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Public vs Private Universities in Germany

ApAmarnath pratapwarSep 29, 2022

Germany has over 400 higher education institutions offering more than 20,000 courses. Educational institutions in Germany are primarily categorized into two: public and private. Public universities are run and managed by the German government. Private universities are also state-recognized but run privately. With so many universities and courses in Germany, it can be confusing to choose which is the right one for you. There are some major differences between public and private universities in Germany. Understanding these differences is key to determining the right university. This article aims to cover significant points related to the public vs private universities in Germany. But first, let’s take a look at some of the prominent public and private universities in Germany.

Popular public universities in Germany

  • University of Hamburg
  • University of Munich
  • Heidelberg University
  • University of Bremen
  • University of Cologne
  • Technical University of Munich
  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
  • University of Düsseldorf
  • Humboldt University of Berlin
  • University of Bonn

Popular private universities in Germany

  • IU: International University of Applied Sciences
  • Cologne Business School 
  • Munich Business School
  • ISM International School of Management
  • Berlin International University of Applied Sciences
  • SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences
  • Steinbeis University School of Management and Innovation
  • EU Business School Munich
  • Kuehne Logistics University
  • GISMA Business School
  • Arden University Berlin
  • University of Europe for Applied Sciences

Read more about studying at private universities.

The differences between public and private universities in Germany

Tuition fees

Tuition fees are one of the prominent areas of differences between public and private universities in Germany. Many public universities are tuition-free. However, universities in the state of Baden-Württemberg require non-EU international students to pay a tuition fee of EUR 3,000 per year. This is still considerably less than many private universities. 

For all public universities (tuition-free or not), students are required to pay a semester-wise contribution fee. This fee can range anywhere between EUR 150-400 per semester, or EUR 300-800 per year. International students should remember that only the tuition fee at public universities is subsidized. Students must have enough funding to cover living expenses in Germany, which is approximately 10,400 euros per year.

Private universities in Germany charge tuition fees. The range varies highly. Generally, private universities charge between 10,000-20,000 euros per year. Some universities, like IU International University of Applied Sciences, offer programs at surprisingly low costs. On average, the annual tuition fee for an on-campus program at IU is 4000-5000 euros. One should note that despite private universities being more expensive than public ones, they are still cheaper than studying in English-speaking countries.

Medium of Instruction

The language of instruction for most courses at public universities in Germany is German. However, there are exceptions. Top-ranking public universities, like FH Aachen, offer a few fully-English and partly-English courses. There are currently close to 1800 English-taught programs in Germany. Private universities offer comparatively more English-taught programs, along with German-taught programs.

Personal Attention

There are more than 400 higher education institutions in Germany. More than 120 of them are private universities. According to statistics published by DAAD, in the 2019/20 winter semester, only 23,600 international students enrolled at private universities. By contrast, approximately 296,300 international students studied at public universities. Moreover, only about 5.5 percent of students study at private universities.

This data clearly signals the widespread preference for public universities in Germany. But it also means that class sizes at public universities are larger. Students who prefer smaller class sizes and personal attention should consider private universities. 

Numerus Clausus

Most public universities in Germany follow what is known as “Numerus Clausus.” This rule restricts the intake of students in specific programs. With restricted intake, getting a seat at a public university is not guaranteed.

The scenario is much simpler for private universities in Germany, which generally do not follow Numerus Clausus. Thus, students have better prospects of being accepted into their desired program at a private university.

Admission criteria

As an extension to the above point, Numerus Clausus can lead to high competition at public universities. Merely meeting the basic entry criteria for a study program is not sufficient. Students must demonstrate excellent academic and extra-curricular performance. 

However, private universities have less stringent admission criteria than public universities.If a student does not meet the eligibility criteria, they can still have a fair chance by taking a preparatory course. A preparatory course at a university fills academic gaps in a student and prepares them for degree courses. After passing a preparatory course, students get an assured seat for the degree program.

Teaching style

Students should know that higher education institutions in Germany are classified as three. Educational institutions in Germany are either “Universities,” “Universities of Applied Sciences,” or “Colleges of Arts and Music”. In the context of German education, “universities” refers to those institutions that focus on research. They also offer a broad spectrum of courses. 

“Universities of Applied Sciences” are specialized universities imparting technical knowledge. Education at U.A.S are oriented toward earning professional and practical skills. U.A.S can be specific to stream, such as a business school or an institution for technology. 

Most private universities in Germany are “universities of applied sciences.” Teaching at private universities, therefore, uses a mix of many different methods. Students will receive a rigorous education through in-person and online lectures, workshops, seminars, case studies, projects, conferences, and field trips.

Public universities, on the other hand, may not be as specialized as a private universities when it comes to teaching methods. But if students prefer research to be a core part of their education in Germany, they may opt to go to public universities.

Drop-out rates

In research carried out by Hublein in 2014, the dropout rates among the first-year students of bachelor’s programs at public universities were significantly higher than at private universities. It was observed that approximately 30% of students dropped out of public universities in Germany. At private universities, the percentage was significantly lower at 8%.

The reason for such high drop-out rates at public institutions lies in the support they give students, which is nominal. With low personal attention and limited student support, many have opted out of a public university. Let’s contrast that to a private university.

Private universities in Germany are for-profit institutions. The number of graduates and satisfied students matters to a private university’s reputation. Consequently, many private universities invest their resources in providing mentorship to students. Personal attention is high, and students are exposed to a wide range of support services.


Besides having low tuition/semester fees, public universities in Germany offer many scholarships to students. It can be said that the opportunities to receive a scholarship are higher at public universities. There are several scholarship criteria, such as merit, need, country-specific, etc. 

Compared to public universities, scholarships at private universities are fewer. But this is changing gradually. Private universities are catching up to make their education accessible to deserving students. However, most scholarships at private universities are merit-based. This means top students are most likely to receive funding aid at private universities in Germany.

Future prospects

As mentioned earlier, support at public universities may not be sufficient for students. A higher education institution must extend support in various ways to help streamline a student’s career. At private universities, there is an increased focus on career support services. Many private universities have dedicated career centers. They offer services, such as career counseling, resume review, personality development, interview skills, etc.

Private universities also have partnerships with various industries. An industry network can be a useful resource for students to find suitable jobs. Private universities also conduct job fairs and other such drives to help students with placements.

Comparison Highlights

Basis Public Universities Private Universities
Tuition Fees Low to no tuition fees. (apprx 200-800 euros per year) Generally high, but varies with each university (apprx 4,000-20,000 euros per year)
Medium of Instruction Mostly German, with a few options of English Several programs are available in English language
Personal Attention Students may not receive personal attention due to large class sizes Smaller class sizes resulting increased personal attention and support
Numerus Clausus Mostly prevalent Usually does not exist at private universities
Admission criteria Strict and competetive Less competitive than public universities.
Teaching style Traditional and research intensive Modern and innovative using various tools and methods.
Drop out rates Significantly high at 30% Low at 8%
Scholarships Many scholarship options Scholarships low compared to public universities
Future prospects Limited career support services Elaborate career services, mentorship, and guidance

How can I choose the right university in Germany for me?

Once you understand the key differences between public and private universities in Germany, making a choice becomes easy. The points listed below can guide you in asking the right questions to help narrow down your university preferences.

What is my budget?

Having a budget sets the right direction in your search for a university in Germany. Students with a limited budget and seeking a wide range of scholarship opportunities should choose public universities. On the contrary, having enough financial resources can offer you the flexibility to go to private universities. It is essential to remember that one should also account for living expenses when setting a budget.

What teaching style do I like?

The teaching methodology at private universities tends to be more modern and practice-oriented. Students learn professional skills and become job-ready. Lectures are supplemented with case studies and projects. Students also get to participate in conferences and seminars. If this teaching style sounds exciting, then a private university will better fit you. Public universities may not be as practical in their curriculum as private ones.

Do I have location preferences?

The location of your university and accommodation can play a huge role in your experience as an international student in Germany. Residing in a big and bustling city like Munich, Cologne, Berlin, or Hamburg can be exciting. Prime cities offer myriad activities and opportunities for networking and working while studying. But it may seem hectic to some. 

Residing in less busy cities, like Heidelberg or Göttingen, can contribute to more peaceful student life. Moreover, being a student in lesser known cities has its benefits. Your lecturers will be more accessible for additional lectures or educational support. Also, students are more likely to find comfortable accommodation quickly than in busy cities.

Is the program I want to study available?

Most private universities in Germany are “Universities of Applied Sciences.” Programs at such universities belong to specific fields such as technology, economics, social work, or media. Students looking for specialized programs may find more options in private universities. Public universities, on the other hand, cover a broader range of programs. But they may not offer programs as diverse and creative as private ones.

Will there be post-study support?

Students capable of being independent during their studies can afford to enroll at a public university. This is because public universities may offer limited student support. However, being an international student means there could be instances where you would need guidance from your university regarding health, managing studies, or advancing your career. For personal attention and guidance, one should consider private universities.

How can I connect with current students?

The ability to connect with current (and even former) students of your desired university can help you resolve any queries. You can enquire about the education quality, on-campus life, off-campus activities, and any other questions you may have. At Gyanberry, you can access an in-depth conversation with current university students. Our SuperMentor program is aimed at helping prospective students understand more about the university and country they are aiming for.

Do I need further guidance?

It is natural to have doubts despite asking the above questions. In such cases, one should not hinder in seeking further guidance. Here at Gyanberry, we can help you shortlist universities based on your profile and preferences. Our expert counselors can provide information about studying, living, and working in Germany. Book a video call with us and resolve your queries in less than an hour!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Education at public universities in Germany is nearly tuition-free. That means students will still have to pay a contribution of 100-400 euros per semester. Some public universities charge tuition fees to non-EU students.

Private universities in Germany may provide more career support than public ones. Career counseling, industry partnerships, and other services are usually available at most privat universities.

Choosing the right university is a matter of preference. There is no such thing as public universities being better than private ones. Education quality at both kinds of universities is excellent. Yet, there are significant differences regarding tuition fees, teaching style, personal attention, and career support.

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