts, may be the fact that some of the most famous independent research institutes such as ‘Max Planck,’ ‘Leibniz,’ and ‘Fraunhofer,’ which although embedded within university clusters, are seldom if ever included as integral parts during university rankings.
In Germany, it is the 16 individual federal states (Länder) that are given the competences by the German Constitution and Higher Education Act, to decide on all matters pertaining to education. Respective higher education
laws of individual states determine the organizational structure and specify the responsibilities of higher education institutions.
Federal states also fund the majority of higher education institutions, and therefore have regulatory control over them. There are however, institutions of higher education that are not under direct state control: Catholic and Protestant Church run higher education institutions as well as state-accredited private institutions (the majority of the latter are the so-called universities of ‘applied sciences’).
Institutions of higher education in Germany, be they state (public) or state-accredited, are generally divided into:
An important guiding principle of the German education system as a whole, and one in accordance with which individual higher education institutions regulate activities taking place within them, is the principle
of ‘The Unity of Learning and Research,’ which is at the core of, what is referred to as the “the dual education system.”
The combining of the theoretical and practical educations (with a strong emphasis on apprenticeship), makes German higher education institutions into settings where teaching and research not only cohabitate, but prop each other up and act synergistically.
A general prerequisite (as well as the most traditional route) to enrolling into a higher (tertiary) education level institution in Germany is the passing of the final exam and being issued the so-called ‘Abitur’ (or Fachabitur certification – a document containing the grades), which enables students formally to attend a university. ‘Abitur’ is necessary for enrolling into certain higher education institutions, but there also are many exceptions. For students who plan on attending a ‘Fachhoschule,’ for example, holding an ‘Abitur’ (or a “Fachhoschulreife”) is a must. However, alternative routes exist for prospective students who do not hold an ‘Abitur,’ such as the passing of the ‘aptitude test’ known as the “Begabtenprüfung,” which consists of a written and oral examination.The Global Importance of Germany:
With its central location in the heart of the continent (it shares a border with nine different countries), Germany is the hub of Europe; to use a cliché: All roads lead through Germany. It is the economic and technological powerhouse of the united Europe, that is increasingly coming to occupy the place it justly deserves in the world political arena.The Interactive Web of Academia, Research and Industry:
German universities, dispersed all over the country, form a web of higher education institutions (numbering over 300) with the density unparalleled anywhere in the world. Conveniently located near focal points of interaction between industrial plants and scientific/technological research centers, these universities provide opportunities that seldom exist elsewhere for students: find employment upon graduation and live & work in the same city where they studied.Academic Standards:
Academic standards at German universities are top-notch; not only are the renowned technical institutes, such as TU Darmstadt, RWTH Aachen, and others, ranked as some of the best in the world, but the study courses offered in a variety of other disciplines such as: medicine, law, social sciences, arts etc., are highly acclaimed internationally.Funding of Research:
The three preeminent funding sources for research projects at German universities are: German Government, the industrial sector, and the European Union; having this giant pool of funding to draw from, researchers from a wide variety of disciplines have virtually limitless possibilities to conduct research and come up with innovative solutions in their respective fields.Availability of Courses in English and International Recognition of Credentials:
Although the vast majority of courses offered by German universities are predominantly German taught, there are, due to a growing demand and a steady rise in the influx of foreign students, various universities that are switching to English taught courses, today numbering a total of over 350 university courses taught in English. These courses, offered across the spectrum of disciplines, are internationally recognized, a fact which lays to rest whatever concerns foreign students may have about the validity of their degrees earned in Germany.No Tuition Fees and Living Costs:
The vast majority of universities and colleges in Germany are state-financed, and as of October 2014 literally free of charge meaning that there are no tuition fees whatsoever charged in all public universities throughout the
country. Just as in the past, higher education in Germany has become virtually free again– the tuition fees are entirely waived for all students regarding undergraduate studies.
In the last couple of years, some changes have taken place in this regard; a relatively low tuition fee has been charged (the amount, rarely exceeding €500 per semester, was set by respective Federal States) on the excuse of it being necessary to maintain the facilities and the general quality of services. However even with these tuition fees higher education was still significantly less expensive than in most other developed western countries, and with many student benefits and discounts available across the board, the total living costs for students in Germany can be kept well below €1000 per month.
In 2014 the decision has been made however; tuition fees for undergraduates have been waived making it even more affordable to pursuit a degree in Germany.
It wasn’t before fairly recently – a 2005 federal court ruling paving the way for it – that a number of universities in certain federal states of Germany started charging tuition fees. Higher education had essentially been free in
Germany prior to it. The vast majority of German colleges and universities being state-funded, made tuition fees at these institutions highly subsidized; thus, the prevailing practice was to waive them across the board.
But with the advent of legislation permitting them, tuition fees were introduced by a number of federal states (rarely in excess of €500 for a semester – pretty low in comparison to what they are in the U.S. and U.K.) on the justification of them being needed for the maintenance of the university facilities and provision of high quality services.
However, what many refer to as the ‘tuition fee experiment’ seems to have gone wrong; most of the federal states (Länder) that initially opted to charge tuition fees have in the meantime abolished them (primarily, as a consequence of a public outcry against them). As things lately stand, it was only two of the federal states that were still hanging on to them: Lower Saxony and Bavaria; both of these states were however, expected to follow suit and abolish them too, thus turning Germany into somewhat of a ‘contrarian,’ in the face of the global pull towards increasing tuition fees where they are in place, and introducing them where they are not.
Tuition fees in the German tertiary education system we’re modest by any stretch; this in conjunction with various student benefits and discounts, significantly reducing the overall cost of living for students which made Germany into one of the prime destinations for international students worldwide. There is a marked increase in the numbers of youths opting for Germany for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies; with supreme quality education at affordable cost, widespread use of the global ‘lingua franca’ – English, and cheap easyJet-like airfares, Germany has never looked so attractive.
As of October 2014 it has been established and officially tuition fees are now abolished throughout the whole country. German students have finally reached their goal with the help of course of the designated institutions providing from now on free higher education for everyone, national and international alike.
Master’s and Ph.D. courses are, however, liable for some additional costs (still, relatively low) which may vary between €650 and several thousand Euros per semester; prospective international postgraduate students are advised to conduct their own research and weigh their options.
Tuition fees a.k.a. Studiengebühren (when they were in place) usually got charged alongside semester contributions a.k.a. Semesterbeitrag (include: administration fee, AstA, ‘Studentenwerk’ services, and the ‘Semesterticket’ i.e. free public transportation around the city) which is still mandatory; in addition, a small enrollment/confirmation fee of €100 is charged, in order to have the student ID issued to a student (the ID provides various concessions e.g. for bank accounts, occasionally phone companies, tickets for cinema, theater, different events etc). Another fee to be reckoned with – in case a student exceeds (by four semesters) the time it normally takes to wrap-up his/her studies – is €500 per semester charged from then on out.
Germany is one of the world leaders in terms of being the country of choice for international students to study or continue their education in; and the reasons for this are many: from the desire to acquire specialized knowledge and improve their
language skills, to the expectation that after completing their studies they will have more career opportunities back in their home country or in Germany. Quality teaching, security, great standard of living and low tuition fees, alongside the
appeal of the local culture have made Germany an attractive study destination for people all over the world; it is currently ranked fourth in the world, after the US, Great Britain and Australia.
Young students from developing countries, Eastern European countries and countries in transition are particularly interested in studying in Germany and are more likely to recommend their friends pursue studies in Germany after having a great experience in Germany themselves. One of the strongest motivators is the financial one; tuition fees in German universities are very low compared to North America and other developed countries, so it’s liberating not to have to mortgage their future.