Foto: Felix Mittermeier / Pixabay

The leadership of higher education institutions (HEIs) in Germany are a rather homogeneous group. In this country, the typical head of an HEI is male, 57 years old and comes from western Germany. An analysis by the CHE Centre for Higher Education shows that cases of leaders who were born abroad or completed vocational training before entering higher education (HE) are more likely to be found in private HEIs. The CVs of around 300 incumbent presidents and rectors were evaluated for this purpose. 

Less than a quarter of HEIs in Germany are currently headed by a woman. In September 2020, the proportion of females in office throughout Germany was 22.9 per cent. At private HEIs, which CHE included in its analysis for the first time, the figure was slightly lower than at their state-run counterparts (20.8 per cent).

The majority of rectors and presidents were born in Germany. Only 15 people were found to have been born outside Germany, most of whom (ten individuals) head a private HEI. Of those university heads born in Germany, most come from a western German state. Ten state-run HEIs are currently managed by leaders from eastern German states, including Berlin.

“In contrast to their students, university leaders in Germany continue to be a rather homogeneous group,” summarised Ulrich Müller. The Head of Policy Studies at the CHE Centre for Higher Education would also like to see more diversity in the upper echelons of HEIs when it comes to the next generation of university managers. “Tomorrow’s leaders need current role models who demonstrate that they, too, can make a career in HE, even with a non-traditional background,” Müller commented.

The group of private HEI leaders, evaluated for the first time by CHE, is slightly more diverse than their counterparts at state-run HEIs. This is the case not only with regard to their origin, but also their employment history. Twelve of the HEI leaders underwent training to become a paramedic, a chemical laboratory assistant or an industrial clerk, for instance. On average, the rectors and presidents gained around 13 years of professional experience outside HE, in many cases abroad.

The average age of university heads is currently 57.5 years. On average, managers of private HEIs are younger (55.7 years) than their colleagues at state-run universities and universities of applied sciences (59.7 and 57.0 years, respectively).

The analysis of the leaders’ time in office revealed that around one in two presidencies/rectorships at HEIs in Germany have been filled since 2016. “Considering the large number of newly appointed university heads over the past five years, HE has missed out on the opportunity for greater diversity, such as increasing the proportion of women,” remarked Ulrich Müller. “Given the high average age of university heads, however, there is bound to be another opportunity to increase the heterogeneity of top management over the next few years.”

About the analyses:

The “CHECK Hochschulleitung in Deutschland – Update 2021” (CHECK heads of higher education institutions in Germany – Update 2021) provides updated data from the previous CV evaluations “CHECK Universitätsleitung in Deutschland” (CHECK heads of universities in Germany) and “CHECK HAW-Leitungen in Deutschland” (CHECK heads of universities of applied sciences in Germany). In addition, new data from the “CHECK Leitungen privater Hochschulen in Deutschland” (CHECK heads of private higher education institutions in Germany) was taken into account. The CVs of 283 heads of HEIs published on the internet were considered, alongside requests for information from presidential boards and rectorates. The survey was undertaken or updated in September 2020. All the above publications were written by Isabel Roessler. The publication’s graphics are accessible to all on the CHE Flickr channel at


CHECK - Hochschulleitungen in Deutschland - Update 2021 3. March 2021 1.21 MB 12718 downloads

Roessler, Isabel: CHECK - Hochschulleitung in Deutschland - Update 2021 , Gütersloh,...

CHECK - Leitungen privater Hochschulen in Deutschland 3. March 2021 1.34 MB 11079 downloads

Roessler, Isabel: CHECK - Leitungen privater Hochschulen in Deutschland, Gütersloh,...