Foto: Unsplash / Mikael Kristenson

The number of students without a formal higher education entrance qualification has reached an all-time high in Germany: more than 70,000 people have currently taken the opportunity to qualify for university education via the vocational route. The number of first-year students and university graduates without an academic university entrance qualification has also hit record levels. These are the findings of this year’s analysis by the CHE Centre for Higher Education, based on the latest available data from 2021. According to the study, Thuringia, Hamburg and Bremen have the highest proportion of first-year students with vocational qualifications. CHE has been analysing how the number of students without a traditional university entrance qualification has developed over the past ten years. The think tank publishes the relevant findings on the portal

Since 2011, the number of students without Abitur in Germany has more than doubled from 32,200 to 70,338. This is a new all-time high for the ten-year period, and currently equates to 2.2 per cent of the entire student population in Germany. New record levels have also been recorded for the number of first-year students (16,017; 3.4 per cent of all first-year students in Germany) and graduates without Abitur (9,558; 1.9 per cent) in 2021.

“It is estimated that four out of five people in Germany could embark on higher education on the basis of their academic or professional qualifications – and a growing number of them are making use of this option,” summarised Frank Ziegele. “The fact that more and more people want to get the best out of vocational and academic education for their educational biography shows how important it is to have an effective system of post-secondary education that combines both worlds,” remarked the Executive Director of the CHE Centre for Higher Education.

Figures differ widely across federal states; sharp rise in private universities

The figures differ, even considerably, among Germany’s 16 federals when it comes to non-traditional university applicants. Thuringia leads the top group, with a first-semester share of 13.5 per cent, followed by Hamburg (5.1 per cent) and Bremen (4.9 per cent). The main reason for the unusually high value in Thuringia is IU International University of Applied Sciences. Around a quarter of all first-year students without a formal university entrance qualification in Germany are currently enrolled at IU, which is based in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia. Together with IU, the state-run FernUniversität in Hagen and the private Diploma Hochschule rank among the three most sought-after universities for first-year students who enter higher education via the vocational route.

“The ten-year comparison shows that there has been an immense boom among private higher education institutions (HEIs). Whereas only about 18 per cent of all first-year students without a formal university entrance qualification were enrolled at such HEIs in 2011, this figure has now risen to almost 50 per cent,” explained Sigrun Nickel. “One major reason for this trend is that private HEIs offer a range of flexible study programmes involving a substantial amount of e-learning, which can be completed on a part-time basis. This often suits students with professional experience. Given their average age of 33, they are some 7.5 years older than their fellow students with a formal university entrance qualification, and often already have families,” stated CHE’s Head of Higher Education Research.

Comparing the different types of HEIs, universities of applied sciences are way out in front: around three-quarters of all first-year students without an academic university entrance qualification opt for a practice-oriented degree programme offered at this kind of institution. In contrast, comparatively few non-traditional applicants enrol at universities (around 22 per cent) and colleges of art and music (around 3 per cent). Universities of applied sciences have therefore surpassed universities in this field in the ten-year comparison: back in 2011, half of all first-semester students without an academic university entrance qualification decided to study at a university.

Around nine out of ten students with vocational qualifications are pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. At the Master’s level, non-traditional applicants are few and far between. More than half of the first-year students opted for a study programme from the subject area of law, economics and social sciences. But even in restricted-entry degree programmes, such as medicine, one in a hundred new students did not have an Abitur certificate in 2021.

Ten years of – 1.5 million people have used the advisory service to date

For the past ten years, the CHE-run information portal has been providing information on the procedure of admission for studying medicine without Abitur, as well as on the study options available to non-traditional applicants. Since its launch in January 2013, more than 1.5 million users have benefited from the comprehensive information services, check lists and link lists on this advisory platform, such as the CHECK on qualifications and study programmes. The website also offers extensive statistical data at the federal and state level, as well as other publications and information on the topic. The portal, which attracts an average of around 12,000 users per month, was relaunched to coincide with the anniversary. In addition, there will be a joint online event with the Stifterverband on 29 March concerning the joint task of vocational and higher education in securing skilled workers. To register for this event free of charge, click here.

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 or completion of professional development training. However, it is important to bear in mind that the admission requirements differ from one federal state to another. Prospective students can currently choose from around 9,000 study programmes. Further information on the application procedure can be found in the guides 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, as well as on the portal

Compact data for all federal states


Länderberichte Studieren ohne Abitur 2021 14. March 2023 1.92 MB 11558 downloads

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