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A growing number of people are taking the opportunity to qualify for a degree programme in Germany via the vocational route. Some 66,000 people currently studying in Germany do not have an entrance qualification for studies at universities (of applied sciences). This is the conclusion reached by this year’s monitoring by the CHE Centre for Higher Education. Thuringia, Hamburg and Bremen have the highest proportion of first-year students with vocational qualifications. It is the first time that more women than men start university without a formal higher education entrance qualification (Abitur)

Over the past two decades, the number of entrants to higher education without Abitur has more than quadrupled. While 3,240 holders of a vocational qualification enrolled at university in 2002, the current figure of 15,161 is higher than ever before. As a result, the proportion of all first-year students in the federal territory without an academic higher education entrance qualification climbed to a new high of 3.1 per cent. The number of students without an entrance qualification for studies at either type of HEI has grown by 2,060 compared to the previous year, and now stands at around 66,000. This equates to 2.2 per cent of the entire student population in Germany.

“There used to be a strict separation between vocational and academic education. Nowadays, both areas of post-secondary education are increasingly being seen as belonging to one and the same educational biography,” stated Frank Ziegele. “This is evident from the steadily growing group of students who embark on a degree programme in Germany via the third route into higher education,” remarked the Executive Director of the CHE Centre for Higher Education.

Regional differences emerge when comparing the federal states. With a 10.8 per cent share of first-semester students, Thuringia comes top for the first time, followed by the previous number one Hamburg (4.7 per cent) and Bremen (3.7 per cent), which was able to repeat its previous year’s third place. The main reason why Thuringia takes first place is IU International University of Applied Sciences, which moved its main site from North Rhine-Westphalia to Erfurt.

With 2,538 first-year students with vocational qualifications in 2020, the private IU University of Applied Sciences has also overtaken the state-run FernUniversität in Hagen as the most popular HEI among non-traditional students in Germany. One reason for this could be IU’s strong focus on distance learning. The FernUniversität in Hagen, with 1,339 first-year students without Abitur, now takes second place nationwide. Once again, a private institution comes in third. However, with only 587 entrants without a formal higher entrance qualification, the Hessian DIPLOMA University of Applied Sciences has a long way to go before it catches up with the two leading HEIs.

“The increase in the number of students entering university without Abitur is not a nationwide development; it is being driven primarily by HEIs with programmes that specifically meet the needs of people with vocational qualifications,” explained Sigrun Nickel, expert in the topic of “Studying without Abitur” at CHE. What appeals to this target group is not only a comprehensive range of distance learning courses, but above all the opportunity to study while in employment and to take part in blended learning programmes, i.e. a combination of face-to-face periods at university and self-learning phases at home.

When comparing the different types of HEI, the importance of universities is steadily declining. Whereas in 2011, half of all first-year students without Abitur opted to study at a university, this figure has now fallen to only a quarter. Around nine out of ten of students with vocational qualifications are enrolled in Bachelor’s degree programmes. Just 12 per cent of all non-traditional students are pursuing a Master’s degree. In comparison, the proportion of Master’s students in the group of all students with Abitur is more than twice as high, at 26 per cent.

The data for the CHE publication “Update 2022: Studieren ohne Abitur in Deutschland” (Update 2022: Studying in Germany without Abitur) was also evaluated with regard to gender distribution: in this connection, the number of female first-year students without Abitur was higher than their male counterparts for the first time. “The fact that women without Abitur are increasingly interested in studying is also connected to the range of programmes offered in the area of health and nursing. It is currently the case that one in five female entrants choose a subject in the field of medical and health sciences,” explained Sigrun Nickel.

Now that the allocation of places to study medicine has been reformed, access opportunities for non-traditional applicants have improved. In this area, the number of students who qualified purely on the basis of their work experience doubled between 2014 and 2020, from 534 to 1,071. The grade achieved in the master craftsman’s examination or Fachwirt examination is assessed in place of the Abitur grade in the application process for a place to study medicine or dentistry. Further information on the application procedure can be found in a guide from the CHE kurz + kompakt für Medizin (CHE short + compact for Medicine) series and in CHE kurz + kompakt Studieren ohne Abitur (CHE short + compact Studying without Abitur) for all other subjects.

The requirements for applying for a place at a university or a university of applied sciences without the traditional entrance qualification is usually a completed apprenticeship and proof of professional experience. The higher the level of qualification acquired by prospective students in their profession, the greater the choice of degree programmes open to them.

The online study guide www.studieren-ohne-abitur.de provides detailed information, including the latest facts, figures and data concerning developments at the federal and state level. The guide is based on information provided by the Federal Statistical Office for the year 2020. The study guide enables prospective students who have no academic higher education entrance qualification to find out detailed information about admission options and the 8,000+ degree programmes offered at HEIs. The portal also contains lots of useful information and services such as a qualification and advisory check. The publication entitled “Update 2022: Studieren ohne Abitur in Deutschland (Update 2022: Studying without Abitur in Germany)” and written by Sigrun Nickel and Anna-Lena Thiele provides an overview of the latest developments on the topic.

Interview with Sigrun Nickel in Deutschlandfunk (28.03.2022)