A recent survey by the Centre for Higher Education or CHE demonstrates that more and more holders of vocational education and training qualifications are enrolling at German universities. What is vocational training?: Vocational qualifications are practical qualifications that relate to a specific job or career sector. Unlike more academic courses like A-levels, they combine a mix of theory and practical learning and you’ll probably do some work experience too. In 2016 there were 56,900 students enrolled at universities solely via vocational experience and qualifications – twice as many as in 2010.
Learning by doing: vocational training
According to the CHE survey, currently, 2.6% of all first-year students, 2% of Germany’s total student population of 2,842,225 students, and 1.5% of its university graduates are holders of vocational qualifications. “Combining vocational and higher education is becoming more and more commonplace,” says CHE Executive Director Frank Ziegele. “One no longer has to opt for either one or the other career strategy. Nowadays, qualified orderlies or master craftswomen are nothing special on campus but are simply part of the diversity of students at German universities.”
Anyone seeking to study in Germany who does not hold an abitur, the general higher education entrance qualification, or a fachabitur, the entrance qualification for universities of applied sciences, must have a vocational education and training qualification and professional experience.
New opportunities, even without Abitur
Opportunities for non-academic professionals to enter higher education via the qualifications they hold were introduced in 2008. In 2016, 55% of all students without an abitur or fachabitur opted for law, economics and social science subjects, while around 20% enrolled in engineering and 12% in human medicine and health sciences. Universities of applied sciences appear to be particularly attractive to students enrolling via vocational education and training qualifications, accounting for just below 61% of the first-year students in this group, while slightly more than a third enrolled at universities and well over 4% went to art and music colleges.
“The statistics demonstrate that higher education programmes for lifelong learning are becoming increasingly attractive. Around a third of the individuals who obtained degrees in the subjects they had studied without previously having acquired an abitur or a fachabitur were older than 40,” says Sigrun Nickel, CHE’s head of higher education research. “Both students who have entered higher education immediately after leaving school and higher education teachers can benefit from the professional and life experience that these people introduce to day-to-day seminar practice.”
But still ways to improve in the vocational training
However, opposition representatives in Germany’s federal parliament are rather more critical of the higher education system. Kai Gehring, higher education spokesman for the Green Party, maintains that students without an abitur accounting for 2% of the total student population is only a modest achievement. Gehring maintains that the system continues to lack sufficient permeability, an aspect that was already referred to by Odile Quintin, director-general for education and culture at the European Commission, at a seminar organised by the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations in 2006.
“There’s still a long way to go before we have established a permeable education system,” Gehring says. He above all complains that admission regulations vary from state to state and can be confusing for professionals seeking to study. Götz Frömming, of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, takes a different view, warning that education in general is on the decline.
“Given the standards that our abitur is dropping to, admission regulations soon won’t really matter anyway,” Frömming says, claiming that the gymnasium, Germany’s higher secondary school, is turning into a secondary modern school and the university into an open university.
“And the Reds and Greens can rejoice over equality for everyone,” Frömming comments. The Centre for Higher Education is a German think tank founded in 1994 with the aim of enhancing effectiveness in the higher education system, and above all maintaining the system’s ability to cope with ever-growing student numbers and diversification. The CHE stresses the autonomy of institutions and the need for them to develop individual profiles.
by Michael Gardner