The Tertiary Education Landscape

Institutions of Higher Education in Germany
There are many different ways to obtaining a degree after completing your pre-university education in Singapore. Most tertiary education institutions in Germany can be broadly classified into two categories: the comprehensive universities (Universitäten and Hochschulen), as well as the universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen).

The traditional universities (formally conferred the title of Universität, or colloquially shortened to Uni while sometimes being referred to by the Latin term, universitas) specialise in methodic and theoretical education. These comprehensive universities offer a wide variety of subjects, ranging from Astrology to Zoology, giving students a wide variety of subjects to choose from. Students are also to a large extent free to structure their courses the way they want to – this means they have control as to how fast they want to complete their degree. Some universities are also known as Technical Universities (Technische Universitäten or TU);  TUs differ from regular comprehensive universities in that they tend to offer more engineering courses, but are nonetheless legally on par with regular Universitäten as their quality and approaches to education are similar. Graduates of Universitäten can generally move on to graduate and post-graduate studies easily, with many usually going on to further their studies at the graduate and post-graduate level.

The Fachhochschulen (FH) or University of Applied Sciences tend to offer less in terms of subject variety, although this does necessarily mean they are inferior to the traditional universities. Courses are tightly structured with a clear orientation towards the job market, giving students a more hands-on approach, with students accordingly graduating with a FH supplement to their degrees. However, FH graduates may not be automatically entitled to proceed onto a post-graduate or doctorate programme immediately, although this differs from university to university.

Apart from the Universitäten and the FH, there are also various state-recognised academies for music and fine arts which confer their own degrees. For more information on the complete list of subjects offered  in Germany, please click on the following link!

The Academic Calendar
The academic calendar in most German universities comprises of 2 semesters with lessons usually conducted during the following periods:

Winter Semester: Mid-October to Mid-February
Summer Semester: Early or Mid-April to Mid- or End-July

Technically, the two semesters run continuously after one another; however, there are academic breaks in between such as Christmas or Easter breaks, as well as ‘semester holidays’ officially known as Vorlesungsfreiezeit or lecture-free periods. Depending on university, exams can be held at the end of the Vorlesungszeit (active academic period), or the Vorlesungsfreiezeit. Lessons (especially practical courses and practicums) are also sometimes held during the breaks.

For engineering and technical courses you are usually required to fulfil approximately 26 weeks of Praktikum(industrial attachment) as part of your course; the exact duration may differ according to the university and course, with some universities requiring their students to complete a certain number of weeks before allowing them to graduate. Do check with the university directly regarding this matter.

Academic Structure
With the signing of the Bologna Process by 29 European countries, pledging to create a European Higher Education Area in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses whilst benefiting from simplified recognition procedures by 2010, traditional German degrees such as the Diplom and Magister are gradually being phased out and replaced by the more internationally-recognised Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees programmes. Due to the decentralised nature of education in Germany, the progress of this restructuring differ from states to states, so you may still be able to find some universities which continue to offer Diplom and Magister courses.

The Bachelor’s undergraduate programme typically takes 3 years, while the Master’s programmes are usually 1-2 years long. Unlike the UK, US and Singapore, there is no Honours system in Germany despite most student being required to write a Bachelor’s thesis or research paper (known as Bachelorarbeit) similar to the Honours thesis requirements in Singapore universities. All graduate students in the Master’s programme are expected to write a Master’s thesis as well.

The old Semesterwochenstunden (SWS) system has also generally been phased out with the introduction of the European Credits Transfer System (ECTS) which facilitates the transfer of credits between universities all around Europe. Students are expected to complete 180 ECTS credits for the Bachelor’s programme (ca. 30 credits per semester) and anything between 120-150ECTS for the Master’s course, depending on the course structure.

Professional degrees such as that for Medicine, Law and Teaching (Lehramt) continue to remain under the old system where candidates have to pass a series of state examinations (Staatsexamen).

Studying Medicine in Germany
The path to become a full-fledged doctor takes around 12 semesters or 6 years, incorporating both basic studies and clinical years. Students spend the first 4 semesters preparing for the Physikum or the first Staatsexamen. Prior to taking the Physikum, medical students are expected to have completed at least 90 days of Krankenpflegepraktikum, where they have spend their time assisting nurses in their work to gain a more holistic view of healthcare by experiencing first-hand what a nurse’s job entails.

After the Physikum, they will spend 3 years doing the klinisches Curriculum (clinical years). During this period, students are also expected to clear 4 months of Famulatur (electives) as well as their Doctorarbeit (Medical Dissertation Paper).

Before the medical students begin their Praktisches Jahr (final year rotation), they will have to clear the written exams of the second Staatsexamen, where they will round up their Praktisches Jahr with the practical and oral sections of the second Staatsexamen. After completing all these, they will become fully qualified doctors!

You can refer to this page for a list of medical schools in Germany (and other German-speaking countries) accredited by the Singapore Medical Council.