In 1999, government representatives from 29 European countries signed the so-called "Bologna Declaration" that focused on reforming the European sector of higher education and implementing the European Higher Education Area in 2010 to ensure internationally comparable degrees, increased international mobility for students and more relevance of graduates for the labor market. To date, 47 countries, the EU Commission and seven other organizations are part of the European Higher Education Area.
According to the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK), by the 2014/2015 winter semester more than 15,000 two-cycle degree programmes (bachelor/master) were offered by universities, universities of applied sciences as well as colleges of art and music. In total, 88.2% of study programs offered in Germany are two-cycle degree programmes. The vast majority of study programs that have not been converted to bachelor or master are in legal sciences or medicine (leading to the Staatsexamen), are finished with art-degrees or church-related degrees or are for teaching professions in some states. It has yet to be decided, whether these programs will be converted to bachelor/master as well.
Bachelor and master programs are available at universities and comparable higher education institutions as well as at universities of applied sciences and art or music schools. The regular period for full-time students to achieve a master degree is ten semesters; a reduction or extension of this regular period is possible in exceptional cases.
Following an eight-semester bachelor program at a higher education institution, you can take a four-semester master program at another higher education institution. Art and music schools offer consecutive bachelor/master programs for art courses with regular study periods of up to twelve semesters for full-time students.
The bachelor degree is the typical degree within the German system of “tiered” degrees. Bachelor programs serve to convey scientific fundamentals, method competences and field-related qualifications. The bachelor degree is the first career-qualifying degree you can attain from a higher education institution.
Bachelor programs can focus on one single subject (mono bachelor) or can combine several subjects (combination or 2-subject bachelor).
The regular study period for full-time bachelor programs is between six and eight semesters. Students must attain at least 180 or, respectively, 240 ECTS points to graduate (performance points system).
Master degrees also are career-qualifying degrees. Master programs serve to convey specialized factual and scientific knowledge or to expand knowledge and can be divided into user-oriented and research-oriented programs.
To enroll in a master program, you typically need a career-qualifying degree from a higher education institution, for example, a bachelor degree. There are definded exceptional cases in some federal states in postgraduate and artistic master’s programs, where a aptitude test can stand in place of a universities degree. The admission to a master’s program is predominantly dependent on the proof of special qualifications with regard to the specific requirements of the respective study program. Special knowledge of languages, an acceptance test, a good bachelor score or other can be such entry requirements.
Besides consecutive Master's programs whose content build on a Bachelor's program and which continue or extend the subject matter studied in the undergraduate stage, higher education institutions can also offer postgraduate Master's programs; the latter require the student to have at least 1 year of qualified professional (career) experience. Postgraduate programs are not listed in www.studienwahl.de! Please have a look at www.hochschulkompass.de.
Master's degrees gained at universities and equivalent higher education institutions, universities of applied sciences, or colleges of art/music fundamentally qualify holders for admission to doctoral programs. Master's degrees gained at universities and universities of applied sciences give graduates the opportunity to enter higher intermediate or executive career paths in the public administration.
The Master's program will last a minimum of two and a maximum of four semesters. To graduate from a Master's program, students must score an accumulated total of 300 ECTS credit points (i.e. total points gained in the Master's and the Bachelor's program).
Depending on the subject group in question, different degree titles can be awarded. The "diploma supplement" provides detailed information on what the student studied in the program and the obtained qualifications.
Postgraduate Master’s programs may also award differing degree titles (e.g. Master of Business Administration (MBA)).
While some german states have changed their degree programs for teachers to the two-cycle degree program with Bachelor’s and Master’s, others still hold on to the state examination. Against this background, in 2005 and 2013 the Conference of Ministers of Education (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK) adopted resolutions that regulate degrees attained for study programs for teaching professions across federal states (see Section 4.9 “Teaching professions”, only available in German).
A „module“ is a combination of in time and content balanced subjects and courses, which has one learning target. Modules shape a study unit, that is self-contained and designated with credit points. All modules are completed with a course-related test, of which the resul incurs in the diploma.
The course achievements are measured with the Europeen Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Credit Points (ECTS point, credits) are the measurement for the work load of the students. They count not only the lessons at university, but also the time a student spends for preparation and follow up, tests and learing, including the thesis, seminar papers and internships. As a rule there are 30 ECTS per semester, at which one credit point corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work. This means a workload of 750 to 900 hours per semester.
Programs leading to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are reviewed in a evaluation process called „accreditation“. To do this the federal states have founded the „Foundation fort he Accreditation of Study Programmes in Germany“.
The accreditation process
The Accreditation Council (“Akkreditierungsrat”), the central committee of competence with representatives of the universities, the federal states, professionals as well as students, defines the standards and criteria for the accreditation process. Accreditation agencies are commissioned to review single study programs (= program accreditation) or the qualitymanagement system of the universities (= program accreditation) with the help of external consultants (mainly specialized researchers, practicioners and students). Programs with a positive accreditation bear the quality seal of the Accreditation Council. The central database on all degree programs accredited in Germany can be found on the website of the Accreditation Council (www.akkreditierungsrat.de).