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Last updated: March 2023
TL;DR: The two main types of universities in Germany are the University and the University of Applied Sciences. The former is more research-focused while the latter is more application-based. The following article will also compare these two types of universities based on the focus of curriculum, the degrees and courses being offered, teaching method, qualification of teaching staff, as well as student population.
German universities are renowned and at the same time, tuition-free even for international students. Hence, it is not surprising that Germany is a top study destination attracting students from all over the world. In 2019, there are close to 400,000 international students studying in Germany.
Many students are not aware that there are three types of universities in Germany:
These three types of universities have their distinctive characteristics and are suitable for specific types of students, depending on the course you choose to study. In this article, we will be comparing the differences between the two most popular types of universities – university and university of applied sciences.
Universities in Germany are theoretical and research oriented. Many of them have a long history and have brought about many important discoveries and inventions. An example of a significant German contribution in the field of science is the development of the Bunsen burner by Robert Bunsen who invented it to be used in the chemistry lab at the University of Heidelberg. Robert Bunsen also discovered caesium and rubidium, two out of the 118 chemical elements. Besides, German universities have also produced multiple Nobel Prize winners, contributing to Germany being the country with the 3rd highest number of Nobel laureates.
On the other hand, universities of applied sciences are more focused on application and practical education. The program often includes mandatory internships and projects with companies. Universities of applied sciences are well-known for their close ties with the industry which makes their curriculum relevant and up to date for students.
Universities offer both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, whereas universities of applied sciences usually only offer courses up to the master’s degree, although some are starting to offer PhD in recent years.
A degree awarded by a university and a university of applied sciences have equal standing, meaning that they are both equally recognised. Hence, graduates from a university of applied sciences can also further their studies at a university.
“Ever since the Europe-wide Bologna Process came into effect, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees from HAW/FH (university of applied science) have been equivalent to those from traditional universities, meaning that graduates can also embark on a PhD. In addition, more and more HAW/FH are gaining the entitlement to run their own doctoral programmes.”
While a traditional university has many faculties and offers many different courses, a university of applied sciences offers only limited courses. Typical courses offered are
Courses such as Medicine and Law are offered exclusively at a university.
Both universities and universities of applied sciences conduct lectures as the main method of teaching, and where applicable, tutorials and laboratory sessions. Universities focus a lot more on research work, while universities of applied sciences focus more on industry-specific modules. Student projects are often a collaboration with companies and students will have to intern for an entire semester. A big advantage of this arrangement is that students will receive an allowance during their internship which is usually sufficient to cover their living expenses. They will also gain exposure to real-life working environments and can build valuable networks that can open up opportunities for them in the future. Most of the time, students end up continuing working in the company they did their internship at, either part time during their studies, or full time after they graduate.
“Thanks to close cooperation between the universities and industry, valuable internships, and academic courses that are generally vocational and oriented towards the needs of the employment market, HAW/FH graduates very often find permanent jobs after completing their degrees. Furthermore, they earn higher starting salaries on average, as revealed by a study conducted by the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW).”
Professors at a university need to have a PhD and several years of recognised research experience. Besides teaching, a university professor will also need to be involved in a research project. This ensures that they are highly qualified to guide students in their area of research.
On the other hand, professors at a university of applied sciences must possess a PhD and at least 5 years of work experience. They are not only familiar with the needs of the industry, but they connect the industry to the university (of applied sciences) to enable students to have the opportunity to work on up-to-date projects.
“My final year project is related to self-driving and navigation technology, and I remember my juniors from my alma mater, Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, were working on drone technology even before they became commercially known. In fact, they have since started their own drone company in Malaysia and are quite successful too.”
— Jonathan, Founder of German Educare
Since universities have many more faculties and offer more courses, there are a lot more students enrolled compared to universities of applied sciences. A university can be up to 10x bigger compared to a university of applied sciences. That means a university can have 50,000 students while a university of applied sciences has only 5,000 students. Cohort size is also bigger at a university, and lectures might be attended by 250 students compared to about 50 at a university of applied sciences.
This means that you can potentially receive more attention at a university of applied sciences since the number of students the professor will need to take care of is more manageable.
“UAS stand out in that they tend to have smaller class sizes and therefore, better counseling and student-teacher relationships. This leads to a tendency that students at UAS are a little happier with the organisational structures of their school.”
Taking all the above points into consideration, how do you decide if a university or a university of applied sciences is more suitable for you? Here’s a chart we like to use to help guide our students
Most people refer to university rankings when they decide on which university to apply to. If we look at the QS World Ranking- Top Universities in Germany 2021, we will come across prestigious universities like Technical University Munich (TU Munich), Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), Heidelberg University, Technical University Berlin (TU Berlin), and more. As a result, German universities are more heard of among international students compared to universities of applied sciences. But what many do not know is that these rankings usually do not include universities of applied sciences. One of the main reasons being part of the criteria used to assess these universities includes the number of citations per faculty, which is a measure of their research output. Since universities of applied sciences are more practical focused rather than research oriented, they are usually not being ranked together.
In fact, there are currently more than 200 universities of applied sciences in Germany, compared to around 100 traditional universities. Many of these universities of applied sciences are famous for the courses they are offering. Hence, bear in mind to open your options to both universities and universities of applied sciences when deciding on where to study.
“In the 2018/19 winter semester there were a total of 426 higher education institutions in Germany, including 106 universities, 216 universities of applied sciences, 52 colleges of art and 16 theological universities.”
Our University Preparation Programme includes a comprehensive university application workshop which guides students on choosing suitable courses and universities to apply to. Each of our students will receive a tailored list of recommended universities which includes both types of universities, depending on what they want to study.