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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Main trends in young people's participation in education and training
  2. Organisation of the education and training system
  3. Main concepts

Main trends in young people's participation in education and training

Outcomes of the 2018 education report (Bildungsbericht)

The 2018 national education report (Bildungsbericht) is published every two years. It is a comprehensive and empirically grounded stocktake of Germany’s education system that encompasses all stages from early learning, day-care and general-education schools to non-formal learning environments for school-age children, vocational training, higher education and adult education. A separate chapter focuses on education’s impacts and benefits in various areas of life and society.

According to the report, after several years of decline the number of early school leavers has recently risen slightly. In 2016, 49 300 or 6% of young people in the same age cohort left school without having obtained at least a general lower secondary-school qualification (Hauptschulabschluss). The increase was most prominent among foreign-born young people.

Since 2013 the number of young adults participating in the Federal Volunteer Service scheme (Bundesfreiwilligendienst) has risen by 27%; the corresponding rise in participants for the Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr) scheme is 9%. Currently, around one in ten young adult completes a volunteer placement. However, women are far more likely to complete a placement than their male peers. Around 14% of young women and just around 8% of young men currently do so.

The proportion of university drop-outs remains high at just under 30%. More than half of early university-leavers embark on vocational training after they leave prematurely; one fifth take up gainful employment. The number of Master’s programme drop-outs has risen in recent years.

The number of young people embarking on one of the two types of vocational training that lead to a full qualification (vollqualifizierend) has remained relatively constant over the last three years. In 2017 around 490 000 young people embarked on a dual vocational training programme (duales System), while around 214 000 began attending a vocational college (Schulberufssystem). The renewed rise in the number of young people completing a transition programme (Übergangssektor ) over the last three years is due above all to the fact that individuals in search of protection and asylum-seekers embarked on a foundation vocational course (Berufsvorbereitung). In 2017, around 30% (just under 292 000) of the individuals who newly embarked on a course of vocational training were accounted for by the transition programme.

Of the young people in the largest population group – families in which the parents have a vocational qualification – only a quarter begin a course of study at a higher education institution. In the case of young people from families in which one or both parents are university-educated, the proportion is more than three times as high (79%). These differences are also due to decision-making motivated by the families’ socioeconomic background.  For two decades already, the likelihood of young people with a university entrance qualification plus either one or two parents with a higher education qualification actually going to university has been 20 percentage points higher.

Challenges in education

The 2018 education report (Bildungsbericht) mentions the following challenges: Increasing number of individuals in education, tendency towards higher education, sustained disparities between educationally disadvantaged individuals and academic high performers, growing heterogeneity in educational institutions, different development perspectives between educational regions (Bildungsregionen), expansion and reorganisation of educational regions, and personnel development and expansion.

The 2017 Equity and Excellence Monitor (Chancenspiegel), a complement to the education report, reports that all federal states have succeeded in making their school systems more effective and equitable, but that the degree to which this has happened varies, with a variety of weak spots having been identified. The opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have improved, yet the issue remains a major challenge for education policymakers, especially when it comes to breaking the link between educational success and social background.

School dropouts

According to the 2018 indicator report on sustainable development in Germany (Indikatorenbericht 2018 zur nachhaltigen Entwicklung in Deutschland) the share of early school leavers (aged 18-24) is 10,1%, which is over the target of 10 % in line with the Europe 2020 strategy. This group includes individuals aged 18 to 24 who hold neither a university entrance qualification such as “Abitur”, nor are eligible to attend a university of applied sciences (Fachhochschulreife), nor have taken part in a basic or advanced training programme.

For more information, consult the Education and Training Monitor 2021.

Organisation of the education and training system

In Germany, responsibility for education policy lies with the federal states (Bundesländer), which is why there is no uniform education system. Each of the 16 federal states has its own systems and rules.

In Germany, schooling is compulsory, however the rules are not standard across the country. General education is compulsory nationwide for all children under the age of 18 (legal age). It comprises full-time compulsory education (Vollzeitschulpflicht) in primary and lower secondary education plus compulsory vocational education. Examples for compulsory education (Schulpflicht):

Federal state

Compulsory education

Full-time compulsory education

Compulsory vocational education


until the pupil turns 18

Four years of primary school, five years of secondary school

For the duration of the apprenticeship, provided apprenticeship commences prior to end of compulsory vocational education


Twelve years

At least ten years or until having acquired an extended vocational school entrance qualification (Erweiterte Berufsbildungsreife) or a general (or intermediate) education school leaving qualification (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) at a general education institution

For the duration of the apprenticeship


until the pupil turns 21

Nine years

For the duration of the apprenticeship

North Rhine-Westphalia

Up to the end of the school year during which the pupil turns 18

Ten years for primary and lower secondary school, nine years for Gymnasium (a grammar-school type of secondary school) (because at Gymnasium, “lower secondary” lasts until grade 9); the tenth year of full-time compulsory education may be substituted by the first year of vocational school

For the duration of the apprenticeship, provided apprenticeship commences prior to apprentice turning 21


As a rule, twelve years

Nine years

For the duration of the apprenticeship, provided apprenticeship commences prior to end of compulsory vocational education


As a rule, twelve years

Nine years

For apprentices: up to the end of the apprenticeship year during which the apprentice turns 21



Basic structure of the Education System in Germany

Overview of education systems in Germany’s federal states (Bildungssysteme der Länder in der Bundesrepublik). 

Overview of the structure of Germany’s education and apprenticeship system

Main concepts

Inclusion: In an educational context, “inclusion” means an education system in which individuals with and without a disability can learn together from the very beginning in all types of educational institutions. An education system must provide special means and methods to assist individual learners and must adapt the system to learners’ needs, rather than vice versa.

Youth work: Youth work comprises learning and social integration assistance outside of a school or work context. It is targeted directly at young people, who participate voluntarily in the activities. Youth work is a social learning field. It assists young people in taking responsibility for their own personal growth and becoming a part of society. It teaches social values. It also opens up, supports and qualifies educational processes; in this context to be understood as self-development processes [Wiesner, R., 2006 (3rd ed.)].

Media literacy: Media literacy, in Dieter Baacke’s definition, is not a subjective, individualistic skill; rather, it is an overarching aim to be pursued at a more general, societal level and is part of the discourse in an information society.

Non-formal education (non-formales Lernen): There is no generally accepted definition of the term “non-formal education”. The definition used in the context of non-formal education is aligned with the concepts commonly applied by European and international institutions.