Some thoughts on the German Higher Education Market 2018

Some thoughts on the German market in 2018

This month we have asked our partner in Germany, David Scrimgeour, to give his overview of the German Higher Education market, as we believe there are some interesting opportunities for UK universities and colleges to explore. However, it is important to note that Germany takes a more focused effort than some other European markets (but the rewards are potentially greater) and it is important to have a clear idea of the strategy you are going to follow and be prepared to make the necessary investment to make the market a success.

If you would like to have a conversation about the market let us know and we can arrange a call.

Higher Education in Germany

There are three types of higher education institutions in Germany:

  • Universities offer strong theoretical and academically-oriented degree programmes and a broad range of disciplines. Some universities have specialised in certain subject areas e.g. technical topics, medicine and education.
  • Universities of applied sciences – Instruction is strongly practice-oriented. The course work provides the theoretical background and also prepares students for the real-world requirements of professional life. Internships and practical semesters form an integral part of the degree programmes.
  • Colleges of art, film and music – offer instruction in Fine Arts, Acting, Dance, Industrial and Fashion Design, Graphic Art, Instrumental Music and Singing. Students enrolled at colleges for modern media are trained to become directors, camera operators, screenwriters and film and television professionals.

There are 427 state accredited institutions in c.180 towns and cities around Germany. Together these offer a total of over 18,000 degree programmes.  In the winter semester 2014/2015, almost 2.7 million students were enrolled at state-accredited institutions of higher education in Germany:

  • 7 million students at 107 universities
  • 930,000 students at 246 universities of applied sciences
  • 35,000 students at 52 colleges of art, film and music
  • 2,500 at 16 colleges of theology
  • 25,000 at six universities of education

(Source: Federal Statistical Office)

English language courses – Around 900 accredited courses are offered in English and this trend is increasing. The purpose is to further develop German students’ command of English and their international experience as well as to attract foreign students to study in Germany. However, at the moment only 130 of these are bachelor degrees.

Online education – Distance learning in various forms is increasing but there remains some scepticism about this approach. There are around 100 degree courses available in English at German universities with online elements. The private universities and some new online service providers are focusing more on this area and there have been a number of start-ups and also recent international acquisitions by US groups reflecting this development.

Refugees – The university sector is responding to the refugee crisis by offering courses specifically targeted at non-German speakers and those who cannot prove their prior qualifications. In total 80 universities already have programmes to assist. German universities dealt with about 50,000 additional students in Autumn 2016, not only from Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. The German Ministry of Education and Research allocated €100 million for the next four years to help German universities integrate refugee students.

Private universities

There are 135 private universities – most of them universities of applied sciences (see above) – in Germany whose degrees are certified by state agencies.  Around 7% of students in Germany attend a private university and although private universities charge tuition fees this trend is increasing. The main drivers for this growth are the internationalisation of the education sector together with the demand from both German students and companies for more relevant HE and FE courses.

The private education sector is growing at a fast pace in the area of business studies in particular. Private universities now offer 60% of all business administration courses available in Germany. Over half of all part-time Bachelor students are enrolled at a private university.

There is a wide variety of focus, business models and ownership structures. A number of the larger groups and universities provide degree courses in English and have highly developed international networks, mainly for student exchanges. Some universities are targeting foreign students which, in turn, generate a requirement for English-language courses, particularly at Bachelor level.

Further education – Companies in Germany are engaging with private universities more readily than with the public universities although it remains a demanding and fragmented market. The growing demand for further education – “Weiterbildung” – is increasing the need for DL solutions. Some universities are specialised in this and others have not yet begun to tackle it. Nevertheless the private education sector is much more active than the public in developing distance learning solutions for FE students.


There are interesting opportunities for cooperation across Germany’s HE and FE sectors and private universities provide more immediate access for foreign institutions interested to explore Europe’s largest market. The areas of interest include joint degrees, cross-licensing of courses, teaching partnerships and the development of online education solutions.

The main modes of market entry are partnership, joint venture or acquisition. As a first step market research is necessary to identify the German target organisations which match to the strategy for business development in the German market.

If you would like to have a chat about this, please let me know by emailing