The German higher education system is a varied one and consists of public and private universities, public and private universities of applied sciences, technical and teacher training colleges, and specialized colleges of art and music. Government is related to the funds of the public universities, and the other public Higher Education Institutions, that lies within the responsibility of the federal states (federal budget system). They receive financial resources from the regional budget, external funding, and other revenues (equity financing). The state financing is governed by higher education contracts between the state and the universities or colleges (solidarity pact) and target agreements. (Tuitions) fees at public universities and colleges have been abolished in all federal states (first bachelor and master’s degree), but fees are usually charged for long-term or second-degree students. Target agreements are powerful instruments of accomplishing policy objectives in higher education, and target agreements are linked to financial commitments (e.g., creation of additional student places).
The sector of private universities and colleges is growing and is focusing on potential students, that are not addressed by the academic programs at the public universities. They offer career-oriented degree programs, an efficient and good organized study structure as well as good conditions of studying. The market is strongly competitive and profit-oriented (dependence on study fees, external funding, and other benefits). Private higher education institutions also try to satisfy the demand for further training activities (lifelong learning).
In comparison to the rest of Europe, the national higher education system in Germany has been very selective for a long time. In the meanwhile, efforts have been made to facilitate the access of students with a non-academic or/and migrant background, taking into account occupational experiences in access to higher education institutions.
Internal performance-related financial distribution is linked to the achievement of goals and case numbers concerning, for example, achieving optimum capacity utilization, graduation rate, the proportion of foreign graduates, graduates that completed their studies within the standard period.
The composition of the student population varies strongly. There are differences between the federal states, the different study programs (entry barriers), public and private universities and colleges, as well as the proportion of high school-leavers who get access and go on to university. That also leads to special demands on lecturers, instructors, and training staff of Service -Learning courses.
The development of study programs for different target groups is the responsibility of the different universities, universities of applied sciences, and colleges (framework specifications of the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs KMK and accreditation rules apply to all higher education institutions). The bachelor study programs are usually full-time programs: The development of study and examination regulations that could also include new innovative forms of teaching and learning is carried out by the faculties in consultation with the central administration units of the universities and other higher education institutions.
Concerning the development of study programs, private universities and private universities of applied sciences are more focusing on students as paying customers through precise analysis of target groups and their special needs (e.g., student support infrastructure, advisory services).
German educational tradition concerns the enrolment restrictions in the bachelor and master study programs that exist nationwide and locally. Nationwide admission-limited is the study programs medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, pharmacy. The Foundation for University Admissions manages the procedure of the selection of applicants. Other study programs are currently admission-limited locally (local NC numerus clausus, selection criterion high school graduation grade, waiting time, sometimes also selection interviews, entrance tests).
The government is making a lot of efforts to increase the percentage of academics among the working population and to motivate more high school-leavers to get enrolled in tertiary education programs to reach a positive development in the sense of increasing educational participation.
The Higher Education Pact (2007-2020, out-financing until 2023) is one instrument of the Federal Government and the Federal States to ensure a high quality of tertiary education in Germany and to provide additional enrolment capacities. The Higher Education Pact will be followed by the agreement between the Federal Government and the Federal States “future agreement to strengthen teaching and learning” (as of 2021).
The first pillar of the Higher Education Pact was intended to increase the student capacities (ensuring high teaching quality). The third pillar, the Teaching Quality Pact, aimed to encourage and support higher education institutions in Germany to improve the quality of teaching and learning as well as to extend the support and supervision of students. In this context, efforts have been undertaken to establish innovative and student-oriented forms of teaching and learning.
With the “Shift from teaching to learning” in German academic teaching, a constructivist approach and collaborative forms of teaching and learning have increased considerably in importance, including “experience” and “problem-based learning”.
In the German Higher Education research and teaching are traditionally the main pillars. But the discussions and considerations about the “third mission” of the universities have rapidly evolved in recent years. The Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany (Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft) provided financial support to universities that had undertaken a structural adaptation to develop the third pillar, to engage in local society and to address its needs. Knowledge transfer, the involvement in regional (innovation) networks, and the implementation and further development of relationships between the universities and the various civil society players are of great importance. At an increasing number of universities, coordination offices have been established to develop and design the relationship between the university and civil society. This, in particular, enables the growing number of teaching staff that offers Service-Learning courses in several disciplines to draw on existing networks. Nationwide funding programs promote the development of “third mission” activities at the universities of applied sciences.
Many universities and universities of applied sciences intensify their efforts to adapt to the increasing diversity of students. The requirements differ from region to region. Special support measures and activities are offered, for example, for students (and academics) with a non-academic or migration background, with disabilities, with children, etc. (language courses, counselling services, scholarship programs, or disadvantage compensation).
Janine Bittner (Lecturer with Special Responsibilities, Ruhr-University Bochum, Institute of Geography)