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 University in Berlin. 

Germany is one of the world’s most attractive research and higher education nations. Nearly 359,000 international students study at German higher education institutions. More than 5,000 international PhD students successfully complete their doctorates here every year, and approx. 46,500 international academics work in German higher education.  

More than 16,000 international researchers visit German higher education institutions with support from German and EU funding programmes.  

Higher education institutions

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

  • 120 universities (Universitäten) 

  • 210 universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen/Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften)

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

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 94 per cent of all the students in Germany are enrolled. 

Facts and figures

Approx. 400 higher education institutions

705,000 staff in total, including 395,000 academic staff 
More than 2.6 million students in total, including 359,000 international students (13.8%) 

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD): 17.3 billion euros (2017)

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). Over 100,000 of Germany’s more than 400,000 R&D researchers work at higher education institutions and university hospitals.  

Higher education institutions spend a total of 17.3 billion euros on research and development. Nearly half (8.0 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 (2.5 billion euros) is the publicly funded Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG). The Federal Government and the German states are also important providers of third-party funding (2.1 billion euros), followed by industry with 1.5 billion euros (2017).  

The largest share of R&D expenditure, roughly 4.3 billion euros, goes to the engineering sciences; they are closely followed by medicine and health research, which have access to roughly 3.9 billion euros a year. 

Research budget

Budget Universities 16-9
Source: BMBF

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) at institutions of higher education totals 16.6 billion euros (2016) 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