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Masters Degrees in Germany

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Why Study A Masters degree in Germany?

Germany is well-known the world over for the quality of its education system and not just in engineering. As nicknamed by the agency responsible for promoting Germany as a study destination (DAAD), Germany is the “Land of Ideas”. With nearly 2.5 million students throughout the country and across the whole range of subject areas, it is one of the largest higher education provider in Europe as well as one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world

University system in Germany

A competitive fee structure, an increasing number of masters delivered fully (or partly) in English, higher positions in international rankings and a growing international postgraduate population means that Germany is a good option for masters study. Another characteristic of the higher education sector in Germany is a strong emphasis on student mobility and students are encouraged to take internships or make good use of exchange opportunities during their studies, This also applies at masters level. With a now shorter Bologna bachelor (3 years), study abroad opportunities are as important at masters level in Germany.

The German Higher Education system is not centrally coordinated and each of the 16 Federal States has its own higher education laws. German universities are autonomous in terms of administration and management. Each institution decides on the areas it wants to teach and makes admissions decisions (as in the UK, for example), setting their own regulations and entry requirements so it is advisable to check each institution you may be considering for your masters study.

There are four types of institutions in Germany which offers masters degrees:

  • Universities, including Technische Universität, also known as TU, are research-oriented and offer programmes in a wide variety of subjects. There are around 100 universities and most of these are public institutions.
  • Universities of Applied Science or Fachhochschulen are practice-orientated and offer courses mainly in engineering, business administration, social sciences and design. They often have excellent relationships with employers which will provide internships, supervision during masters dissertations and other opportunities for professional development. Amongst 200 of this type, you will find both public or private universities of applied science in Germany.
  • Colleges of art, film and music (over 50 institutions)
  • Institutions supported by religious organisations (partly state-funded)

Fees/Funding

Masters tuition fees and miscellaneous fees

In 2005, a law was passed allowing universities to charge tuition fees. Not all States opted to start applying tuition fees but for those which do the fees remain low. The currency of Germany is the Euro (€). Fees for masters degrees are made up of several components:

  • Tuition fees (per semester):
    - €0-€650, for public institutions (although professional and executive masters may carry higher fees)
    - Up to several thousand euros per semester for private institutions (on par with other countries like the US)
  • Semester contribution (“Semesterbeitrag”, an admin/student services fee, often including a transport pass for local area): €40-€270
  • Health Insurance (per annum): varies depending on institution but can be around €280/semester; however if you have a part-time job this is may provide a health insurance cover which is adequate. The law states that all students must have health insurance for the duration of your course (including any extension, up to 14 semesters) or up to a maximum age of 30. This means that, under these conditions, you have access to public health insurance at subsidised rates. For students over 30, a private insurance cover will have to be arranged by the student. The student services office (Studentenwerk) of your institution can advise you on this and on whether you need additional cover should you undertake fieldwork or an internship.

Scholarships and Financial Assistance

Financial assistance for graduate students may be available in the form of scholarships from external agencies, such as DAAD. Examples include:

Federal grants and loans may also be available, although you’ll have to check whether you are eligible. Similarly, some of the federal loans are only offered as hardship loans (ie if you suddenly find yourself unable to pay your fees, if you are in a state which has tuition fees). A good example is the tuition fee loans in Bavaria (which are available through an idependent bank), for more information, visit: http://www.studieren-in-bayern.de/darlehen.aspx.

International students with a student visa who are studying for a full-time degree may work up 120 days (or 240 half-days every year. While this may not be sufficient to fully support you during your masters degree, it may provide a useful income.

Masters Courses in Germany

Applying and Admissions

Masters applications can be either made directly to the universities using their own in-house (online) application form or by using a system called uni-assist. This system is more than just an online form and provides a screening service to determine the suitability of applicants’ bachelor degree to gain admissions onto masters degrees both for German and international applicants). To find out more about uni-assist and which German institutions use uni-assist, please click here.

Entry Requirements

Germany, like many other European countries, signed up to the Bologna process which allows better alignment of the different degrees in Europe and beyond. One of the most notable aspects of this is that Germany now offers a 3-tiered system, whereby a bachelor leads to a masters which in turn leads to a PhD. This means that you will require a bachelor degree equivalent of the German bachelor to gain access to a masters. Depending on the subject, you will have to demonstrate a minimum number of credits in specific areas you studied at undergraduate level. Often, individual academic sections will then examine inidividually how these credits relate to the admission requirements for the programme you have applied for. Professional masters degrees often require work experience.

Language requirements

Some institutions may have two levels of requirements, one for application and one for enrollment (which of course is higher that at application). This is to allow applicants to improve their language skills prior to starting their degree.

For masters’ degrees delivered exclusively in English, there is normally no German language requirements. For example, Freie Universität Berlin has over 20 programmes available and no German language certificate is required as part of the application process. Of course, if English is not your first language, you will have to demonstrate your proficiency in English, either through a certificate or by showing that you have been taught in English at undergraduate level.

For masters degrees delivered exclusively in German or partly in German, proficiency in the language will have to be demonstrated through either TestDaf (German as a foreign language) or DSH1 (Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang or German language examination for admission to a German higher education institution).

Masters Structure

So a Masters in Germany is called a “Masters”! They take between two and six semesters, the most common case being 2 years. Depending on the subject, graduates earn either a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MSc) degree. They are sometimes referred to a Magister which is the name of the pre-Bologna qualification. Masters can be consecutive or non-consecutive:

  • A consecutive masters program is the continuation of a completed bachelor in the same field, allowing students to acquire knowledge and skills in more depth.
  • A non-consecutive masters requires a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily in the same field (although you would expect it to be in a related subject area). This allows students to acquire new skills and knowledge which complements or broadens their existing undergraduate qualification.
  • Professional masters are offered in vocational subject areas such as nursing, engineering, education. They are practice-orientated, providing practical work experience.
  • Masters by Research are not really a well established concept in Germany and there are no Masters by Research available. If you are interested in research, why not look into a PhD?

Course content

To be awarded a masters, you’ll require 120 ECTS credits, of which 30 will be obtained through the final dissertation or thesis. Masters programmes are taught as a mixture of lectures and seminars as well as internships, fieldwork and group projects, if required by your particular course. You may have to present your thesis to a committee or an audience.

At the end of your programme, you will get a final mark which is most commonly based on a reverse 5-point scale, 1 being the best and 4.0 or over being a fail. You will also be given qualificative grade such as “Sehr Gut” or “Gut” depending on your numerical grade.

Employability and jobs

It is worth making good use of your university’s career/employability service as they will have good contacts with employers and will hosts events, such as careers fairs where you can meet companies (both local and multinationals) recruiting high-caliber graduates.

The Germany economy is historically based on industry. However, the service-oriented sector is growing rapidly, leaving a gap in killed labour resulting in many German industries, such as IT and sales and marketing, scrambling for qualified employees. Combining a strong industrial and high-tech sector with this, the top five German industries are biotechnology & genetics, information technology & multimedia, finance and marketing, engineering and health services.

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