More people studying at German universities without Abitur qualification

More people studying at German universities without Abitur qualification

To study at a German university, you almost always need an Abitur qualification (or a foreign equivalent). But according to new figures, more and more students are managing to get into academic universities via the vocational pathway. 

More students studying in Germany without Abitur qualification

The number of students studying in Germany without an Abitur or Fachhochschulreife (the two highest qualifications given in the German school system) has reached a high point of 66.000, according to a new study by the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) in Gütersloh. 

Although such students still make up a tiny minority of university students in Germany (2,2 percent of the student body), their number is growing every year. CHE’s figures show that the number of first semester students without an Abitur has quadrupled over the past 20 years or so. 

The figures vary greatly between Germany’s federal states. In Thuringia, for example, one in 10 students does not have a high school diploma. Until recently, the frontrunner for students without Abiturs was Hamburg (4,7 percent). Bremen also has an above-average share, at 3,7 percent. 

Reform made it easier for vocational students to apply for medicine

This positive trend can partially be explained by recent changes that reformed the process for applying to study medicine or dentistry in Germany, to improve access options for people without high school diplomas. 

According to CHE, the number of students who gained a place to study medicine or dentistry through the vocational pathway increased from 534 in 2015 to 1.071 in 2020. Currently, one in five first-year students in Germany chooses a subject in the field of healthcare or health science. 

Separation between vocational and academic education shrinking

To attend higher education in Germany, the prerequisite is usually to have completed an Abitur or a so-called Fachabitur at secondary level. However, students without these qualifications can apply for a place at university if they have completed vocational training and have proof of professional experience. 

“There used to be a strict separation between vocational and academic education,” said CHE managing director Frank Ziegele. “Today, both areas of post-school education are increasingly part of one and the same educational biography.” 



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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