Each of Germany’s 16 States has its own laws and guidelines governing higher education.

Country Overview

Located in the center of Europe, Germany is the European Union’s most populous country—with over  80 million inhabitants—and the biggest marketplace. It borders nine other countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Poland. Germany has coastlines on both the North and Baltic Seas.

Germany is a federal parliamentary democracy made up of 16 states. Each state has its own constitution, parliament, and government.

National executive power rests with the federal government based in the capital, Berlin. The parliament, called the Bundestag, is comprised of 598 elected members, representing 299 constituencies. These members of parliament in turn elect a Chancellor, similar to a Prime Minister in other parliamentary democracies. There is also a president of the Bundestag who oversees daily sessions and a national President who acts as a head of state with largely representative duties.  

Although institutes of higher learning, universities, and universities of applied sciences are the responsibility of the individual states in Germany, research and internationalization initiatives are supported by important national organizations such as German Research Foundation or “DFG,” Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and German Academic Exchange Service or “DAAD.” The German Rectors’ Conference (“HRK”) is, according to their website, “the political and public voice of the universities and other higher education institutions and is the forum for the higher education institutions’ joint opinion-forming process.”

Despite regional differences—in part relating to its turbulent modern history—Germany has maintained its position as a major economic power. It is the world’s fourth largest economy and accounts for 9 percent of total world trade.

Germany is closely integrated into major international organizations and is a member of the United Nations, NATO, the G8, the G20, and the OECD.


The climate in Germany is relatively mild, with rare appearances of extreme temperatures or weather events. The climate in the north, north-west and the western “Rhineland,” is largely oceanic—affected by proximity to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. In the east, however, the climate is continental with cold winters, warmer summers, and long dry periods. Central and southern Germany are transition regions which vary from fairly oceanic to continental.

Overview of Higher Education

In Germany 43.3 percent of school leavers enter higher education, making up close to two million students.

Five of the federal states charge tuition (around €500 per semester), but higher education is free of charge for domestic and international students in the remaining 11 states, aside from nominal student fees. Some programs outside the regular university curriculum, particularly at the master’s level, do have fees, sometimes running between €10,000 and €20,000 per year.

German universities have moved to a “three-tier” system set out by the Bologna Process, an initiative to increase mobility and standardize degree structures in over 40 European countries. Most programs in Germany are now three-year bachelor’s and two-year master’s degrees. Some fields such as teaching, law, and medicine have kept their longer first terminal degree that is roughly equivalent to the bachelor’s and master’s combined.

Two primary types of higher education institutions exist in Germany: the Universitäten (universities) and Fachhochschulen or Hochschulen (universities of applied sciences). The universities have the sole privilege to grant doctoral degrees and focus on research, while the universities of applied sciences enjoy close connections to industry and tend more toward applied studies research.

The vast majority of German university students are at publicly funded institutions, although the private (and still mostly non-profit) university sector is growing, particularly in fields such as law and business.

Germany is the fourth most popular host country for international students, who make up over 10 percent of the student population. DAAD provides funding for over 35,000 highly talented international students, graduates, researchers, professors, artists, and higher education administrators each year for study or research in Germany.

Number of Colleges, Universities, Technical Institutes

Number of Higher Education Institutions: 380
(according to the HRK’s Higher Education Compass, a database of German higher education institutions)

Number of Higher Education Students

Number of Higher Education Students (enrolled as of 2009): 1.8 million.

International students enrolled: 240,000.

Contact Information

German Academic Exchange Service:  http://www.daad.de

German Rectors’ Conference:  http://www.hrk.de