Higher education: Germany and the City of Berlin


HE landscape in Germany | HEIs in Berlin | HE funding in Berlin

Links between HEIs and research institutes


Higher education (HE) landscape in Germany

Higher education (HE) is organised in a binary system of research-oriented universities and universities of applied science (Fachhochschulen). The authority for HE lies with the 16 state governments. HE is predominantly funded by the states. Some states have introduced tuition fees in public HEIs: in general around EUR 1 000 per year.

Private HEIs are a recent phenomenon. Most of them are special focus institutions in business education and internet and communication technologies (ICT).

In Autumn 2007, the 391 German HEIs had 1 941 million students including 134 500 first-year students (Destatis: Hochschulstatistik). Overall, 12% were international students and among the first-year students their share was even 18%. About 31% of an age group attain tertiary education (Type A and B after ISCED). The typical age of graduation is between 24 and 27 years  for a  five year degree (Education at a Glance 2008: Table A3.2). In comparison to other OECD countries Germany has (OECD Economic Surveys 2006: Germany) high graduation age and high drop-out rates.


Publicly funded research is conducted by HEIs and institutes which are independent from universities. There are 4 major branches of research institutes in Germany:


In 2005, the Federal Government launched competitive grants under the Initiative for Excellence. The aim is to establish internationally visible research beacons in Germany. 1.9 billion Euros have been made available to the HEIs until 2011. The eligible HEIs have been chosen by an independent jury which mainly consisted of foreign scientists.

There are 3 streams of funding which are to: 

  • Support structured PhD programmes within an excellent research environment and a broad area of science
  • Establish internationally visible and competitive research and training institutions, so-called Excellence Clusters
  • Promote future concepts for top-class research at ten selected universities


Higher education institutions (HEIs) and regional engagement

German universities have been shaped by the Humboldtian tradition. Regional engagement does not explicitly belong to the universities’ key tasks like in some other countries. However, all HEIs are committed to the region in various ways, by:

  • Increasing the effort to adapt curricula to labour market demands
  • Improving career services
  • Co-operating with regional firms in research projects
  • Supporting technology transfer and entrepreneurial activities of students, graduates and faculty
  • Intensifying vocational education and life-long learning
  • Opening programmes to pupils and retired professionals
  • Organising cultural and sport events

HEIs of applied science are more geared to address regional needs than universities; they provide specific knowledge and skills as well as services for local businesses and also widen access to HE.


Higher education institutions (HEIs) in Berlin

Berlin has about 32 HEIs (October 2008), including

  • 4 public universities including the University of the Arts
  • 5 public universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen)
  • 1 federal university of applied sciences
  • 2 ecclesiastical universities of applied sciences
  • 3 schools of music and fine arts
  • 17 private institutions (mostly small not-for-profit institutions)

41 600 employees work for Berlin's HEIs; 60% of those are scientific staff (2007). In 2006, about 7 400 people were employed by publicly funded research institutions outside the HEIs; more than half of those had an advanced degree and were employed as researchers.

The private HEIs are mainly concerned with the fields business administration, media and design; 6 of them are universities and 11 are universities of applied sciences.

There are about 133 500 students in Berlin. About 71% of the students attend universities, 25% Fachhochchulen and about 4% a school of fine arts (October 2008).

Berlin draws students from other cities and regions. About 54% of Berlin’s HE students were not from Berlin (Destatis: Bildung im Zahlenspiegel 2006). Other city-states like Hamburg and Bremen show similar patterns while in states like Bavaria and North Rhine-Westhphalia the percentage is much lower (about 30%).
Research institutes provide employment opportunities for graduates but many have to leave Berlin to search for work.


Higher education (HE) funding in Berlin

The financial situation for HE is challenging. Public HEIs do not charge tuition fees. State appropriations for HEIs were cut back drastically during the last decade. In 2006, about 2.2 billion Euros were spent by Berlin’s HEIs; this includes funding from the federal and the state level as well as other sources. The nominal spending has barely increased since 2000.

To re-energise Berlin’s economy in knowledge-intense sectors additional funds have been channeled to the non-university sector of HE to foster research activities.

The three major universities dominate the publicly funded research at HEIs in Berlin. In 2006, additional 210.2 million Euros from the Initiative for Excellence for cutting edge research projects until 2012 were awarded to the Free University, Humboldt University and the Technical University in Berlin. Over 50% of the funded projects at the universities are in the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Altogether, more than a third of the overall funding of the excellence initiative in Humanities and Social Sciences goes to Berlin.


Links between higher education institutions (HEIs)
and research institutes

Berlin has a strong non-university research sector. Berlin has many research institutes; among them institutes belonging to the four major German research branches as well as state, federal or jointly funded institutes.
Their direct economic impact is visible in research-based spin-offs and services for different industrial branches. Altogether, about 40 000 people work in R&D inside and outside HE. The research sector offers ample employment opportunities for HE graduates in the region.

They are connected to HEIs via links such as:

  • Collaborative research venues in Collaborative Research Centres
    (Sonderforschungsbereiche, long-time interdisciplinary research programmes funded through grants)
  • Joint PhD programmes (Promotionskollegs) which often address interdisciplinary issues
  • Joint appointments of staff and faculty (about 110) e.g. participation of university faculty in the advisory boards of research institutes and researchers from the latter teaching at HEIs
  • Students working as research assistants for the autonomous research institutes


Back to the Berlin start page


Back to the Berlin start page | Berlin in brief | Further reading and useful links

HE and regions start page                  


Related Documents