students in a lecture hall

Germany is home to approx. 400 higher education institutions which offer the entire range of academic disciplines. The German higher education system is characterised by a close link between learning, teaching and research. This principle has a long tradition and was formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), the philosopher and founder of the Universität zu Berlin, the predecessor institution of today’s Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. 

Germany is one of the world’s most attractive research and higher education nations. Approx. 412,000 international students study at German higher education institutions. More than 5,600 international PhD students successfully complete their doctorates here every year, and nearly 50,000 international academics work in German higher education.

Higher education institutions

There are approx. 400 higher education institutions in Germany. This total includes:  

  • 120 universities (Universitäten) 

  • More than 200 universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen/Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften)

  • Almost 60 art and music colleges (Kunsthochschulen/Musikhochschulen) 

  • Roughly 90 per cent of students in Germany study at public institutions. However, the private sector has been growing in recent years and now encompasses 150 privately funded universities, almost 40 of which are run by churches.

Political and public voice of German universities

The German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK) is the association of state and state-recognised higher education institutions in Germany. It is the political and public voice of German higher education and the forum within which higher education institutions form joint opinions. It currently has 268 member institutions, at which more than 92 per cent of all students in Germany are enrolled.

Facts and figures

Approx. 400 higher education institutions

720,000 staff in total, including 402,000 academic staff
2.9 million students in total, including almost 412,000 international students (14.2%)

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD): 18.4 billion euros (2018)

Promoting top-level research

The Federal Government and the German states (Länder) set up the Excellence Initiative (2005–2017) that provided additional support for research activities in various disciplines at German universities. The 4.6 billion euros it invested has had a tangible impact: graduate schools, excellence clusters and future projects have enriched the university landscape, given research a real boost and created outstanding training facilities for young researchers. Now, this successful programme is being continued in the form of the Excellence Strategy. It is again investing in cutting-edge university research while supporting excellence clusters and excellence universities with annual funding totalling 533 million euros.  

Research activities

Higher education institutions offer a broad spectrum of research activities, including basic research and applied research and development (R&D). Almost 115,000 of Germany’s approx. 434,000 R&D researchers work at higher education institutions and university hospitals.

Higher education institutions spend a total of 18.4 billion euros on research and development.  Almost half (8.5 billion euros) comes from third-party funding.

Third-party funding for research projects is sought from both publicly funded sponsors and private donors. The most important provider of third-party funding (2.8 billion euros) is the publicly funded Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG). The Federal Government (2.3 billion euros) and the German states (140 million euros) are also important providers of third-party funding, followed by industry with 1.5 billion euros (2018).

The largest share of R&D expenditure, roughly 3.9 billion euros, goes to the engineering sciences; they are followed by medicine and health research, which have access to approx. 1.2 billion euros a year.

Research budget

Budget Universities 16-9
Source: BMBF
Deviation in the total amount is due to rounding. The breakdown applies to the year 2017.

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) at institutions of higher education totals 18.4 billion euros (2018) and is provided by the 

  • public sector (82%),

  • industry (14%) and  

  • international funding (4%) 

German Rectors' Conference

Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK)
Ahrstraße 39
53175 Bonn
+49 228 887 0