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There is a wide range of support available to help new students get started at university. For instance, four out of five departments at German higher education institutions (HEIs) currently offer preparatory or bridge courses. The range of advisory services has also expanded compared to in 2021. These are the findings of data from the CHE Centre for Higher Education. In contrast, the dominance of Abitur examination grades in the allocation of study places continues to decline. 

Four out of five departments offer preparatory or bridge courses for first-year students

For a number of years, bridge or preparatory courses have been offered to enable first-year students to fill any gaps in their knowledge before starting their studies and to get to know the university and how it works before their degree programme begins. An analysis conducted by CHE shows that 79 per cent of all departments at HEIs in Germany currently offer such preparatory or bridge courses. This represents an increase of 12 percentage points compared to the previous survey in 2021. Courses of this kind are available in almost all departments that offer subjects requiring a specific knowledge of mathematics. Examples include degree programmes in physics, electrical engineering and mechatronics.

“Politicians, schools and society have rightly called for special consideration to be given to the ordeals caused by the pandemic and any gaps in the curriculum of the affected Abitur cohorts as they now enter higher education. Universities have taken up this responsibility by expanding their support services,” summarised Frank Ziegele. “Bridge courses, tutorial programmes and individual course planning have gone from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ for German universities,” stated the CHE Executive Director.

Wide range of support services, but room for improvement in early detection of potential dropout

For example, 94 per cent of the 1,800 or so departments surveyed by CHE (2021: 81%) currently have an advisory service for individual course planning. This includes support such as helping students reorganise their studies if they are behind in their exams. More than two-thirds of departments provide regular feedback on learning outcomes.

Despite a significant increase over the past two years, CHE still sees room for improvement in measures to provide prospective students with advance feedback on their subject-related aptitude, which could prevent them from dropping out. “Self-assessment tools, which allow you to check whether and how well the subject and its requirements suit you before you start studying, are used by around half of departments,” explained Cort-Denis Hachmeister. Early warning systems, which can detect signs of dropout early in the programme so that support can be offered in time, are also used by only 51 per cent of departments.

Declining dominance of Abitur grades in university admissions

The situation for prospective students has also continued to improve with regard to access to higher education. In winter semester 2013/14, for example, more than half of all Bachelor’s degree programmes (52%) were subject to admission restrictions. In winter semester 2023/24, this was only the case for 38 per cent of these programmes.

“The dominance of Abitur examination grades in the application process for a place at university is continuing to decline,” stated Cort-Denis Hachmeister. “In more than 60 per cent of all Bachelor’s programmes, the Abitur grade no longer plays a role in enrolment outcomes. And the allocation of places to study medicine and psychology is now increasingly based on skills that can be demonstrated by tests or evidence of relevant work experience,” remarked the expert in access to higher education at CHE.

The author of the “CHECK Hochschulzulassung und Studieneingang in Deutschland” (CHECK on university admissions and induction to higher education in Germany) welcomes this increased focus on skills, given that Abitur grades are no guarantee for predicting academic success, let alone aptitude for the chosen profession.

About the publication

The publication entitledCHECK – Hochschulzulassung und Studieneingang in Deutschland” (CHECK – university admissions and induction to higher education in Germany) was written by Sonja Berghoff and Cort-Denis Hachmeister. The information on self-assessment and advisory services for the induction period, based on surveys conducted within the CHE University Ranking between 2021 and 2023, includes data from 1,746 departments at 230 higher education institutions in Germany.

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