For many students in Germany it is important to gain international experience during their studies in the form of a semester abroad or a complete study abroad. For many students – especially for free movers – the greatest challenge in organizing their stay abroad is ensuring that their studies abroad are recognized or the academic achievements obtained.
Students who would like to work in Germany after completing their studies abroad may face difficulties with regard to the recognition of their studies abroad. It is the same with a change of university: Anyone who started their studies abroad and would like to continue studying at a German university without wasting time must first clarify whether the recognition of the course and examination results is guaranteed.
In order to promote mobility, various measures have been taken in Europe in recent years to make the procedures for the recognition of study abroad more transparent and simpler. Both with regard to individual study achievements and with regard to degrees obtained entirely abroad.
Types of recognition of study abroad
When recognizing a study abroad, a distinction must first be made between whether a complete degree or only individual course achievements are to be recognized.
The Bologna reform and the standardization of the study system in Europe have already made a lot easier. More and more EU countries have adopted or are converting to the three-tier graduate system Bachelor, Master and Ph.D./Doctor, which is common in English-speaking countries. The recognition of the study achievements acquired during a semester abroad or a summer session at the home university has therefore become much easier.
Nonetheless, the contents of the course can sometimes differ greatly, which can be problematic especially if a complete course of study has been completed abroad. Because a Bachelor’s degree obtained in the USA does not necessarily correspond to a German or a British one. Last but not least, there are various country-specific features and additional designations that can make the recognition of a study abroad more difficult. It is possible that not every employer in Germany can imagine something concrete under a Bachelor of Applied Science acquired in Canada.
It becomes even more complicated when it comes to academic degrees obtained abroad that lead to a profession that is regulated in Germany. The regulated professions include all professions whose studies lead to a state examination, such as law, medicine or teaching. Many professions in the health and education sector (nursing, (social) education) are also regulated.
Whether an official recognition of the study abroad is necessary, which laws apply here and who is responsible for the examination, varies from case to case. This also depends on whether it is academic or professional recognition. Closely related to this is ultimately the question of whether and under what conditions it is possible to use the academic degree acquired abroad.
Recognition of academic achievements
When it comes to the recognition of academic achievements abroad, a distinction must be made between
- studying abroad while the student is still enrolled at a German university
- a change from a foreign university to a university in Germany.
The respective university at which the students are officially enrolled is usually responsible for the recognition of a study abroad and the course work achieved there. If you want to study for a semester or for a Summer Session abroad, you should basically a learning agreement to complete. This is the only way to ensure that you can have your achievements credited towards your studies.
Even if you change universities, the respective universities are responsible for the recognition of your studies abroad or your academic achievements. The state examination offices are the right contact for courses of study that lead to a regulated profession in Germany. Ultimately, you decide whether a “seamless” continuation of your studies in Germany is possible.
Recognition of degrees
With regard to the degree, it is important to distinguish between academic and professional recognition when it comes to recognition of a study abroad. Anyone who has obtained their bachelor’s degree abroad and would now like to pursue a master’s degree in Germany needs academic recognition. If you want to apply to the German job market with your foreign degree or start your own business, you may need professional recognition beforehand. There are also a number of regulations for using degrees obtained abroad.
Academic recognition of a study abroad
In the academic recognition it comes to all aspects relating to the recognition of studies and examinations in higher education. It plays a role, for example, if after completing a bachelor’s degree abroad, a postgraduate master’s degree in Germany is sought. The respective university to which you are applying is responsible and it is at their discretion whether it recognizes the foreign bachelor’s degree as sufficient. The decisive factors are the study times and the content covered.
A university degree in Germany means: at least three years of study. The recognition of a study abroad cannot be guaranteed if students acquire a country-specific degree such as the American associate degree. The two-year associate degree is not recognized as a full academic degree in Germany.
Academic recognition is not regulated by law, but there are various conventions in this regard in which recognition principles are laid down. The most important convention in Germany is the so-called Lisbon Convention, officially the “Agreement on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education in the European Region”.
Professional recognition of a study abroad
The professional recognition of a study abroad is regulated by law in Germany. Either laws at the federal level or laws at the state level with the respective professional law apply here. Whether an official recognition of the study abroad is necessary from a professional point of view depends on whether it is a regulated profession.
There is no official recognition procedure for university degrees that qualify for the exercise of a non-regulated profession. Here the employer alone decides whether he considers the degree to be sufficient. However, it is possible to have the Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB) carry out a so-called certificate assessment. The ZAB describes the qualification, compares it with German university degrees and classifies the academic level. However, this is not an official recognition of the study abroad. The certificate only serves to facilitate entry into the German job market.
The situation is different with degrees that lead to a regulated profession. Official professional recognition is mandatory here. A so-called “notification of recognition” or a license to practice medicine or a professional permit is required in order to be able to work in the profession. As a rule, the federal state in which the student would like to work is responsible.
Use of the foreign university degree
Academic degrees are legally protected in Germany, so the use of foreign university degrees is regulated. In principle, the use of the degree is permitted under certain conditions. The Ministry of Science of the respective federal state is responsible for the approval. Most federal states, however, no longer require an individually submitted application. Instead, they refer to the resolution of the Conference of Ministers of Education, which defines the principles for managing foreign university degrees.