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Bundesrepublik Deutschland (The Federal Republic of Germany) is located in Western Europe, and is bordered by Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Poland, Denmark, and the North and Baltic Seas. The population is 82,369,552, making it the most populous country in the European Union. The literacy rate is 99%. German is the official language and language of instruction.

Germanic tribes in the area of present-day Germany can be traced back to the Bronze Age and followed the Celts, who are presumed to be the original inhabitants of the area. From 962 AD to 1806, Germany was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Otto von Bismarck unified all areas of Germany in a series of wars from 1864 until 1871, when King Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared the German Emperor and established the Second German Reich. The Second Reich collapsed after Germany's defeat in World War I and the Weimar Republic was established. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor and established the Third Reich. Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 gave rise to World War II. On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies and the Soviet military commanders.

Following World War II, Germany was divided into 4 occupation zones. In 1948, the Western Powers created a German state out of the 3 western zones and West Berlin which became the Federal Republic of Germany on May 23, 1949. The remaining occupation zone and East Berlin became the Democratic Republic of Germany (DDR) on October 7, 1949. As a result of the collapse of the Communist Party in East Germany, Germany was reunited on October 3, 1990. It now consists of 16 states (11 West German, plus 5 new ones from the former East Germany): Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria (Bayern), Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse (Hessen), Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Verpommern), Lower Saxony (Neidersachsen), North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Saarland, Saxony (Sachsen), Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), Schleswig-Holstein, and Thuringia (Thueringen).


The States have autonomy over, among other things, educational oversight. While the Federal government may allot federal funds for education, the actual day-to-day supervision of education, at all levels, is a function of the State government.

During the days of the DDR, the national government held strong central authority over education, unlike the situation existing then in West Germany or the unified Federal Republic of Germany today. A key player from the beginning, and particularly since unification, is the Kultusministerskonferenz. Though it has no legal authority, resolutions adopted by the Konferenz generally become law within the States once the individual Ministers bring them back to their respective State Governments for enactment through those legislative bodies.

Another important body at the higher education level is the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK). This group primarily attempts to disseminate information to the public on higher education issues in Germany. While not all institutions of higher education are members of the HRK, the vast majority are represented, leaving only a small percentage of the non-university institutions not actually included. Here would reside, for example, a database of the recognized higher education institutions in the country.

Primary Education

The basic structure of education in Germany varies slightly among the States, but a somewhat unique feature is the dual system that encompasses a parallel structure of academic and vocational education growing out of a common compulsory foundation. Primary school lasts for 4 years (6 years in two of the States).

Secondary Education

Sekundär I (Lower secondary school) runs from Grades 5-9, depending on the State. This education can take place in a Hauptschule (Main School, Grades 5-9), a Realschule (middle school, grades 5-10), a Gymnasium (grades 5-10 and continuing), or Gesamtschule (Comprehensive School grades 5-10). The leaving certificates vary depending on State and school, but the Hauptschulabschlusszeugnis is often the name appearing on the student's leaving certificate. Other credentials issued after the 10th Grade include the Realschlulabschlusszeugnis and the Mittlere Reifezeugnis.

Sekundär II (Academic upper secondary) is offered at Gymnasiums, with Grades 11-13 leading to the Zeugnis der allgemein Hochschulreife which is also known as the Abitur, the capstone examination administered at the end of dreizehnten Klasse (13th Grade).

Technical upper secondary programs are offered at a Fachoberschulen (technical high schools) with Grades 11 and 12, leading to the Zeugnis der Fachhochschulreife. Vocational upper secondary programs are offered at Berufsschulen. These programs are generally three years and are a mixture of classroom instruction and industry apprenticeship. These programs lead to the Berufsschule Abschlusszeugnis as well as a regulated occupational titles such as a Bankkaufrau (Banker - Female) or Uhrmacher (Watchmaker).

Post-Secondary Education

There are approximately 378 State-run institutions of higher education, including universität (universities), universities of fachhochschule (applied science), berufsakademie (universities of cooperative education), and paedigogische hochschule (universities of education), although the education colleges now exist only in the State of Baden-Wuerttemburg. There are also post-secondary art (Kunsthochschule) and music schools (Musikhochschule).

First Cycle

Admission to a university or colleges of music and art requires the Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife. Admission to a fachhochschule requires a Zeugnis der allgemeinen Hochschulreife or a Zeugnis der Fachhochschulreife.

After the 2nd year of university study, students sit for an examination leading to the Vordiplom. Upon successful completion of a further 2 to 4 years of study, students in the sciences are awarded Diplom and students in the arts are awarded a Magister.

Second and Third Cycles

Graduate studies are a further 2 to 3 years of research and require a Magister for admission. Upon successful defense of a dissertation, students are awarded a Doktorgrad. University professors must hold a Habilitation which is awarded after further post-doctoral research and publications. A Habilitation requirement for university professorships will not be required in the near future.

Fachhochschulen (universities of applied science) offer 4 to 5-year programs, including engineering, leading to the Diplom (FH).

Bologna Process

Germany has been phasing in changes to its higher education systems in compliance with the Bologna Process. Most universities and universities of applied science are offering both systems. The Bologna Process compliant system will be fully-implemented by 2010. In the new system, the first-level program is 3-4 years and leads to the Bachelor at universities and the Bachelor (FH) at universities of applied science. Graduate programs are 1-2 years and lead to the Master at universities and the Master (FH) at universities of applied science. Doctoral programs are only offered at universities and require a Masteror Master (FH) for admission. After 2 to 3 years of research and successful defense of a dissertation, students are awarded a Doktorgrad.

Two significant changes in the last few years in German education, besides the implementation of the Bologna Process, are the decisions to charge tuition at German universities and the elimination of the 13th year of study at the secondary school level is being phased in. As education is a State prerogative, not all States have decided to charge tuition. What the future holds in this regard will be interesting to outside observers. The elimination of Grade 13 will have a significant effect on U.S. admissions officers and credentials analysts as each practitioner must now re-assess transfer credit and graduate admission/degree comparability policies.

The following is a list of the Lander (States) and the academic year they changed from 13 to 12 years.  The number in parentheses is the year when the first double-cohort (i.e. students in both the 12- and 13-year systems) will graduate:

  • Baden-Württemberg: 2004/2005 (2012)
  • Bayern: 2004/2005 (2011)
  • Berlin: 2006/2007 (2012)
  • Brandenburg: 2006/2007 (2012)
  • Bremen: 2004-05 (2012)
  • Hamburg: 2002/2003 (2010)
  • Hessen: 2004/2005: about 10% of schools (2012); 2005/2006 (2013): about 60% of schools; 2007-08: about 30% of schools (2014)
  • Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: 2004/2005 (2008)
  • Niedersachsen: 2004/2005 (2011)
  • Nordrhein-Westfalen: 2006/2007 (2013)
  • Rheinland-Pfalz: 2008-09
  • Saarland: 2001/2002 (2009)
  • Sachsen: 1992
  • Sachsen-Anhalt: 2003/2004 (2007)
  • Schleswig-Holstein: 2008/2009 (2016)
  • Thüringen: 1991



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