Country Profiles

Countries with very large systems of higher education and research communities, namely Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, will be highlighted separately. The remaining countries of the European Union (EU), European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and Central Europe will be discussed in groups.


Germany's accelerated growth in the 1960s created a demand for more skilled workers. The small number of students in secondary and higher education expanded to overcome this serious shortage. From 1975 to 1991, the number of students enrolled in higher education grew at an annual rate of 3.4 percent, from approximately 1 million to 1.8 million. University institutions and faculty initially expanded (from 1975 to 1985) to keep up with this growth; the lack of further expansion of university faculty since 1985 has resulted in overcrowding and a longer time to degree (Nerad, 1994).


Although universities were not established in Germany until more than two centuries after comparable institutions appeared in England, France, and Italy, by the end of the 15th century there were nine such institutions, equal to the number of universities in France. The first of these universities was Heidelberg in 1386, followed by Leipzig (1409), Freiberg (1457), Munich (1472), Tübingen (1477), and Marburg (1527). Distinguished older universities in the former East Germany include Greifswald, Rostock, Jena, and Halle-Wittenberg. The University of Halle was the first university in Europe where lectures were given in the vernacular (German) rather than in Latin. Göttingen (1737) and the University of Berlin (1809) were, and remain, notable science centers.

In the 19th century, German universities were pioneers in changing and expanding their curricula to keep abreast of advances in science. The research university in its modern form originated at that time with the founding of the University of Berlin. Based on the plans devised by Wilhelm von Humboldt, German universities of the period set a new world standard by a skillful and successful combination of teaching and research (Miller, 1994). German eminence in mathematics has been evident since the 17th century when Gottfried Leibnitz invented the calculus independent of Isaac Newton in England.

Today (1993), German higher education includes 251 institutions, of which 70 are universities (including 6 private universities [16]), and 125 Fachhochschulen. Of these institutes, only graduates from the universities may continue their studies in doctoral programs. The university degree in Germany requires a minimum of 4 years of study, with the average length of undergraduate study lasting 6.5 years. This lengthy first university degree reflects both the quality of university education and the great overcrowding of universities occurring throughout Europe. University education is funded by the federal government and the Länder (states), and the number of institutions and faculty positions has not expanded in proportion to the increasing number of students (Von Friedeburg, 1991).

German polytechnics, called Fachhochschulen, prepare students for work in various technical specialties. Since this shorter first degree lacks research training, graduates from these institutions generally do not pursue advanced degrees. There is not an equivalent institution in the United States, but the bachelor's degree in engineering technology in U.S. universities is roughly similar to the Fachhochschulen engineering degree. Fachhochschulen were established in the early 1970s as an educational reform to address the serious shortage of skilled technical workers (Von Friedeburg, 1991). They have become increasingly attractive in the past 19 years to students with the Abitur [17] because of the relatively favorable employment prospect. German industrial firms consider this training to be more practical and focused on their needs (Tessaring, 1992). The Fachhochschulen are an important source of training for engineers, accounting for two-thirds of the engineering degrees awarded in Germany in 1992. (See text table 8.)

Germany would like to divert more of its engineering students from universities to Fachhochschulen and have an even greater percentage of graduates trained in these polytechnics. The German Government has established 26 new Fachhochschulen in former East Germany to create a more highly skilled labor force and to foster economic growth in that region (Gov. of Germany, 1993c).

Science and Engineering Degree Trends [18]

Despite a declining pool of students, Germany has continued to increase its output of science and engineering (S&E) degrees since 1975. The former West German college-age cohort declined 5.5 percent annually between the years 1985 and 1995 because of low birth rates in Germany beginning in the 1970s. (See appendix table 6.) The former East German college-age cohort declined more slowly (3.7 percent per year) during this same period. First university degree awards (includes Fachhochschulen) in science and engineering increased from 59,000 in 1975 to 106,000 in 1992, even as the number of college-age students decreased. (See appendix table 5.) S&E degrees have grown faster than overall university degrees. The number of natural science degrees awarded increased at a rate of 3.9 percent annually during the 17-year period. The number of engineering degrees grew even faster, 4.5 percent annually, while overall university degrees grew at just over 3 percent in this same time period (Gov. of Germany, 1993a).

The sharp increase in the number of degrees awarded from 1989 to 1990 reflects the inclusion of S&E degree data for former East Germany. (See figure 16 and appendix tables 16 and 17.) About 13 percent of the college-age cohort (27-year-old population for Germany) obtained a first university degree (includes Fachhochschulen) in 1992. Five percent of the college-age cohort obtained a degree in natural sciences or engineering in 1992, among the highest percentage achieved within EU countries. (See appendix table 1.)

The former East German Länder had a considerably higher percentage of their university degrees awarded in fields of science and engineering. Thirty-seven percent of all university degrees in East Germany in 1990 were awarded in engineering; only 21 percent of West German degrees were obtained in engineering in that same year. Nonetheless, the inclusion of the East German Länder only slightly increases the percentage of university degrees obtained in engineering since the East German population is relatively small (one-quarter that of West Germany) and access to university education was more restricted than in the West (8 percent of the college-age population versus 12 percent in former West Germany).

Access to university education for women in Germany has improved, particularly in fields of science and engineering, but from a low base. The percentage of women in the college-age cohort who obtained a university degree in former West Germany has increased from 7.8 percent in 1985 to 12.0 percent in 1991 (Gov. of Germany, 1993a). (See appendix tables 6 and 18.) In that same time period, the percentage of college-age women receiving natural science and engineering (NS&E) degrees increased from 1.2 to 2.3 percent-somewhat similar to the percentage of women with NS&E degrees in the United States and in South Korea. German women increased the number of university engineering degrees they obtained by more than 10 percent annually from 880 in 1975 to 4,218 in 1992. They increased their number of natural science degrees by 4.2 percent annually, from 6,052 in 1975 to 11,425 in 1992. (See figure 16.)

A larger share of NS&E degrees was obtained by women in former East Germany than in former West Germany. In the Eastern Länder, women obtained 54 percent of the degrees in the natural sciences and 28 percent of the engineering degrees in 1990 (Gov. of Germany, 1992). In former West Germany, females obtained 35 percent of the natural science degrees and 7 percent of the engineering degrees in that same year. However, the reorganization of the university system in the new Länder (former East German states) greatly reduced the number of university teachers and scientists, resulting in widespread expulsion of women from the middle academic levels (teaching assistants and lecturers) (Grimm and Meier, 1994).

The German Federal Government and the Länder Governments would like to raise the percentage of women among scholars and scientists. In the "Second Special University Program" the Federal and State Governments have budgeted DM 700 million annually (approximately $250 million in constant dollars) at the university level to increase female representation (Gov. of Germany, 1993c). The Federal States Commission for Educational Planning and Research Promotion has requested special annual reports on the realization of the specific promotion measures for female scientists (Gov. of Germany, 1993c).

Doctoral Reform in Germany

Anticipating the need for highly trained personnel, German universities accelerated the education of scientists and engineers in the late 1970s. Doctoral degrees in science and engineering in former West Germany grew faster than overall doctoral degrees between 1975 and 1992. During this 17-year period, the number of natural science degrees increased 5.1 percent annually, engineering increased 4.8 percent annually, and overall degrees increased 3.4 percent annually. The number of NS&E degrees at the doctoral level accelerated in the second half of the 1980s. The large increase between 1989 and 1990 reflects the inclusion of doctoral degrees from the East Länder in the German data. (See figure 17 and appendix table 19.)

The number of doctoral degrees has reached a plateau in the 1990s, as Germany restructures doctoral programs both in former East Germany and throughout the country. Degree data for the East Länder show a large drop-off in doctoral degrees in science and engineering between 1990 and 1992. The number of natural science degrees declined by almost one-half, from almost 900 in 1990 to fewer than 500 in 1992. The number of engineering doctoral degrees awarded decreased by almost two-thirds, from 1,100 in 1990 to 400 in 1992 (Gov. of Germany, 1993a).

Germany is also concerned about the appropriateness of doctoral education throughout the entire country for providing the highly trained personnel needed for universities and emerging industries. In traditional programs, German doctoral candidates have no formal admission procedure or organized program of course requirements. The doctoral research is supervised by the professor who accepts the candidate. German doctoral programs have a very long matriculation time with low completion rates. In response to these concerns, Germany began an experiment in 1989 with a new structure for doctoral training called the Graduiertenkollegs. Students at these institutions have considerably more contact with faculty and participate in interdisciplinary study and research groups. "The primary goals of these Graduiertenkollegs are (1) to increase the number of trained doctorates; (2) to improve the quality of research training by providing a more suitable environment; (3) to prepare students for non-academic employment; and (4) to encourage innovative interdisciplinary work" (Nerad, 1994). Approximately 10 percent of doctoral students are in this experimental program.

Foreign Students

Foreign student enrollment in universities and Fachhochschulen reached 96,000 in 1992, representing approximately 6 percent of the total student enrollment. About half are from Europe, mainly Turkey, Austria, Greece, and Yugoslavia. (Many of these are permanent residents who can essentially never obtain citizenship.) About 30 percent are from Asia, mainly Iran, [19] China, and Korea (Gov. of Germany, 1993b).

Foreign students receive approximately 12 percent of all engineering degrees at the doctoral level in Germany and about 7 percent of the natural science degrees. These percentages have remained relatively stable during the past decade (Gov. of Germany, 1993a). In the United States, the percentage of foreign doctoral recipients has increased in the past decade, to more than 57 percent in engineering [20] and 39 percent in natural sciences. (See text table 9.)

Research and Development

Germany is one of the most research-intensive industrial countries in the world, after Sweden, Japan and the United States. In 1993, research and development (R&D) accounted for approximately 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), down from 2.9 before unification in 1989. R&D in Germany grew from DM 34,550 million in 1975 to DM 65,252 million in 1993 in constant currency, representing real growth of 3.9 percent annually during the 17-year time period. In constant dollars, this is equivalent to $15,776 million in 1975 and $29,660 million in 1993. (See figure 18.) Industry funds an increasing share of R&D in Germany, while the government share of support for research has decreased from 47 percent to 37 percent over the past 17 years (Fusfeld, 1994).

The dominant feature of structural change in German research is the reorganization of research in the new Länder. Commitments made for unification have placed a heavy burden on public research budgets to distribute R&D funds to build up former East German states while maintaining funding in the West. The Federal Government expended DM 1.4 billion in 1991 and DM 2.0 billion in 1992 (approximately $589 million and $790 million) [21] to improve R&D infrastructures, strengthen industrial R&D, and restructure public research institutes (Gov. of Germany, 1994). Three new national research centers were established in the East: a Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin-Buch, a Geological Research Center in Potsdam, and an Environmental Research Center in Leipzig/Halle. The 13 national research centers in western Germany will open branch institutes in eastern Länder (Gov. of Germany, 1993c).

In addition to new public research institutes, Germany also allocated DM 600 million (approximately $240 million in constant U.S. dollars) to various programs designed to support industrial R&D in the new Eastern Länder in 1992. However, Germany greatly decreased research personnel in industry in the eastern Länder to about 30 percent of the original level before integration. "The labor force of about 86,000 persons in industrial research in the former German Democratic Republic in late 1989 was reduced to about 24,000 persons in 1992" (Gov. of Germany, 1993c). R&D departments of former East German industry were largely dismantled. The transfer of institutions has so far not created a regional research system in East Germany, nor has it yet led to an integrated research system in a unified Germany (Meske, 1993). One non-university institute that was revitalized rather than closed is the Central Institute for Microbiology and Experimental Therapy in Jena. One part of it became the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMB), an important center for engineering biomolecules and for the underlying basic research. One hundred and fifty scientific personnel from the original institute, as well as top scientists brought from many countries, including biologists, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers, are working together on cutting-edge biology and state-of-the-art technology. IMB is becoming one of Europe's major centers in a new field: evolutionary biotechnology, allowing researchers to evolve molecules from natural products adapted to special purposes. The field requires the development of nanotechnologies for synthesizing and screening millions of samples and for detecting and capturing the single sought-after molecule. Because of strong industrial applications, 140 technology-based companies have started up in Jena since reunification [22] (Kahn, 1995).

Besides strengthening the research capacity of the new Länder, Germany is attempting to shift rapidly into leading-edge technologies throughout the whole economy. Germany is losing its market share in traditional products to lower-wage countries. The implication for R&D policy is the need to increase the efficiency of research in Germany and to translate scientific achievements into innovative marketable products. The German Government has begun a dialogue with industry on strategies and priorities of private and public research to identify emerging areas with high economic potential for the 21st century. The 1994 national debates on science, technology, and innovation reflect the concern of the Government to establish communication among the main bodies in research, technology, and development and to assess the national situation concerning science and technology (S&T) policy directions for the next several years. To initiate this dialogue, the Government set up a Council for Research Technology and Innovation, with members from the science and industry community, trade unions, and the Federal Administration. The Federal Minister for Research and Technology and the Federal Minister of the Economy will be responsible for steering the Council. (Gov. of Germany, 1993c.)

The Federal Ministry for Research and Technology (known by its German abbreviation, BMFT) and the Ministries of the Länder are responsible for science and technology [23] . The Länder are responsible for research and higher education and, with the Federal Government, co-finance the Max Plank Institutes. State governments contribute 40 percent of the public financing of R&D. BMFT's determination to maintain the high level of basic scientific research is evident in their funding of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). DFG, similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation, supports research in all fields of science and engineering, providing funds to individual investigators, large scientific equipment and computing facilities, priority programs, fellowships, and special programs for young scientists. DFG is the largest sponsor of university research ($593 million in 1990) and plays a major role in basic science. University funding accounts for the largest proportion of public R&D in Germany. BMFT is also responsible for innovation research in strategic key technologies, for accelerating the implementation of innovations by industry, improving S&T structures in the new Federal States, and improving the conditions for research and innovation in Germany (Gov. of Germany, 1993c).

Three current national R&D priorities are (1) to increase support for basic research, strengthen research with long-term prospects, and expand "preventive research" (e.g., environment, health, and climate); (2) to support industrial research in market-oriented technologies; and (3) to improve the basic conditions for innovation in small- and medium-sized enterprises. Germany's government-funded research is increasingly promoting application-oriented basic research. Federal funds are being directed toward promoting strategic technologies at the pre-competitive stage (especially information technology; biotechnology; and materials research, transport, and energy research) (Gov. of Germany, 1993c).

Research tax credits are a major source of public aide to industrial R&D. To maintain competitiveness, industry increased its share of support of total research from 50 percent in 1975 to 64 percent in 1988. Industrially funded research has since declined to 60 percent (1991). As in many advanced countries, industry performs the large majority of research in Germany. (See appendix table 10.) In the late 1980s, industry performed 73 percent of all research. However, one recent analysis by a German researcher suggested that this industrial research may be too focused on innovations in their traditional product fields, in which Germany is less competitive than formerly, such as chemical and electrical fields (Atkinson, 1994).

Analysis of the German economy points out its traditional strength in advanced technologies in electronics, automobiles, and machinery, providing positive foreign trade results in the 1980s. One-third of all jobs in the German economy are tied to exports, which are being underpriced by lower-wage countries in Asia and Latin America. Germany's share of world exports in these traditional products has declined more than any other large industrial nation. Chancellor Helmut Kohl recently warned that Germany is far behind world competitors in such leading-edge technologies as computers, office technology, and lasers (Washington Post, 1994). Germany has yet to develop a strong biotechnology industry. Close links between universities and high-tech entrepreneurs are underdeveloped in Germany. The lack of venture capital also inhibits the start up of high-risk companies and service industries, as well as entirely new enterprises (Riesenhuber, 1991; Bitter, 1994).

[16] One private university, Witten-Herdecke University in Nordrhein-Westfalen, was recently established and funded by private enterprises. Its graduates are assured of employment in participating industries.

[17] Secondary school completion examination. Scores on this examination determine admission into particular university departments.

[18] The trends presented here will be for former West Germany for the years 1975-1989, with former East German data added for the years 1990-1992. Degree data are taken from the German national education statistics on higher education, annual series.

[19] Middle Eastern countries are included in Asian geographic region.

[20] Including foreign students on permanent visas.

[21] In constant dollars.

[22] Jena will be a science park in Germany.

[23] In late 1994, the BMFT and the Federal Ministry for Education and Science merged to form a super ministry, the BMBF.