Idea in short

German universities are not obsessed with ranking. Almost all German universities are public and get most of their funding from the state. They have only recently (in the past decade or two) started to involve corporate sponsors. This is because the corporate sponsors are more interested in the research institutes.

Unlike in the United States, these institutes are generally not part of the universities but are independent branches. And, there’s a debate about how such sponsorship will influence education and research. Also, there is no widespread culture of alumni donating to their Alma mater.


In Germany, the state really pays the biggest part of the bill. This means that universities have comparable amounts of funding that makes ranking based on this factor incorrect. Universities use this money to pay for professors, campus facilities, equipment, etc. Hence, German universities are generally not interested in making a profit. Sometimes, universities do invest in hiring an exceptional professor or in developing specific subject areas.

The German government is trying to increase that trend by rewarding universities for excellency programs in individual subject areas. However, if you look at all departments that a university offers, it comes out to average. There’s none that consistently has the better teachers for all subjects. Hence university rankings don’t make sense.


We think a huge aspect is the fact, that in Germany, almost all universities are almost free to attend. All students have to pay is a minor semi-yearly administration fee. That means that attending a university is not a matter of your finances. That the German universities are state-owned is another aspect. Hence, they don’t enjoy the stupefying marketing budgets of American universities.

Educational system

The German educational system in Germany is another case in point why ranking is irrelevant. From an early age on after 4th grade, pupils are separated and put into 3 main school types depending on their grades. At school, teachers separate the children, not only based on their grades, but also on their personalities and abilities. Hence, attending a school type apart from high school (Gymnasium) doesn’t exclude pursuing an academic program at a university.

Vocational education

In fact, this would take no more time than on high school provided that pupils does well enough to attend vocational schools where they pass their A-levels. In addition there are many alternate schools to attend. These are more or less seen as equal with different level of emphasis on certain subjects, such as economics, sports etc. This allows student to choose their school type that best suits their abilities. There is no pressure at all because nobody will:

  • Expect you to go to a certain school type
  • Make fun of a student who is attending Hauptschule etc.
  • Compare you to others, from elementary school until university.

The only one to compare with are the students themselves. This message provides that everybody concentrates on himself and in every class you get this impression through the learning atmosphere. However, it can depend on every school but the cases of competitive schools are rare. And, nearly all children go to state schools. If one attends private school, it’s really not a status symbol.