Difference Between Fachhochschule and University in Germany

Many foreigners are interested in studying in Germany, as it costs nearly nothing and offers a wide range of programs. Although the German education system is different from any other, so firstly, future student needs to understand what kind of institution is the right one.

Germany has two main university types: Fachhochschule (University of Applied Science) and university. Both are universities but have significant differences.

Fachhochschule (FH) doesn’t offer a Ph.D. degree; they focus on practical education. Each student must complete at least three months long internship and sometimes a semester abroad. Schedules and degree length are fixed. Some majors like Medicine and Law aren’t available at FH.

Now after you had a quick glance at the most common differences between Fachhoschule and university in Germany, let’s get into the details.

What is Fachhochschule?

The University of Applied Science is the official translation for Fachhochschule. Fach means major, field, or department. These institutions focus on the practical side of higher education and so offer more concrete specializations relevant to the labor market. They can be both public and private. Private once can cost up to 20,000 EUR per year.

Fachhochschule was first found in Germany and then widely spread all over Europe, especially in Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands.

The main characteristic of Fachhochschule is that it represents a close relationship between higher education and the employment system. Their practical orientation makes these institutions very attractive to employers.

Typically, Universities of Applied Sciences are rooted in the region, trying to provide employees for local businesses. The students also mostly come from the surrounding area.

Those who want to study close to home can often accomplish this at the Fachhochschule. The reason is that there are almost twice as many FHs as Universities, and many also have several branches, so the chances are good to find something nearby.

German universities explained

A German university is the highest level of education, offering a broad range of disciplines. They are equivalent to public or private universities in other developed countries.

Universities are research and theory-based institutions. The most reputed kind of higher education in Germany. Most of them have a long history, compared to the relatively newly opened Fachhochschule. These were mainly founded in the 90s last century.

Some universities have specialized in particular subject areas, for example, technical universities, medical universities, and colleges of education.

What are these differences?

“Think about your future plans before applying”

Currently, in Germany, 216 Fachhochschulen and 180 Universities with more than 2.8 million students, including 375,000 international students (13.2%). First, shortly about similarities: Fachhochschule or the University of Applied Science and university are both higher education institutions, funded mainly by the state but can also be private.

Due to the Bologna process, Universities and Fachhochschulen award legally equivalent academic Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

1. Degree

Fachhochschule (FH): At the University of Applied Science can be pursued a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, but no Ph.D. Degree length is fixed, Bachelor lasts 3 or 3,5 years, Master’s 1,5 or 2 years, which is equivalent to 6 or 7 semesters and 3 or 4 semesters.

Note that with a Master’s degree from Fachhochschule, it’s hard to be accepted for a Doctoral program. Universities only rarely recognize the FH diploma, even if it’s equal to a university degree in other terms.

University: All classic Universities offer Bachelor’s, and Master’s, and Ph.D. degrees. If you would like to pursue a doctorate (earn a Ph.D.) at some point, a university is the right place for you.

University degree length isn’t fixed – this means you can set your study speed yourself, which means that it usually also takes longer to graduate.

2. Focus of education

Fachhochschule (FH): Education in FH is heavily practical orientated, and each has a strong connection with regional companies. Each student must complete at least three months of internship in one of these companies as a degree term. It is counted as study achievement.

The studies at FH provide enough theoretical background and prepare students for the real-world requirements of professional life. Often spending a semester abroad is also part of the degree, which also benefits your resume.

University: University is theoretically orientated with a research focus. Most of them offer plenty of courses in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine sector, also because it’s perfect fields for research work.

Usually, no internship is required, but students can complete one; the same goes for a semester abroad.

3. Variety of courses

Fachhochschule (FH): The courses of study at FHs are all close to practice, but overall you can study almost all common professions, which are important for today’s economy.

Such as engineering, computer science, business and management, arts and design, communication studies, social service, and other professional fields.

University: Philosophy, German Studies, History, and other humanities, on the other hand, can only be found at the university and not at FH.

The same applies – despite their practical relevance – to law and medicine. Even if you want to become a teacher, you must go to university.

4. Entry requirements

Fachhochschule (FH): You can get accepted at an FH with a high school diploma equivalent to German (Abitur or Fachabitur). You will need to finish 12 or 13 years of high school (Abitur) or higher secondary vocational school (Fachabitur), which has more relevance for someone in Germany.

However, before applying to any German higher education organization, you must certify all school diplomas. You can check about it beforehand online on this website; it shows equality with german school certificates and your entitlement to pursuing a degree in Germany.

Some applicants need to have work experience before they can apply for Fachhochschule, so you get a lot of people at an FH that are a bit older and have actual real-world job practice.

University: While university only accepts people with a high school diploma equivalent to German Abitur. There is no practical way through your work or higher secondary vocational school (Fachabitur).

That’s why students at Universities tend to be younger and without any work experience. The classic way is to complete your high school right after applying for studies at university.

5. Staff

Fachhochschule (FH): The career path of FH professors is different from Universities. Both have doctorates, but if you want to become a professor at Fachhoschule, you must have worked outside the academic world at least three years after your doctoral thesis.

This means that the typical business administration Professor at Fachhoschule could be head of marketing or human resources in the past. At the same time, his university colleague has only a research career at the university behind him.

Many FH’s professors just come to teach for a few hours a week and pursue a different profession the rest of the time.

University: At universities, besides the professors, work mainly with scientific staff who conduct research in addition to teaching. They are academics who have continued with their careers in science.

6. Research

Fachhochschule (FH): Universities of Applied Sciences also differ from universities in terms of research. Typical for them is a strong regional orientation; research often happens together with regional companies. The research results should be immediately implementable.

Since FH professors usually have hardly any academic staff, students in higher semesters often take on this task: they assist university teachers during research as part of the course.

University: Research at universities takes an important place. It is common to find the faculty actively involved in research with the regular submission of papers and scientific studies.

If research at FH is usually financed by the local companies, at the university, it’s often supported by the Federal Government with annual funding of 533 million euros.  

7. Flexibility

Fachhochschule (FH): In terms of flexibility and decision making University of Applied Science offers only limited possibilities for students.

For example, you can’t choose courses other than those offered to you, fixed timetable, deadlines and often your presence in lessons is mandatory. Students have to finish their program in 3, sometimes 3,5 years, with extension possible only as an exception.

At FH, the course length and the number of places available are fixed. This means that there are no overcrowded lectures in comparison to university.

University: University, on another side gives students the freedom to choose their subjects and schedule, they even can postpone exams to the next year and complete a degree later than it’s supposed to be.

Classes aren’t compulsory at university, and so many students tend to skip them. It’s good; they are overcrowded anyway.

8. Other differences

Fachhochschule (FH):

Size: Universities of Applied Sciences are generally smaller than Universities. The average university has four times as many students as the average Fachhochschule. But having up to 5,000 students is typical for FH.

Exams: FH has more exams than university and shorter examination periods.

Teaching: Universities of Applied Sciences practice more innovative didactics and intensive student support due to their smaller size. Technology, equipment, and infrastructure are more cutting-edge and offered for each student.

University:

Size: Universities much bigger than FH often have a few buildings which can be spread all over the city or in one district. Typically one German university can have up to 50,000 students, starting from around 5,000.

Teaching: Many professors are researchers and employed full-time only at university, compared to FH, where lectors often have a job in companies or are self-employed. Therefore teaching at university seems to be farther away from real working life.

Exams: fewer exams, more extended examination periods.

Fachhochschule: advantages and disadvantages

Pros

  • Practical orientation that is attractive to employers
  • Teaching is adjusted to the current situation and trends in the market
  • Cooperations with companies
  • Shorter examination periods
  • Easier to receive a job offer right after or during the studies
  • Modern and innovative
  • Professors have real experience in their fields
  • Learning in smaller groups
  • Familiar atmosphere

Cons

  • Less theory
  • Almost no flexibility and decision-making for students
  • Degree length is fixed
  • Less salary in comparison with a university degree
  • Almost no Ph.D. programs are offered at FH
  • An internship is a part of the degree and must be accomplished together with a semester abroad.

University: advantages and disadvantages

Pros

  • Prestige and well-known organizations
  • Education is broader with theory and research focus
  • Degree length isn’t fixed and can be adjusted by each student
  • Students make their own schedules and choose courses they like
  • Higher salary after graduation

Cons

  • Lectures could be often overcrowded
  • More anonymous atmosphere
  • Less practical experience due to theoretical orientation
  • Fewer connections with employers
  • Broad education without following the goal to become a specialist

Which one should you choose?

In the end, the decision between FH or university depends on what preferences you have. Would you rather study in smaller groups at the University of Applied Sciences, even if this involves more control and less flexibility?

Do you want to be more self-organized and free but often also more anonymous? Do you want to gain a lot of practical experience during your studies but study less broadly and more specialized?

FH is a good option for people who have already worked before and want to gain more theoretical experience in their field. Or maybe your aim is Ph.D. and research work, then choose university without a doubt.

Yet with time, the differences between the FH and university are reducing. Universities now offer some practical / industry-oriented courses. Some FHs have been legally allowed to offer doctorate degrees, at least where I study in Austria.

Some FHs are also teaching subjects that were in the past only taught by Universities, like more theoretical aspects. The initial decision depends on your future profession and plans.

What is the difference between Hochschule and Fachhochschule?

The translation of the word Hochschule is high school. But in reality, it applies to Universities – all higher education institutions. Fachhochschule (University of Applied Science), University, Technical University, Educational University – they all belong to Hochschule.

You can read more above about the differences, particularly between Fachhochschule and university.

Difference between Technical Universities (TU) and Fachhochschule (FH)

First, all the differences between Fachhochschule and university would apply here as well.

The main factor is that Technical University is more research-oriented and provides a very theoretical knowledge on the subjects. On the other hand, Fachhochschule (University of Applied Science) is focused on practical knowledge or industry-oriented studies.

Fachhochschule (FH): as we have spoken before, there are significant differences between Fachhoschule and university; you can read it above. A few notes to compare Fachhochschule with TU.

  1. FH’s are more practical and not as theoretical as traditional Universities. You have more exercises for classes.
  2. Studying at FH might be easy than at TU, as second will typically have more requirements for students and involve them in the research. And since FH focuses more on practical experience than theory.
  3. Many employers value a Master’s from Fachhochschule less than from a Technical University; consequently, employees receive less salary on average.
  4. TU has much higher flexibility than FH.
  5. The internship is a part of a degree at Fachhoschule; TU doesn’t require it to complete your program.
  6. Studies last seven semesters at FH and only 6 in Technical University.
  7. FH doesn’t offer a Ph.D., but more importantly, you are eligible to pursue a Doctorate Degree with a master’s from FH, but it’s more challenging as it sounds. Many universities don’t accept FH graduates or only under some rules. So if Ph.D. is your final goal after your Bachelor’s and Master’s, you should choose TU from the beginning to avoid the hassle.

Technical Universities (TU) or Technische Hochschule: It’s a type of university focusing on engineering sciences in Germany. They also exist in Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Finland.

These institutes provide practice-oriented research and teaching and have excellent contacts with large and medium-sized organizations. Research partnerships and technology transfer enable students to gain practical experience.

TU Universities mainly focus on providing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and often perform research in the fields of climate, energy, efficiency, and sustainable mobility.

Anna

Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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