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Education System in Germany
Facts and Figures
Many German institutions of higher education can look back on a centuries-old tradition. The oldest university in Germany today was founded in Heidelberg in 1386. Until the Second World War German universities played a leading role internationally in many of the science and humanities disciplines. During the period of National Socialist rule, however, a large number of particularly distinguished academics were forced to leave the country and it took some time before the universities were able to regain their academic standing in the world. The unification of Germany brought together two diametrically opposed academic systems. Research and teaching in the new lender have undergone a thorough structural change and now contribute significantly to the lively German economic scenario.
There are more than 330 institutions of higher education spread all over Germany, with no less than 117 universities, 159 "Fachhochschulen" (universities of applied science) and 56 colleges of music and fine arts. During the Winter semester 2003/04 almost 1.9 million students were registered, of whom 227,000 came from abroad and 359,000 were in their first-year.
The spectrum of study options is extremely broad. Apart from the classic disciplines it is also possible to study mining in Germany; Luneburg offers "Applied Cultural Studies", Cologne has an institute for media studies, while at Rostock you can study agricultural ecology, to name but a few subjects from the varigated pallet totalling over 10.000 degree programmes in all. In the last few years inter-disciplinary science and research have become significantly more important.
Public (state-maintained) universities in Germany do not generally charge tuition fees. Some Master's programmes and the additional fees charged by some of the federal states are exceptions to this rule. Click here for further information.
How the Institutions are Structured
Since the time of Wilhelm von Humboldt the governing principle has been "the unity of research and teaching". Since the opening-up of the universities, however, with the resulting trend towards mass institutions, this ideal is only partially in line with the times. Aspects such as practical applicability and relevance to vocational requirements are constantly gaining in importance. This is particularly true at Fachhochschulen where the courses are shorter and the curriculum more tightly-organised than at the universities. Ever more new students are opting to study at Fachhochschulen. The "freedom of teaching and research" guarantees institutions the right to self-administration even if they are financed by the state. In the framework of the Higher Education Act of the respective Land they award themselves their own charters. Universities are headed by a Rector or President, several Pro-rectors or Vice-presidents, and a Chancellor. The Academic Senate is responsible for general affairs concerning research, teaching and studying. It is composed of elected representatives of all the members of the institution, ie. students and non-academic staff, too. The students elect their own Student Representation. Its various bodies are self-administrating and safeguard student rights with regard to higher education policy, as well as dealing with students' social and cultural interests.
Where does teaching and research take place?
The individual disciplines are grouped together into faculties or departments (eg. the "Philosophical Faculty" or the "Department of Economics"). The faculties and departments are empowered to pass regulations governing studies and examinations. An elected Dean is in charge of faculty or departmental business. Each subject has its own institute or "Seminar" (in Germany this word has a double meaning: a course and a department building or room). This will be the place you spend most of your time because this is where the teaching staff and other students are to be found. You will find literature on your subject in the "Seminar"-library, while general information on your course of study is available from the Departmental Student Organisation ("Fachschaft"). Queries about organisational matters can be addressed to the secretary's office.
Studying with Disabilities
The Information and Advice Centre on Studying with Disabilities (Informations- und Beratungsstelle Studium und Behinderung), which is run by the German National Association of Student Services Organisations (Deutsches Studentenwerk - DSW), provides advice to university applicants and students with disabilities or chronic illnesses as well as to their parents and counsellors on all questions relating to taking a course of higher education study. The centre also organises regular information events on how to start studying and on how to enter a career.
The Information and Advice Centre publishes a brochure in German called "Studium und Behinderung" which provides a comprehensive overview of all topics relating to studying with disabilities. The questions it answers include aspects such as university admissions, financing studies and additional, disability-related requirements, as well as areas such as the provisions available for compensating the disadvantages which students may experience during their studies and examinations, as well as aspects of studying abroad.
The DSW will be pleased to send the brochure to you at no cost upon request. Furthermore, the brochure and a list of the university and student services "Disabled Students Officers" responsible for questions relating to studying with disabilities - these are the local contacts at higher education institutions - can be downloaded from the DSW website at www.studentenwerke.de/behinderung. The website also contains further information on events and topics of current interest or relevance.
For further questions please contact:
Deutsches Studentenwerk (DSW)
Informations- und Beratungsstelle Studium und Behinderung
Tel.: +49 (0)30/ 29 77 27-64
Fax: +49 (0)30/ 29 77 27-69