Higher Education in Germany: Key Trends & Statistics

Germany’s higher education system represents a blend of tradition and innovation, catering to a diverse student demographic with various academic and vocational aspirations.

This rich educational landscape, home to a significant number of universities and vocational schools, reflects the country’s commitment to comprehensive, high-quality education.

We have gathered some of the most important statistics regarding higher education in Germany!

Summary

  • 32.3% of people aged 25-64 have a university degree in Germany, including bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, or short-cycle education degrees.
  • More young people choose to study at vocational schools in Germany compared to traditional university education.
  • Germany has a total of 423 higher education institutions, among which 309 are public and 114 are private.
  • The total number of students in higher education institutions in Germany is 2.8 million.
  • North Rhine-Westphalia leads with the highest number of students at 719,494.
  • Among HEI types, universities have the highest student population, with over 1.6 million students.
  • Germany has 458,210 international students (out of which 90,632 are resident international students).
  • The top countries of origin for international students in Germany are India (42,578) and China (39,137).
  • There are 27,226 Erasmus students in Germany.
  • Female students make up 50.8% of the total student population in Germany.
  • The average age of students enrolled in HEIs in Germany is 23.6.
  • The field of Legal, Economic, and Social Sciences has the highest number of students, with over 1.1 million students.
  • For international students, the field of Engineering is more popular. 43.1% of all international students in Germany study Engineering.
  • The majority of German students are enrolled at the ǰ’s level. In contrast, the majority of international students are enrolled at the Master’s level.
  • In 2022 alone, 3,500 students were enrolled in general, state-run preparatory courses (Studienkollegs).
  • The unemployment rate of those over 25 years of age in Germany is 2.8%.
  • 61% of international students said they had some intention to stay in Germany after their studies, according to a study.
  • There are 133,400 German students pursuing their education outside of Germany.
  • The German Higher Education Sector spent 20.6 billion on research and development in 2021 alone.
  • The total number of academic staff at German higher education institutions is 787,537.

Education Level in Germany

  • The majority of the student population in Germany (specifically considering the educational attainment of people aged 20 to 24) choose post-secondary, non-tertiary education.
  • More people in this age group (20 to 24) have successfully completed general education, followed by vocational education and tertiary education in this order.
  • 32.3% of people aged 25-64 have a university degree. A higher percentage of males (34.2%) than females (30.3%) can be observed in this age group. Meanwhile, 10.8% of 20-24 year-olds have a university degree, with females (12.6%) slightly higher than males (9%).
  • 30.6% of 20-24-year-olds have a general education qualification, more females (34%) than males (27.3%).
  • 29.2% of 20-24 year-olds, have a vocational qualification, with the percentage of males (32%) being higher than females (26.3%).

Take a look at the distribution below for more information:

Tertiary Education

Tertiary education refers to short-cycle tertiary education, bachelor’s or equivalent, master’s or equivalent, doctoral or equivalent.

  • 32.3% of the German population aged 25 to 64 years have a university degree.
    • 30.3% of the female population in this age group.
    • 34.2% of the male population in this age group.
  • 10.8% of people aged 20 to 24 years have a university degree.
    • 12.6% of the female population in this age group.
    • 9.0% of the male population in this age group.
  • 37.1% of people aged 25 to 34 years have a university degree.
    • 39.5% of the female population in this age group.
    • 34.9% of the male population in this age group.

Post-Secondary, Non-Tertiary Education

This refers to upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education. In our case below, it refers specifically to post-secondary, non-tertiary education by program orientation (general and vocational).

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General Education Qualification

  • 30.6% of people aged 20 to 24 have successfully completed general education.
    • 34% of the female population in this age group.
    • 27.3% of the male population in this age group.
  • 8.4% of people aged 25 to 34 have successfully completed general education.
    • 7.6% of the female population in this age group.
    • 9.2% of the male population in this age group.

Vocational Qualification

  • 46.6% of people aged 15 and over have an apprenticeship (dual system) qualification.
  • 29.2% of people aged 20 to 24 have successfully completed vocational education.
    • 26.3% of the female population in this age group.
    • 32% of the male population in this age group.
  • 37.8% of people aged 25 to 34 have successfully completed vocational education.
    • 37.7% of the female population in this age group.
    • 37.9% of the male population in this age group.

Expert Q & A:

Q: Why are more young people in Germany choosing vocational education as opposed to traditional university education?

A: More young people in Germany tend to choose vocational education over traditional university studies due to its practical nature and strong industry links. Vocational training, particularly through the dual system, combines classroom learning with on-the-job training, providing real-world skills and a smoother transition into the workforce.

This does not mean university education is not ‘good enough’, in fact, it is exceptional, but it is a matter of aligning education with personal and professional goals. University education is ideal for those seeking careers requiring extensive theoretical knowledge and research skills. Each pathway, whether vocational or academic, caters to different sectors of the job market, ensuring a well-rounded workforce that meets the diverse needs of Germany’s economy. Furthermore, with its low unemployment rate, Germany demonstrates its commitment to aligning educational pathways with the diverse needs of its population.

– Gent Ukëhajdaraj, Higher Education Expert

Number of Higher Education Institutions in Germany

Germany has a total of 423 higher education institutions [find the full list of German higher education institutions in Germany here.

  • Public institutions dominate the higher education scene in Germany. The landscape is dominated by public institutions, with 309 public compared to 114 private institutions. This demonstrates a strong state commitment to higher education.
  • Public vs. Private Institutions. In Germany, there are significantly more public (309) than private (114) higher education institutions.
  • Universities. Among the 108 universities, 87 are public and 21 are private, showing a strong preference for public institutions in university education.
  • Specialized Colleges. For specialized fields, public institutions are dominant. This includes 6 public Colleges of Education and 16 Colleges of Theology (13 public, 3 private).
  • Arts and Music Colleges. There are 52 Colleges of Art and Music, with the vast majority (49) being public, indicating significant state support in these areas.
  • Applied Sciences. Universities of Applied Sciences are more varied, with 125 public and 86 private institutions out of a total of 211, reflecting a notable private sector role.
  • Public Administration Colleges. Public institutions almost exclusively run the 30 Colleges of Public Administration, with 29 being public and just 1 private.

Take a look at the table below for more information:

Type of Institution Public Private Total Higher Education Institutions
Universities 87 21 108
Colleges of Education 6 / 6
Colleges of Theology 13 3 16
Colleges of Art and Music 49 3 52
Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) 125 86 211
Colleges of Public Administration 29 1 30
Total: 309 114 423

Student Enrollment Numbers: State Distribution

The total number of students in higher education institutions in Germany is 2,871,481 (2.8 million) as of 2023/2024 statistics.

  • North Rhine-Westphalia leads with the highest number of students at 719,494. This is likely due to it being the most populous state in Germany, with several large universities.
  • Bavaria and -üٳٱ𳾲 follow, with 404,893 and 355,360 students, respectively. These states are known for their strong economic performance and numerous higher education institutions.
  • Hesse, Berlin, and Lower Saxony have a moderate student population, ranging from around 194,005 to 245,036. These figures could be influenced by the presence of major cities and universities.
  • Thuringia, Hamburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony fall in the next tier, with student populations ranging from 104,704 to 143,990.
  • Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, and Bremen have lower student populations, ranging from 38,185 to 64,615. This could be due to smaller populations and fewer higher education institutions in these states.
  • Mecklenburg – Western Pomerania and Saarland have the lowest numbers, with 37,079 and 31,053 students, respectively.

Take a look at the table below for more information:

Federal State Number of Students (Highest to Lowest)
North Rhine-Westphalia 719,494
Bavaria 404,893
-üٳٱ𳾲 355,360
Hesse 245,036
Berlin 197,074
Lower Saxony 194,005
Thuringia 143,990
Hamburg 116,872
Rhineland-Palatinate 112,106
Saxony 104,704
Schleswig-Holstein 64,615
Saxony-Anhalt 56,436
Brandenburg 50,579
Bremen 38,185
Mecklenburg – Western Pomerania 37,079
Saarland 31,053

Student Enrollment Numbers: Across Different Higher Education Institutions

  • Universities have the highest student population, with a total of 1,658,625 students. This indicates that traditional universities remain the most popular choice among students in Germany.
  • Universities of Applied Sciences come next with 1,089,493 students. These institutions, known for their practical and industry-oriented programs, also have a significant student presence.
  • Colleges of Public Administration and Colleges of Art and Music have lower student populations, with 57,842 and 37,424 students, respectively. This is expected as these institutions typically offer more specialized programs.
  • Colleges of Education have a lower student population of 25,979.
  • Colleges of Theology have the smallest student population, with 2,118 students.

Take a look at the table below for more information:

Institution Type Number of Students (Highest to Lowest)
Universities 1,658,625
Universities of Applied Sciences 1,089,493
Colleges of Public Administration 57,842
Colleges of Art and Music 37,424
Colleges of Education 25,979
Colleges of Theology 2,118

Expert Q & A:

Q: Why do you think students continue to choose universities compared to other tertiary institutions in Germany?

A: Well, it is true that in Germany, universities remain the top choice for most students, and this is likely due to their strong reputation, diverse programs, research opportunities, and global recognition. They offer a wide range of academic options and provide access to extensive resources.

However, it’s important to recognize that other institution types also play vital roles in providing specialized and practical education to meet diverse student needs. As you can see, the number of students at Universities of Applied Sciences is also significantly high.

– Gent Ukëhajdaraj, Higher Education Expert

International Students in German Higher Education

Germany has seen a steady increase in the number of international students over the years, reflecting its growing popularity as a study destination. In 2023, Germany became the third most popular country for international students and the first among non-English speaking countries.

Here’s what the numbers tell us!

  • As of the 2022/2023 academic year, Germany has a significant international student population, with a total of 458,210 students from abroad (out of which 90,632 are resident international students).
  • The majority of international students are non-resident international students, with their numbers steadily increasing each year.
  • The number of resident international students has remained relatively stable, fluctuating slightly from year to year.

Take a look at the table below for more information:

Winter Semester Total International Students International Students Resident International Students
2022/2023 458,210 367,578 90,632
2021/2022 440,564 349,438 91,126
2020/2021 416,437 324,729 91,708
2019/2020 411,601 319,902 91,699
2018/2019 394,665 302,157 92,508


Remember:
In Germany, international students (Bildungsauslaender) are those who have completed their previous education in their home country, while resident international students (Bildungsinlaender) have completed their prior education in Germany or attended a German school before enrolling in higher education.

Where Do International Students in Germany Study?

  • In 2021/22, universities had 242,310 international students, while universities of applied sciences had 107,128 international students. This indicates that universities continue to attract a larger number of international students compared to universities of applied sciences.
  • Both types of institutions see an increase in international student numbers, with universities usually experiencing a more significant growth rate.

See the table below for information:

Academic Year Ծٲ University of Applied Sciences
2021/22 242,310 107,128
2020/21 228,292 96,437

Where Do International Students in Germany Come From?

  • The top country of origin for international students in Germany is currently India (42,578), followed by China (39,137), Syria (15,563), Austria (14,762), and Turkey (14,732).
  • India is the leading source country for international students in Germany, with a population of 42,578 ٳܻԳٲ.
  • China follows closely behind with 39,137 international students studying in Germany. Chinese students have consistently been a significant presence in German universities.
Country International Students in Germany (2022/23)
Ի徱 42,578
󾱲Բ 39,137
Syria 15,563
Austria 14,762
Turkey 14,732

Erasmus Students in Germany

  • According to the latest statistics, there are 27,226 Erasmus students in Germany as of 2021.
    • The majority of them (17,817 students) are on study visits in Germany.
    • The others (9,409 students) are on placement visits.

Gender Distribution

Women make up more than half of the total student population in Germany. Statistics show that female students currently make up 50.8% of the student population in Germany as of 2023/2024. This percentage has consistently been on the rise throughout the past four years.

  • In 2022/2023, female students comprised 50.5% of the total student population.
  • In 2021/2022, female students comprised 50.1% of the total student population.
  • In 2020/2021, female students comprised 49.8% of the total student population.

Students in Germany by Age

Statistics show that the average age of students enrolled in higher education institutions in Germany is 23.6. This is counted across all higher education institutions and all levels of study.

Students in Germany by Field of Study

  • The field of Legal, Economic, and Social Sciences has the highest number of students, with a significant enrollment of 1,132,153 students. This reflects the popularity of programs related to law, economics, and social sciences among students.
  • Engineering is the second most popular field of study, with 763,971 students. Germany’s strong emphasis on engineering and technology-related programs is evident in this substantial enrollment.
  • The field of Mathematics and Natural Sciences has 314,071 students. This includes programs in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, indicating a strong interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines.

It’s fascinating to observe the unique distribution of students across different fields of study in Germany, where international and German students seem to have distinctive preferences:

  • Engineering: Engineering stands out with a notably higher share of international students, making up 43.1% of all international students. This could be attributed to Germany’s global reputation for engineering excellence, drawing aspiring engineers from around the world.
  • Legal, Economic, and Social Sciences: On the other hand, the field of Legal, Economic, and Social Sciences has a higher share of German students, constituting 40.7% of all German students in higher education.

Take a look at the table below for more information:

Field of Study Number of Students (2022/2023) German Students (Share in %)* International Students

(Share in %)*

Legal, Economic and Social Sciences 1,132,153 40.7% of all German students. 24.4% of all international students.
Engineering 763,971 24.0% 43.1%
Mathematics, Natural Sciences 314,071 10.6% 11.7%
Humanities 310,473 12.2% 8.5%
Human Medicine 200,906 7.0% 5.1%
Art 101,101 3.2% 4.9%
Agricultural, Forestry, and Food Sciences, Veterinary Medicine 62,660 2.2% 2.3%
ǰٲ 30,777 N/D N/D
ٳ 4,151 N/D N/D

*Share (percentage) is from 2021/22 winter semester statistics.

Expert Q & A:

Q: Why do you think the share of international students in Engineering programs is higher than that of German students?

A: The higher proportion of international students in German engineering programs is likely due to Germany’s global reputation for excellence in technical and engineering education. This reputation attracts international talent, particularly in specialized fields like engineering, where Germany is known for its cutting-edge research and industry-aligned curricula.

We know that the number of German students in Engineering fields in Germany is also high, but in terms of percentage share, the share of international students is higher in this field.

As I mentioned, one of Germany’s main attractions is its engineering programs, renowned for their research opportunities, advanced technology, and industry connections, which appeal to students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

– Gent Ukëhajdaraj, Higher Education Expert

Students in Germany by Degree Type

The data below indicates that the majority of German students are enrolled at the ǰ’s level. In contrast, the majority of international students are enrolled at the Master’s level.

German Students

    • The total number of German students pursuing Bachelor’s degrees is 1,591,572.
      • Among them, 775,077 are enrolled in universities, while 816,495 are in universities of applied sciences.
      • This indicates a relatively balanced distribution of German students pursuing Bachelor’s degrees between universities and universities of applied sciences.
  • A total of 495,172 German students are pursuing Master’s degrees.
    • Of these, 343,019 are studying at universities, while 152,153 are at universities of applied sciences.
    • The majority of German Master’s students are enrolled in universities, possibly due to the research-oriented nature of many Master’s programs offered at universities.
  • 78,348 German students are pursuing doctoral degrees.
  • 334,069 German students are enrolled in the “Other” category, which may include diploma programs or specialized courses.
Degree Type Total (German Students) Universities Universities of Applied Sciences
ǰ’s 1,591,572 775,077 816,495
Master’s 495,172 343,019 152,153
Doctorate 78,348 78,039 /
Other 334,069 302,672 31,397

International Students

  • The total number of international students pursuing Bachelor’s degrees in Germany is 130,478.
      • Among them, 66,178 are enrolled in universities, while 64,300 are in universities of applied sciences.
  • A total of 148,901 international students are pursuing Master’s degrees in Germany.
    • Of these, 112,161 are studying at universities, while 36,740 are at universities of applied sciences.
    • This suggests that while universities are the primary choice for international students pursuing Master’s degrees, there is also a significant presence at universities of applied sciences.
  • 28,745 international students are pursuing doctoral degrees.
Degree Type Total (International Students) Universities Universities of Applied Sciences
ǰ’s 130,478 66,178 64,300
Master’s 148,901 112,161 36,740
Doctorate 28,745 28,661 84
Other 19,960 18,546 1,414

Preparatory Course (Studienkolleg) Statistics

In simple terms, Studienkolleg is a preparatory college in Germany aimed at preparing international students who wish to study in Germany but do not meet the qualifications required by the German education system.

  • According to Wissenschaft Weltoffen, in 2022, 3,500 participants were enrolled in general, state-run preparatory courses (Studienkollegs).
  • In 2022, there were 22 general, state-run Studienkollegs, according to the same source.
  • Additionally, there were 35 active private Studienkollegs or independent facilities of private Studienkollegs in the same year.
  • Out of the private Studienkollegs, 17 are state-accredited, allowing them to conduct the assessment test independently.

Employment in Germany

  • The employment rate in Germany currently stands at 76.9%, according to Destatis.
  • The unemployment rate of people under the age of 25 in Germany is 5.6%. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate of those over 25 years of age is 2.8%.

German Universities Employability Ranking

The most employable German university is the Technical University of Munich, ranking 13 out of 250 in the Global Employability Rank 2023–24 by THE. The university is closely followed by Humboldt University of Berlin, ranking 46th, and LMU Munich ranking 53rd.

International Students Wishing to Stay in Germany After Graduation

  • According to a , under the BintHo project, done with 14,000 international students, 61% of students said they had some intention to stay in Germany after their studies. 11% said they were unlikely to do so, while 28% were undecided.
  • The percentages of international students intending to remain in Germany are notably high for students from Syria (83%), Afghanistan (79%), and Azerbaijan (76%).
  • Students from countries like Luxembourg (19%), Switzerland (26%), and France (38%) have significantly lower proportions intending to stay.
  • Engineering students are more inclined to stay in Germany (67%), while students in medicine and health sciences have the lowest intention to stay (53%).

German Students Abroad

  • The latest statistics by Destatis show that there are 133,400 German students pursuing their education outside of Germany.
  • This number has increased significantly by 156% from two decades ago, when the number of German students abroad was only 52,100.
  • As for Erasmus, statistics show that there are 42,279 students from German universities on their Erasmus visits abroad. Most of these students attend German universities (29,801), while others are enrolled in universities of applied sciences (12,478).
  • Spain is the most popular Erasmus destination for students from Germany, followed by France and the UK.

Research & Development Expenditure

The German Higher Education Sector spent 20.6 billion on research and development in 2021. This is around 3.5% more than the previous year and 52.8% more than 10 years ago.

Academic Staff in German Higher Education

  • The total number of academic staff at German higher education institutions is 787,537.
  • Female staff make up 54.8% of the total staff population.

Sources

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