Germany’s Leading Role in Human Rights-Based Education

Every year on December 10th, the world observes Human Rights Day. This day marks the anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the in 1948.

The Declaration is a key document that outlines the basic rights and freedoms everyone should have. Human Rights Day is a time to reflect on these rights and promote their importance worldwide.

As one of the biggest platforms dedicated to higher education in Germany, we’re celebrating Human Rights Day by showcasing the numerous ways Germany exemplifies leadership in aligning with the Human Rights Declaration’s principles on education, particularly (below):

Article 26 – Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Our focus is to highlight the significance of human rights in education and their broad-reaching benefits for everyone.

So, shall we?

Free Education in Germany

Article 26, 1., states that “Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

Here are a few facts on how Germany’s education system aligns with this principle:

  • Abolishing tuition fees. In 2014, Germany started a new policy in education by removing tuition fees for public universities, making university education free for students.
  • Public universities in Germany do not charge tuition fees. Germany views education as a public good, not a commercial venture. They believe that providing free higher education is beneficial for everyone, as it supports economic growth and societal well-being. To this end, most public universities in Germany do not charge tuition fees, except for a semestral fee which typically ranges €100–€300.
  • Public primary schools are free. In Germany, public primary schools are funded by the federal government, making them tuition-free for students.
  • Public secondary schools are free. Germany’s public education system is financed through taxes, allowing students to attend public secondary schools without paying tuition fees.

Accessible Education in Germany

“Everyone has the right to education.”

Here are a few facts on how Germany aligns with this principle:

  • Affordable education is synonymous with accessible education. The absence of tuition fees and low associated costs at all educational levels, particularly tertiary, ensures wider access to education, regardless of one’s financial situation.
  • There are 2,792 schools for children with special needs in Germany.
  • The German Commission for UNESCO’s works towards making education in Germany inclusive for all. This group of 30 diverse members focuses on enhancing inclusive education and recognizes top inclusive schools with the Jakob Muth Prize (in 2020, this prize was included in the German School Prize). This effort highlights the commitment to making education accessible to everyone.
  • Funding for students and researchers with disabilities or chronic illnesses. The world’s largest funding organization dedicated to international academic exchange, the DAAD, . They offer up to 10,000 euros to cover additional costs related to their condition, facilitating equal access to international study and research opportunities.

Higher Education in Germany

“Higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

Here are a few facts on how Germany’s education system aligns with this principle:

  • Just over 2.8 million students enrolled in German universities. The total number of students in German universities is currently 2,871,481 as of the 2023/2024 winter term [].
  • Women comprise 50.8% of all students in higher education in Germany. As of this most recent winter semester, there are 1,460,341 female students in German universities and other institutions of higher education.
  • International students comprise 15.6% of the student population in Germany. Statistics from the 2022/2023 winter semester show a total of 458,210 international students enrolled in the German higher education sector.
  • 7% of students in Germany choose universities as their higher education choice. The majority of students in Germany are enrolled in Universities (1,658,625), as opposed to other institutions of higher education, such as Colleges of education (25,979), Colleges of theology (2,118), Colleges of art and music (37,424), Specialised colleges of higher education (1,089,493), and Colleges of public administration (57,842).

Compulsory Education in Germany

“Elementary education shall be compulsory.”

Here are a few facts on how Germany’s education system aligns with this principle:

In Germany, compulsory education ensures every child gets an education. Starting at age six, all children must attend school. They’re required to complete either nine years of full-time education at a Gymnasium or ten years at other general education schools.

  • 8,7 million pupils attend general schools. The total number of pupils in schools of General Education in Germany is 8,693,344 as of 2022/23.
  • 3 million pupils attend vocational schools. The total number of pupils at vocational schools in Germany is 2,259,899 as of 2022/23.
  • The number of pupils is on the rise. There was a compared to the previous year, the relevant age group being 5 to under 20 y/o.

The German Vocational Training System

The Declaration reads, “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available.”

Here are a few facts on how Germany’s education system aligns with this principle:

Background info: Germany’s vocational training system is renowned for its effective blend of classroom learning and practical work experience. Known as the dual system, it has historical roots and involves a partnership between private companies and public vocational schools governed by law. This system efficiently combines theoretical and practical training, managed by both the federal government and the states.

  • Vocational training is an alternative to university education for over 50% of all college-bound students. In Germany, . Additionally, many companies are actively involved in offering vocational training programs.
  • Private companies cover 2/3 of the annual cost. Private companies in Germany cover about two-thirds of the annual costs for initial vocational training, averaging €15,300 per trainee each year. These businesses view training as an effective way to recruit and develop their own future employees.
  • Low youth unemployment. Germany’s dual system, combining vocational education and on-the-job training, effectively develops skills and prepares for various careers. This approach contributes to low youth unemployment and a highly skilled workforce in Germany. Statistics show that the unemployment rate for people under the age of 25 is 6% as of October 2023 in Germany. Meanwhile, people aged 25–74 have a 2.8% unemployment rate.

Diversity in German Higher Education Institutions

“It [education] shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”

Here are a few facts on how Germany’s education system aligns with this principle:

  • Germany is the world’s third most popular study destination. The total number of international students in Germany is 458,210, out of which 90,632 are resident international students.
  • 6% of the student population in Germany comes from countries outside of Germany.
  • The number of international students in Germany has been increasing each year for the past decade. From 2013/2014 to 2022/2023, international student numbers in Germany have increased by 52%, having been 301,350 nearly a decade ago.
  • International students in Germany come from all nationalities, belonging to different racial and religious groups.
  • India brings the most international students in Germany. Currently, there are 42,578 students from India in German universities.
  • The other top countries bringing international students to Germany are China, Syria, Austria, and Turkey. Specifically:
    • 39,137 students from China.
    • 15,563 students from Syria.
    • 14,762 students from Austria.
    • 14,732 students from Turkey.
  • Germany offers a variety of scholarships aimed at enhancing and diversifying international student mobility. For example, the DAAD has provided funding to approximately 2.9 million scholars in Germany and other countries ever since its founding in 1925. In 2022 alone, the DAAD has funded over 140,000 scholars from Germany and around the world.
  • German students go abroad too. In 2020, there were around 133,400 German nationals pursuing their studies abroad, further enhancing friendship among nations.
  • 44% of all students at the top German university, Technical University of Munich, are international students. The total number of students at this university, as of the winter semester 2023/24, is 52,000, out of which 23,060 are international students.
  • German universities value diversity. For example, ‘s motto, “Semper apertus” (always open), reflects its commitment to diversity and equal opportunities for all, regardless of sex, age, religion, or origin.

What Our Education Experts Have to Say

The focus on international student integration and the promotion of diverse cultures within universities highlights Germany’s dedication to fostering global understanding and respect in education.

Working with students, we’re always hearing stories of how great friendships are formed during periods of studying abroad. I find friendships among students of diverse backgrounds an exceptional way to “promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups,” as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads.

These friendships have the potential to turn into business collaborations, serving as bridges between cultures and nations. This not only enriches the students’ personal and professional lives but also contributes to a more interconnected and understanding global community.

Germany’s education system, therefore, plays a vital role in nurturing these international relationships that can have lasting impacts beyond academia.

Besides, I’ve always been amazed by the numerous funding opportunities in Germany, which play a significant role in diversifying and making education accessible. These options, including scholarships and grants, cater not only to the academically talented but also to students from various economic backgrounds. This ensures that education is a right for everyone, in line with the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights, and showcases Germany’s dedication to an inclusive, fair education system.

– Gent Ukëhajdaraj, Higher Education Expert