University landscape

Germany is home to approx. 420 universities and other 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. 

Universities and colleges

There are approx. 420 higher education institutions in Germany. This total includes:

  • About 110 universities (“Universitäten”) including 20 universities of technology (TUs)
  • 210 universities of applied sciences (“Hochschulen für Angewandte Wissenschaften“) including approx. 40 technical universities of applied sciences (THs)
  • More than 50 art and music colleges (“Kunsthochschulen”/“Musikhochschulen”) 
  • 30 universities of applied administrative sciences (“Verwaltungshochschulen”)

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.   

Right to award doctorates

In Germany, it is primarily the country’s universities and equivalent higher education institutions that have the right to award doctorates. In some federal states, however, universities of applied sciences (UASs) are also able in research-oriented faculties to run their own doctoral degree programmes, though the overwhelming majority (roughly 94 per cent) of doctoral students still do their PhD at a university.   

Increasingly, doctoral students are also supervised jointly with universities in cooperative doctoral programmes at UASs, non-university research institutions or companies.  

International focus

Germany is one of the world’s most attractive research and science nations.

  • Approx. 441,000 students from all over the world study at German universities and other higher education institutions
  • More than 5,700 PhD students  from abroad successfully complete their doctorates here every year
  • Nearly 59,000 international academics  work in German higher education

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 118,000  of Germany’s approx. 452,000 R&D researchers  work at higher education institutions and university hospitals.

Higher education institutions spend a total of approx. 20 billion euros  on research and development. Almost half (9 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 providers of third-party funding are the Federal Government and the publicly funded Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) with 2.7 billion euros each in 2020.  German companies are also important providers (1.5 billion euros) of third-party funding, followed by the European Union with 875 million euros.

The largest share of total R&D expenditure, roughly 4.9 billion euros, goes to the engineering sciences; they are followed by medicine and health sciences, which have access to approx. 4.8 billion euros in 2020.

Facts and figures

  • Approx. 420 universities and other higher education institutions  
  • Nearly 428,000 academic staff, including 59,000 researchers and academics from abroad (2021)
  • Roughly 3 million students in total, including approx. 441,000 students from all over the world (WS 2021/22)
  • R&D expenditure: 20 billion euros (2020)


They are among the best in the world. German universities play in the premier league when it comes to evaluating teaching and research. There is good reason for this: the quality of German science and scholarship has a longstanding tradition.


Universities of applied sciences

The combination of practical science and application-focused teaching is pretty much unique in the world. The German universities of applied sciences (UASs) offer degree courses in subjects ranging from engineering and the natural sciences to economics, law, technology, design and healthcare.  


Technical universities

Another distinctive feature of Germany’s higher education landscape are its universities of technology (TUs) and technical universities of applied sciences (THs). They focus on computer science, technical subjects and the engineering sciences. They stand out particularly for their research: five TUs are universities of excellence.  


Top universities

Competition is a key element in science and research, both for researchers and their institutions. This is why recent times have seen ranking lists experience a boom in Germany.