Universities of applied sciences (German: Fachhochschulen/FHs or Hochschulen für Angewandte Wissenschaften/HAWs) are the second most popular type of higher education institution in Germany - after the universities (German: Universitäten). However, for many international students, this university type is difficult to understand - because they do not know this kind of institution from their home countries.
Besides German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) only a few other countries worldwide (e.g. Greece, Sweden) have this university type or comparable ones (e.g. vocational universities). Fachhochschulen are one of the special features of the German university landscape and very popular among many international students because they combine academic studies and a rather practical approach.
The following article is dedicated exclusively to this type of university in Germany because often, international students find it hard to grasp what distinguishes a university of applied sciences (UAS) from other types of higher education institutions in Germany. The other two types are universities (German: Universität) and Academies of Music and Fine Arts (German: Kunst-, Musik-, Filmhochschule).
Now, as the name suggests, a UAS focuses on the application of science by including practical elements into the students’ education. These practical elements include - for example - mandatory internships and professors who all have experience working outside academia. Studying with practical orientation might at first seem contradictory, but UAS in Germany present one model in which this is quite possible. This model is fairly unique to the German higher education system and most other countries do not have an equivalent to UAS.
This uniqueness can make it a bit harder to grasp the essence of this type of university. But don’t you worry: This article has got you covered and presents to you all you need to know about universities of applied sciences in Germany. After reading this text, you will know:
- whether a UAS is a good choice,
- the defining characteristics of UAS in Germany,
- subtypes and variations of UAS,
- how you can gain admission,
- and which UAS is the best one for you.
Before we dive into the topic of UAS, let’s provide you with a quick comparison of the three university types in general. Something to keep in mind when learning about them: None of the university types is better than the other and you should pick one course according to your own strengths and interests!
|University||University of applied sciences||Academies of arts, music, and film|
|Focus||Research-oriented, scientific, theoretical.||Application-oriented, scientific, practical.||Artistic training-oriented, scientific, artistical.|
|Degrees offered||Bachelor’s, master’s, state examination (German: Staatsexamen), doctorate degrees.||Bachelor’s, master’s, no doctorate degrees*.||Bachelor’s, master’s, in some cases: doctorate degrees, artistic degrees.|
|Official degrees issued||Yes.|
All subjects (incl. medicine, law, pharmacy, teaching).
|Applicable subjects (incl. engineering, business, social sciences).||
Artistic subjects (fine arts, design, architecture, theatre, music).
|Teaching staff requirements||Scientific qualification (doctorate degree & habilitation).||Scientific qualification (doctorate degree) & work experience.||Artistic oeuvre; and/or scientific qualification (doctorate degree & habilitation).|
*Exceptions exist in Hessia, Saxony-Anhalt & North Rhine-Westphalia.
So here’s a quick recap: A university of applied sciences does not only focus on theoretical teaching but on the application of academic knowledge. Here, students find a combination of scientific academic training and practical elements.
In comparison to that, universities in the German higher education system are rather theory-driven and research-oriented. Students here get academic training that is most commonly associated with university education: Theoretical and focused on scientific research methods. Academies of arts, music, and film are open to students with artistic talent and provide a sphere to further train and develop artistic skills. You can read more about all three university types in comparison here.
Disclaimer: Throughout this article, we use "university" to refer to the specific type of higher education institution (Universität) that can be characterized as a theory-driven research university. Elsewhere on the website of MyGermanUniversity, the term "university" is used as a general term for higher education institutions in Germany (unless otherwise specified).
A short history of UAS in Germany
To understand what universities of applied sciences are and which role they have in the German higher education system, it can help you to understand how they developed. What this historical development shows nicely is that UAS in Germany have over time reached a status that is different in some formalities but equal in quality to that of a university (German: Universität).
The predecessors of UAS in Germany, so-called Fachschulen or Ingenieurschulen (polytechnic schools mainly for Engineers), were dedicated to vocational training. In the late 1960s, the German educational system saw some reforms, and one of them was to bestow the status of a higher education institution upon these formerly vocational schools. This new type of institution was called “Fachhochschule” (yes, that is the German term for UAS) and educated its students in application-oriented subjects.
However, some differences between these new UAS and traditional universities remained. Most significantly, the degrees that were obtained at a UAS were nominally distinguished from those awarded by a university. If you graduated from a Fachhochschule (FH) your diploma would state FH in addition to your degree, whereas if you graduated from a university, it would carry the additional univ. Here it becomes apparent that people used to differentiate between the degrees from the two types of institutions.
This changed with the Bologna reforms in 1999. This higher education reformation process is an attempt to integrate the education landscapes of many European states. In Germany, it most significantly meant the introduction of the bachelor’s and master’s system as the most prominent degree formats. This change affected universities and universities of applied sciences alike: Both types of institutions now offer mostly bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and with this change, dropped the indication at which type of institution the degree was obtained.
Today, even the last big differentiating factor between UAS and universities is heavily discussed and partially done away with: Namely the right to award doctorate degrees (German: Promotionsrecht). This is traditionally reserved for research universities, however, some states (German: Bundesländer) are starting to make exceptions to this rule. This is one more development that shows you what UAS are: A great way to continue or start your higher education in Germany that does not fall short of universities.
Are universities of applied sciences really good?
From our experience, we know that many international students wonder if UAS are a good choice for them. Some people doubt whether this type of institution can keep up with the research-oriented universities. Let us address this worry first:
UAS in the German system have an equal standing to research universities and therefore are a good choice for international students.
The recognition of UAS as equally as good as universities becomes clear when looking at the history of UAS in Germany and is furthermore reflected in a name-change that many UAS underwent after 1999: Instead of Fachhochschule they now largely call themselves Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften (HAW), which stresses the higher education character of UAS. Both terms translate to university of applied sciences and are nowadays used interchangeably. An important thing to note is that it does not matter whether you get a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a UAS or a university. They are both recognized and equally as good.
Since 1999, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from both institution types are considered completely equal.
Students, professors, and employers appreciate UAS for their unique strengths. Depending on what you want from your higher education, UAS may emerge as an even better option than traditional research-oriented universities. 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 organizational structures of their school. A study published by the German ministry of education shows that programs at UAS are perceived to have higher feasibility and are better organized, and master students at UAS are the one group in the said study that feels best prepared for their examinations.
Students at UAS tend to be happy with their programs and their schools.
Aspects such as mandatory internships, projects conducted in cooperation with companies, and being taught by professors with work experience outside academia leave graduates of UAS with excellent chances at the German job market and with a highly sought after skill set. The points of contact students get with relevant industry players provide great opportunities to network and get a foot in the door. After graduation, UAS alumni statistically find a job faster than their colleagues from universities and initially earn more per year than university alumni. After some years on the job, university alumni tend to make more on average, but the gap is not too big.
Graduates of UAS programs have excellent chances at the job market.
Last but not least, UAS become more and more popular with students. The student numbers are increasingly rising. Meanwhile, almost 4 of 10 students in Germany are enrolled at universities of applied sciences (source: Destatis). Other than the aspects mentioned above, UAS are highly attractive because they offer a great variety of subjects to study. Often, the programs are very specialized so that students who are looking for training in a certain niche are likely to find what they are looking for. On top of that, they offer programs in fields that are usually not covered by universities, such as physiotherapy or tourism, or the booming field of dual studies.
German Universities of Applied Sciences in rankings
Thus far, it should have become clear that we are convinced that studying at a UAS in Germany is an excellent choice for international students. For some of you, one doubt may remain: If UAS are so great, why then do they not appear in international rankings?
While international rankings can be a useful tool for orientation when it comes to selecting a university, it is important to keep in mind that no ranking holds the ultimate truth. Each ranking uses a set of parameters that define what a good university is according to their standards - and thus necessarily excludes other parameters or characteristics.
Many rankings focus almost exclusively on research output and research activities. While UAS do perform meaningful research and enjoy a good reputation for their research activities (Germany wide, internationally, and with important industry players) it is not their sole point of focus: For example, UAS staff commits a good amount of time to teaching activities and thus, has less time available for research activities. While this can actually be a good aspect for students, it does not help to perform well in rankings focused on research performance.
Other than international rankings, there is also a set of national rankings that include German institutions only and partially focus on other parameters, for example on the number of international scholars who decide to conduct research at the respective institution (Humboldt ranking), or on student experiences (CHE ranking). When you are looking for a program offered by a UAS that fares well in national rankings, you will find that you have actually quite a number of options to choose from. To read about all-important rankings in more detail, you can check out this article.
The bottom line is that while rankings can be a good source of orientation when it comes to choosing a study program or a university, we recommend not to overvalue the reputation of one specific university. For those of you who find university reputation extremely important, you might also be interested in checking out the highly reputable universities of applied sciences that cooperate in the UAS7 alliance.
What is a University of Applied Sciences in Germany?
With this excursion into the history of UAS in Germany, you already learned where this type of institution came from. Next, let’s clarify for you a little more the defining characteristics of UAS in Germany. What defines these institutions, and what can students expect from them?
To make an answer to this question as easy as possible, let’s, first of all, reduce the complexity of this topic a little and look at one rather stereotypical representation of UAS in Germany, i.e. the Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
First of all, this institution emerges as a typical representative of UAS in Germany when looking at its founding date in 1982 (after the reforms taking place in the late 1960s, see our little history lesson above). At the same time, predecessors of the Bremen University of Applied Sciences date back all the way to 1799, so that it gives you an example of the development of the German higher education system, as well. With around 8,700 students enrolled, it is also smaller than many universities, which makes it a typical representative of UAS which often have a more familiar feel than universities.
Studying at Hochschule Bremen
As is typical for UAS, the Bremen University of Applied Sciences does not have the right to award doctorate degrees and therefore, students can choose from a variety of bachelor’s and master’s degrees only. The faculties of the Bremen University of Applied Sciences include the School of International Business; Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Social Sciences; Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Science and Engineering. These applicable subject fields are most often covered by UAS (just add "design" to the mix and you have the full picture).
Now if you look at the programs offered in English by this school, two things become apparent: Courses such as International Tourism Management or Electronics Engineering are applicable subjects, and not only based on theory as a more general course in "Physics" would be. This application-orientation and practical-orientation is furthermore apparent in the high number of executive degrees, such as MBAs offered by this university.
Secondly, through programs that focus on aeronautical management, shipping and chartering, or logistics, the location of the UAS and its network to the industry is reflected: Bremen is a port town and the university cooperates with logistics and shipping companies. Also, it is located close to an Airbus location, which is reflected in the aeronautics study program. Close contacts and partnerships with the local industry are characteristic of UAS in general. With this example, you can imagine what it can do to your career to study and at the same time have close contact with industry partners such as Airbus.
Of course, not every UAS looks exactly like that. Each school can define its own focus points and teaching philosophy. The following basic facts, and afterward, an overview of the different subtypes give you the full picture.
Germany has 243 UAS and around 37% of the total number of students at German higher education institutions are enrolled in UAS. Typically, UAS and their offered programs are significantly smaller in student numbers than universities in Germany. Many applicants view this as a positive effect on the learning environment: Smaller courses mean a better student-teacher ratio. There is less anonymity and more room for student questions and inquiries at UAS. Many UAS are located in bigger cities, but you will also find options that are located in smaller towns that are not known as student towns but rather for the industries that the respective UAS focuses on. This also reflects the importance that is placed on university-company networks by UAS. The concept pays off: UAS are increasingly popular with students.
Which degrees are offered at UAS?
Generally speaking, UAS offer only two types of degrees: Bachelor’s degrees, which are the most prominent format of undergraduate degrees in Europe, and master’s degrees, which is the degree format on the graduate level. You can choose from over 750 bachelor’s and master’s degrees offered in English by German universities of applied sciences.
Depending on which subject you study, there are different forms that your bachelor’s or master’s degrees may have. For example, graduates in a subject field such as social sciences often graduate with a bachelor or master of arts (B.A. or M.A.), graduates of STEM subjects often are bachelors or masters of science (B.Sc. or M.Sc.). Bachelor or master of engineering (B.Eng. or M.Eng.) indicates someone who graduated in an engineering-related discipline, to name but a few options.
Other degree formats that exist at universities are not offered at UAS. One example are programs that lead to state-accredited professions and therefore end with the state examination (German: Staatsexamen) which is another German degree format. Therefore, subjects such as law, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and (in some German states) teaching cannot be studied at UAS in Germany. This marks one important difference between the two higher education institution types UAS and university.
Furthermore, universities of applied sciences generally do not have the right to award doctorate degrees and therefore, largely do not offer the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. This right has been traditionally reserved for research universities. This being said, there is an ever-increasing number of UAS graduates who do continue their education and pursue a Ph.D. which is made possible through cooperative degree formats and some regional exceptions.
Which subjects are taught at UAS?
When it comes to subjects that are offered at universities of applied sciences, the offer is slightly restricted compared to the offer by research universities. The courses offered are largely applicable subjects such as engineering, social sciences, informatics, public health, management and economics, or design. Programs in the field of humanities are typically not offered at UAS. Programs such as law, medicine, or teaching are reserved for universities, as well.
Instead of more generalistic subjects or disciplines, the programs offered at UAS are often rather specialized and reflect the application orientation of this type of higher education institution. To give you some examples: While a university may offer the rather generalistic study program biology, a UAS may offer one in biotechnology, or while a UAS may teach programs in German studies, a UAS may focus on applied linguistics. There are, of course, overlaps, which is why it is recommendable to use the MyGermanUniversity StudyFinder to view all your options.
How do students learn at UAS?
Before we give you a general idea of how a study program at a UAS typically looks like, we want to remind you that each UAS has its own history and approach to teaching. We want to encourage you to read each course description and curriculum that you are interested in, in order to find out which topics will be covered in your program, and how the curriculum will be structured.
While a UAS equips you with scientific research skills and theoretical knowledge, it also qualifies you very well to work outside academia. Through its application orientation, UAS put a higher focus on training you for jobs, and not just as an academic. Your teachers, who have practical experiences in relevant industries, will inform you about the world outside academia. Rather than being expected to conduct substantial theoretical work, you will more likely engage in practical projects in cooperation with companies.
At UAS, students often receive good support through their professors. Typical teaching formats are often smaller-sized lectures and students are giving more guidance when learning new content. For example, a typical UAS curriculum includes more practice courses and tutorials than is common at universities. A prominent focus at UAS is put on practical phases. Often, a 2-year master’s program includes a 6-month long internship or practical phase as a mandatory part of the curriculum. Therefore, students are sure to graduate with practical experiences and networks.
What are the teaching staff requirements at UAS?
For this type of institution, the requirements towards the academic staff are not solely focused on academic qualifications. Every teacher at a UAS must have three years of work experience outside academia under their belt. On top of that, to become a professor at a UAS one also needs a doctorate degree, but does not have to be habilitated, as is required from professors at research universities.
For students, this means that they are taught by practitioners who partially bring their own company network into the UAS, as well. UAS professors are also required to dedicate more time to teaching activities than university professors, which reveals teaching to be one of the bigger focus points of UAS staff than university staff.
Who runs the UAS?
The majority of German UAS (and higher education institutions in general) are public. Public universities enjoy an excellent reputation in Germany. There are also 92 private UAS in Germany. Through accreditation with the state, private UAS and the degrees they offer are recognized in Germany and internationally and enjoy a good reputation, as well.
What do they cost?
The cost of studying in Germany is one of the big factors that makes German UAS very attractive to international students: Public institutions typically do not charge tuition fees, and therefore, studying in Germany is basically for free. All that students are expected to pay is a small semester contribution twice a year, which covers their public transportation and access to low-cost student services, such as student housing or student cafeterias.
Private UAS, on the other hand, do charge tuition fees, which average around 5,000 - 7,000 € per semester. To get the full picture, read our article on studying in Germany for free.
Subtypes and variations of UAS in Germany
Thus far, you have been provided a general overview of the characteristics of UAS in Germany. Over time, certain sub-types of UAS developed so that it is worth looking at variations of UAS that focus on certain subjects or pursue a unique style of teaching or academic training.
Technical UAS (Technische Hochschulen)
Technical universities of applied sciences (German: Technische Hochschulen) are somewhat equivalent to the technical universities. They, too, focus on technical subjects and often have great reputations in the STEM subject group, which means the subject group of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Currently, Germany has 17 institutions that fall into this category and that offer nearly 100 programs in the English language:
- Aschaffenburg University of Applied Sciences
- Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin
- Deggendorf Institute of Technology
- Hochschule für Technik Stuttgart - University of Applied Sciences
- Ostbayerische Technische Hochschule Amberg-Weiden
- OTH Regensburg
- OWL University of Applied Sciences
- Rosenheim Technical University of Applied Sciences
- Technical University of Applied Sciences Wildau
- Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt
- Technische Hochschule Lübeck
- Technische Hochschule Nürnberg Georg Simon Ohm
- TH Georg Agricola University of Applied Sciences (THGA)
- TH Köln - Cologne University of Applied Sciences
- TH Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences - THM
- Ulm University of Applied Sciences
- Wilhelm Büchner University of Applied Sciences
The focus on STEM subjects, is, however, not unique to technical universities of applied sciences. There are other UAS in Germany that have outstanding reputations in engineering and technological subjects. Six of them are organized in the HAWtech, an alliance of leading universities of applied sciences in the field of engineering. These institutions are not Technical UAS but leading in technical fields. You can find over 30 study programs offered at HAWtech schools in the English language:
Church-run universities of applied sciences
While the majority of UAS in Germany are run by the state, and a smaller number by private actors, there are also a few UAS that are run by churches in Germany. You will find just under 30 universities of applied sciences that are run by different branches of Christian churches and a handful of UAS that focus on teaching church music.
These UAS do not only focus on teaching theological subjects but also include fields such as religious studies, social work, pedagogic, and the like. Typically, church-run institutions are open to students of all denominations. Since church-run higher education institutions need to be accredited by the German state, they ensure that you can get academically proficient high-quality education here as well. For some students, theological UAS may be a preferred choice for applicants. One reason for this is that often, the church-run institutions consider criteria in the admission process that go beyond the applicant’s GPA.
The church-run UAS offer a very limited amount of courses in English. The only English language options are offered by Friedensau Adventist University and University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology (FIT) Hermannsburg.
UAS of Public Administration
Another specialized type of UAS are the higher education institutions of public administrative science (German: Verwaltungsfachhochschulen). These institutions have the goal to recruit and train the necessary state personnel that take over roles of public administration and the organization and preservation of public life. Only three of such institutions have the status of a research university and thus can award doctorate degrees. The large majority of these institutions have the status of a UAS.
Note that UAS of public administration differ from higher education institutions that offer programs in public administration. In such bachelor’s or master’s programs, the goal is the scientific analysis of how public administration can be organized. The goal of UAS of public administration is to train people to work for the state. Therefore, one of the admission requirements to these schools is often to have been hired by a respective public administration agency: Often, the UAS of Public Administration teach their students in dual study programs.
To gain an overview of the various UAS of Public Administration, it makes sense to understand the fields in which these schools train their students:
Training to work in a tax office
Higher qualified employees who work in the German tax office (German: Finanzamt) train at UAS of public administration and finances. One example is the Hochschule für öffentliche Verwaltung und Finanzen Ludwigsburg.
Police people in Germany
Police people in Germany are also trained at this type of institution. Each German state has its police academies, in German often called Polizeihochschulen. On top of that, there is the federally run German Police University that offers a master’s degree to police people.
Higher qualified personnel in general government agencies
Higher qualified personnel in general government agencies, which could be the German pension insurance or district administrations, get trained at this type of institution. One example is the University of Applied Sciences for Police and Public Administration North-Rhine Westphalia, which offers courses in General Public Administration.
There furthermore are UAS of public administration that are run by the state on a federal level, for example:
- University of Applied Labour Studies of the Federal Employment Agency,
- Hochschule der Deutschen Bundesbank University of Applied Sciences by the German Federal Bank.
These lists could be continued and should serve to give you a general overview of who is trained at these types of institutions. Note that since these institutions train people who are already employed with or soon to be employed with the German state, students often have or aim for the status of official civil servant (German: Beamte). In Germany, this position is only open to people who hold EU passports (with few exceptions). Furthermore, excellent German skills are required at these institutions. For these reasons, access to UAS of public administration in Germany is limited and for international students largely only possible if the institution offers additional programs that are designed for a wider civilian student body.
How to gain admission to a German university of applied sciences
In order to gain admission to a German university of applied sciences, applicants to all levels of study need to fulfill three criteria:
- A previous degree that qualifies for the next level of studies.
- An English or German language certificate.
- Additional admission requirements for the specific program.
Keep in mind that in order to travel to Germany and start your studies, you will also need the ability to obtain a visa. For general visa requirements, see here; for some hints on obtaining a student visa for Germany throughout the pandemic, check out this article!
Let’s clarify what these three criteria include for each level of study:
|Bachelor’s level||Master’s level|
|Degree requirement||Secondary school leaving certificate that is considered equivalent to German A-Levels. Often, students need to visit a so-called Studienkolleg.||
A first academic degree that is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in Germany.Often, the first academic degree needs to be related to the subject of the master’s degree. All info here!
|Language requirement||Good English or German language skills (depending on your chosen language of study) proven with an accepted language certificate. See more info here.|
|Additional admission requirements||
Depends on each program, typically most relevant:
- secondary school GPA,
Depends on each program, often:
- letter of motivation,
|Application process||Directly to the university or via uni-assist, in some cases via “hochschulstart”.||Directly to the university or via uni-assist.|
Whether you have to go to a Studienkolleg (which is a basic foundation year to prepare you for university studies in Germany) or not, depends on where you obtained your secondary school leaving certificates: For most countries outside the EU, high school diplomas are not considered equivalent to the German A-levels, which is why students from these countries need to visit a Studienkolleg to qualify for university studies. You can find out what applies to your case under this link.
Note that there are different tracks of Studienkolleg, one track qualifies you for studies at a university (so-called Universitätskollegs), the other one for studies at a university of applied sciences (so-called Fachhochschulkollegs). It is therefore important that you make a decision regarding your preferred type of institution before enrolling at a Studienkolleg.
One important aspect to consider when it comes to the admission process to German universities is that it typically does not include entrance tests or interviews. Therefore, your physical presence in Germany is not needed to get admitted to a German university. This makes the application process quite comfortable for international applicants.
What are the best UAS in Germany?
Understandably, many international students have this question on their mind. When they dedicate a lot of time and effort to take up their studies in Germany, they want to make sure they do so at the best possible institution in the best possible program. So let’s provide you with a bit of a strategy to find the best program for you.
At MyGermanUniversity, we go by the philosophy that the best German university for you is going to be the one that offers a program you love. You can get an internationally recognized degree at all German universities and at all types of higher education institutions in Germany. There is no decisive hierarchy between the degrees. Therefore, we recommend the following: Use the MyGU StudyFinder to find a program that fits your interests, your career ambitions, and that you can get admission to. If you enjoy what you study, you will do it with more success and will be able to make the most out of your time in Germany!