About College and University

A university is a comprehensive educational institution. In Latin, the term unversitas means “whole”.

Wilhelm von Humboldt described universities as a community of teachers and learners. Because the fields of science have increasingly multiplied and differentiated, the term university currently stands for all, mostly specialized universities.

Since the European Middle Ages, there have been three terms that have shaped universities:

  • community of teachers and learners
  • right to self-government
  • Privilege for awarding publicly recognized academic degrees

In most cases, universities are characterized by a broad range of subjects or subjects.

What unites them all is unity (unitas) as an umbrella under which diversity (diversitas) is offered.

History of universities in Germany

The first monastic schools were established as early as the 5th century. They were first commissioned to undertake the formation of monastic clergy.

The focus was on teaching theology, studying the Bible and learning about the ecclesiastical ordinances and rules. In parallel, the lessons included the 7 liberal arts:

  • grammar
  • rhetoric
  • dialectic
  • music
  • arithmetic
  • geometry
  • astronomy

Thus, these monastic schools can be described as a precursor to the medieval universities.

Decline in monastic schools from the 11th century

Isolation from the outside world and resistance to reforms meant that the monastic schools became less and less important. Cathedral and parish schools entered the resulting “educational vacuum”. Humanistic education at university level was already being taught to the daughters of the nobility in numerous women’s religious orders. Step by step, the “top education” was transferred to the universities that were being created in this way.

Universities of the Middle Ages

Starting in Italy, universities developed in the 12th century on the model of Bologna or Paris. The founding date of Bologna is given as 1088. At first it was probably more about faculties that gradually merged with others and therefore hardly corresponded to the image of a university as we know it today.

This is how it came about until 1230:

  • Oxford
  • Montpellier
  • Salerno
  • Reggio Emilia
  • Vicenza
  • Arezzo
  • Padova
  • Naples
  • Vercelli
  • toulouse
  • Orleans
  • angry
  • Cambridge
  • Valencia
  • Salamanca

The ruling powers recognized the political importance of the emerging universities very early on. In Germany and Europe, a decentralized structure was politically dominant. Local powers, principalities, cities: all wanted to influence the universities.

The principle of “ academic jurisdiction ” arose through the joint influence of the pope and the emperor, who took over the patronage of university education. The universities were thus a legal body with special rights (right to award doctorates). In return for their loyalty to the emperor and pope, they gained independence from the local powers.

Pope Gregory IX recognized the first closed colleges that had formed in Paris. At first there were guild-like associations in which teachers joined together: theology, jurisprudence, medicine. These facultates were given the privilege of conferring academic degrees. In Paris these were the bachelors, the licentiates, the masters.

Colleges developed from the formerly ecclesiastical institutions. The mostly male students banded together in communities that became known as ” bursen “. The term traces back to “Bursa”. This is the amount of money that students had to pay for accommodation and food. The expression ” Burschenschaft ” still in use today has its roots in this.

Universities in German-speaking countries

In the Middle Ages, a university was considered established when the privileges were conferred. This also applied to existing schools. Although not in the German-speaking area, Bologna (1155; scholarly privilege through Friedrich Barbarossa) and Prague (1348; Charles IV.) became centers of university education for German-speaking students. The oldest German university, Heidelberg, was founded in 1386.

Then the number increased steadily and in 1789 there were already 142 European universities. 44 of them in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation alone.

Universities with strong economic and political importance:

  • University of Göttingen (1737): founded by Elector August of Hanover. The concept was provided by Gerlach Adolph Freiherr von Münchhausen (Georgia Augusta). He oriented himself to the ideas of the Enlightenment and gave academic teaching a high priority.
  • University of Tübingen (1496): was founded by Count Eberhart im Bart (Duke of Württemberg and Teck), who described the university’s mission as follows: ” It is to help dig the well of life… to quench the fatal fire of human irrationality and blindness “.

The name Wilhelm von Humboldt is closely associated with the establishment and operation of universities. His memorandum ” On the internal and external organization of the higher scientific institutions in Berlin ” published in 1810 drew the ideal image of a university, the basic principles of which are still valid today:

  • Unit of science under the umbrella of the university
  • Science is the basis of education
  • the state has the overall supervision and takes over the alimony
  • the universities regulate their internal and academic affairs themselves

Above all, there is the principle that research and inquiry-based learning is a perpetual search for the truth.

“Long century” of the universities

After the French Revolution (1789), the universities were integrated into the constitutional state. As a result, academic privileges were largely abolished, and academics were given equal status with citizens.

Prince Metternich, Austrian State Chancellor (1821 – 1848), the student activities were a thorn in his side and were perceived as a revolution (festival at the Wartburg; murder of August von Kotzebue; March 9, 1819).

With the Karlsbad resolutions of September 20, 1819, the German universities were placed under supervision, censorship measures were taken and the fraternities were investigated. University professors, journalists, writers and student leaders were also prosecuted, especially when they openly championed the national and liberal movement.

On November 18, 1837, the ” Göttinger Sieben ” were dismissed from all offices and some were expelled from the country. Their protest was directed against the abolition of the constitution of the Kingdom of Hanover. This affected:

  • Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
  • W. Albrecht (lawyer)
  • W. Weber (physicist)
  • G. Gervinus (literary historian)
  • H. Ewald (Orientalist)
  • FC Dahlmann (historian)

From 1871 a new heyday of the universities began, which lasted until 1914.

Women in universities

Well into the 19th century, universities were mainly reserved for men. Only a few women managed to win university honors. From 1870 onwards, women were admitted (tolerated) as guest auditors in Leipzig for the first time, but were not allowed to take any academic examinations.

It was not until 1906 that women were allowed to register regularly ( decree of the Saxon Ministry for Education and Public Education). Although the studies still required a good financial basis, almost 30 women enrolled in the same year. Another step towards general university education was the introduction of women’s suffrage in 1919.

Universities in the 21st Century

More than a hundred years have passed since the first time women were officially allowed to study at a university to the present day. In between there were revolutions, wars, the structural reorganization of Europe and the triumph of the computer through to artificial intelligence. But all of this is also the sediment on which the university education of the 21st century is built.

Structure of the universities

After the Second World War, a new era of academic education and thus of universities began. University affairs became a state matter and the Basic Law guarantees the freedom of science and teaching (§ 5, Abs. 3 GG), self-government and autonomy have been introduced to a large extent. In organizational terms, it is a public body that is subject to the supervision of the federal states (state higher education law).

The structures follow the old customs (rector and senate administration), as does the structure and administration (chancellor, curator).

Who runs a university?

A university is headed by the rector or president. He is responsible for university operations and makes the necessary decisions. As a rule, he is himself a university professor. In addition to representation, his tasks include the orientation of teaching and research. Basically, however, the applicable university constitution determines the decision-making authority of the rector.

University administration

The administrative head of a university is known as the chancellor. He is usually a lawyer or administrator. He takes care of human resources, legal and budgetary matters. Occupational safety and environmental protection as well as building management are also his responsibility.

  • The study secretariat has the task of administering the students:
  • Enrollment and exmatriculation
  • Management of the documents
  • study certificates

The Senate is made up of professors, academic and non-academic staff and students. Its function is that of a decision-making body.

faculties and departments

This refers to the subject structure of the university. A faculty is headed by a dean or head of department. They have the right to hold academic examinations and award the corresponding academic degrees. You may also use your own seal to certify documents (right to seal). Autonomous entities based on the first universities of the Middle Ages. Examples of faculties:

  • Medical school
  • Faculty of Theology
  • Law Faculty

The subdivision of faculties consists of institutes or seminars, which in turn represent their own subject areas. They are headed by institute directors.

Cross-faculty institutions

Every university needs facilities that can not be assigned directly to a faculty, but provide central services for everyone. Your area of ​​responsibility and portfolio differ depending on the scientific focus :

  • University libraries : collect the scientific literature and make it available to students and teachers. In addition to books, scientific journals, specialist journals and book series are also available. As a rule, enrolled students can use the library free of charge. In the last decade, extensive online availability of library holdings has become established.
  • As a rule, universities need a highly equipped IT infrastructure that is set up, operated and serviced by their own data center. The necessary web services (mail, document management, department access) are set up and made available for the students. The increased use of online media in research and teaching requires rapid development of this central institution.
  • Universities with a medical faculty usually have a university hospital attached. Most of the university professors also work there as chief physicians.
  • Other facilities (optional):
  • Scientific Centers
  • Institutes
  • laboratories
  • observatories
  • Museums
  • botanical gardens
  • collections

University-related institutions

The students at the universities are integrated into a network (student union) of social support. They promote and support the social, economic and cultural interests of the students. Tasks of these institutions (institutions under public law) are:

  • Operation of canteens, cafeterias and similar gastronomic facilities
  • Operation and management of dormitories
  • Financing of studies
  • Supervision of students from abroad
  • Legal advice, psychological help, social support
  • granting of loans
  • childcare
  • Cultural offers

Tasks of the universities

The target functions of universities are divided into three areas:

  • provide employers with competent manpower
  • enable research and academic work
  • equip them with the necessary skills to develop an individual career

All three have in common that they have to take into account the interests of the three main actors (science, state, society) with different priorities.

In general, the task of a university lies in research, science, teaching and the awarding of academic degrees.

Academic pathways

Education at universities is referred to as ” tertiary education ” in the German education system. This includes all training at universities, colleges, academies and technical schools. Political responsibility lies with the states. Study and examination regulations are determined autonomously by the universities. Some form of higher education entrance qualification is required to start the course.

Study graduation

The degree basically depends on the chosen course of study (specialist focus or interdisciplinary). The possible qualifications for the first university degree (undergraduate studies) are:

  • Bachelor
  • diploma
  • academy letter
  • state exam
  • masters
  • degree

Masters and doctorates are acquired through postgraduate studies.


The highest academic degree is the doctoral degree. It is obtained by doing a doctorate at a university with the right to award doctorates and forms the conclusion of a postgraduate course (following an undergraduate course).


The title professor does not stand for an academic degree, but it is an official or professional title. At a university, every holder of a chair is also a professor, although the title is not tied to a chair.

As a rule, professors are entrusted with the implementation of scientific teaching and research, they take care of young scientists and conduct study-related examinations.

How to become a professor at a university

Chairs – and thus professorships – are only awarded to candidates who have a doctorate, i.e. a doctorate. This is seen as proof of ability to work scientifically.

The certificate and recognition for the professional teaching qualification is the habilitation. It is the highest university examination and includes the creation of a habilitation thesis. The correct title is then habilitated professor (Prof. habil.).

At least 5 years of professional experience are required for a professorship at a university of applied sciences, with otherwise the same requirements.