Higher Education Institutions

The various types of higher education institutions and the responsibilities they perform are governed by the federal states (Länder) in Germany through the provisions of the Higher Education Act.

Students in a very big library.
Foto: Sonja Trabandt / Bundesagentur für Arbeit

Besides state (public) higher education institutions, private universities (state approved or recognised) also exist for specific subject areas as do church-maintained higher education institutions, and universities of applied administrative sciences.

Depending on their scope one differentiates between the following types:

  • Universities and higher education institutions with comparable responsibilities (universities of technology/technical universities, distance studies/learning universities, universities of the Federal Armed Forces, medical universities/schools, veterinary medical universities/schools, sports universities, church colleges and colleges of philosophy and theology, universities of education)
  • Colleges of art and music, film and media schools
  • Universities of applied sciences
  • Universities of public administrative sciences

Each higher education institution is divided into departments or faculties.


The characteristic feature of universities and higher education institutions with comparable responsibilities lies in their pronounced focus on academic teaching and research. Moreover, almost all universities have the "Promotionsrecht", which means a doctorate degree can be attained there.

Universities generally offer the broadest range of studies of all the higher education institutions: In addition to classic disciplines such as medicine, legal sciences, theology, natural sciences and humanities, you can study sociology and social sciences, business sciences, mathematics, computer science, engineering sciences, agricultural sciences and forestry as well as diverse teaching professions.

Some (private) universities concentrate on a specific range of subjects in their course catalogue, e.g. medical universities, veterinary medical universities, and sport universities. Some universities offer cooperative studies.

Universities of the German Federal Armed Forces

Both universities of the Federal Armed Forces, situated in Hamburg and Munich, provide scientific education for officer candidates. The offered degree programs equal regular university and university of applied science degrees, latter only in Munich. This education enables graduates to enter a civil, academic profession after they’ve completed their period of service (at least 13 months). Under some conditions civil students can be admitted, too.

Colleges of theology

Colleges of Evangelical Theology (Protestant), philosophical-theological Colleges (Catholic) and other theological institutions as well as the respective university departments train and qualify theologians.

Universities of education

These institutions, which are unique in Baden-Württemberg, offer trainings for teachers at elementary schools, secondary modern schools, craft schools and Realschulen as well as special needs schools. For the education of teachers at grammar schools as well as teachers at vocational college, the pedagogic institutions cooperate with universities and universities of applied sciences.

Colleges of Art and Music

Colleges of Art and Music and the corresponding departments at some universities provide training in the fine arts, design, performing arts and in music subjects. Successful studies require artistic or musical talent. Therefore admission is linked to an aptitude test. Most courses are given in small groups (classes) or one-on-one.

Art schools

The organization of studies in free visual arts and design fields can vary greatly between institutions. Many art schools offer bachelor, master and Diplom programs. Others, in turn, structure their courses freely and do not expect students to take final examinations. If you opt to take courses in an artistic field as part of your studies to become a teacher for general schools, depending on the federal state you will take a state examination (Staatsprüfung) or finish your studies with the title of Bachelor or Master of Education. Some art programs require a two-semster probationary period in the beginning.

Music schools

The organisation of studies in music and performing art (music theatre, dance, drama) at colleges of music depends on the educational goal. You generally will be required to take an intermediate and a final examination, the latter being a bachelor/master examination or a Diplom examination and an art examination (künstlerische Reifeprüfung) or a state or church examination, depending on the institution.

Film and media schools

In Germany there are three public film and media schools: the Film Academy Baden Württemberg in Ludwigsburg, the University of Television and Film Munich and the Film University Babelsberg “Konrad Wolf” in Potsdam-Babelsberg. They offer studies in film production including script, direction, camera or film music which are completed with a bachelor/master degree or a Diplom degree. In addition there are many private academies and institutes. Applicants generally are required to provide proof of a practicum or work samples to substantiate their experience with film and must pass an admission test. Furthermore, (private) media-oriented institutions offer studies in diverse audio-visual and/or electronic media. Some focus on art, some on technology. The field of classic media such as photography and film has been complemented to include new media, for example, computer graphics and animation or 3D simulation (virtual reality). These programs focus on aspects of aesthetics, media sciences and/or business or legal elements of film production.

Drama schools

To study drama, you can select from among 13 state-run institutions and universities and diverse private schools. Typically you will be expected to pass an admission test. In addition, some institutions have an age limit. Degrees include bachelor/master or Diplom degrees.

Universities of Applied Sciences

Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen) are responsible for providing practice-oriented training to prepare students for occupations which require the application of academic knowledge and methods or practical artistic creativity.

Most universities of applied sciences and universities offer bachelor and master programs. The range of programs offered by universities of applied sciences, however, is more limited; medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry and pharmacy as well as programs to become a Gymnasium teacher are available at universities only. Many universities of applied sciences concentrate on technology or engineering sciences, business, media and social sciences.

Integrated practical phases are completed in companies or institutions and strengthen the "applied" side of the studies. These may involve internships lasting several weeks, project phases or even a whole practical semester. Some universities will credit all or part of your relevant previous professional training or work experience to the practical qualification they require.

Numerous universities of applied sciences offer training-integrated or dual degree programmes.


The Duale Hochschule in the state of Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) is a university of applied sciences.


statistics on universities

e.g. on the number of students
www.destatis.de/EN > Facts & Figures > Society & State > Education, research, culture > Institutions of higher education

abi>> University Panorama

The University Panorama of the abi>> Portal provides information on close to 150 cities in Germany with state-run higher education institutions. Sorted by federal states, you can find information on the cities, the applicable conditions and leisure activities as well as on the institutions and the courses they offer.