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The distribution of responsibilities for education between the federal government (Bund) and Germany’s federal states (Bundesländer) is owed to the country’s federal structure. The ministries of education and cultural affairs (Kultus- und Bildungsministerien) in the individual federal states have supreme authority over education, science and culture. They are responsible for managing matters in schools, higher education and adult education, amongst other fields.
The federal government (Bundesregierung) is responsible for several educational fields, including non-school vocational education and training, higher education access and higher education qualifications (the federal states may adopt divergent legislation in this area), apprenticeship promotion, protection of participants in distance learning programmes, employment promotion measures, and labour market and vocational research.
General distribution of responsibilities
The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK) consists of the state ministers or senators responsible for (higher) education, research and cultural affairs. It plays a significant role in coordinating and developing matters in these areas that are of interest to all of the federal states.
The Joint Science Conference (Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz, GWK), which consists of representatives of the federal government and federal states, coordinates matters relating to national, European and international science and research policy that touches upon both the national and the state level. The GWK is composed of the federal and state ministers responsible for science, research and finance.
For more information on the administration and governance of Germany’s education and training system see also EURYDICE: Germany > Organisation and Governance.
As a rule, the federal ministries are required to work together in matters that relate to two or more federal ministries. Cross-sectorial cooperation as well as cooperation with other departments in another federal ministry and with the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt), the lower (Bundestag) and upper house (Bundesrat) of parliament, the Mediation Committee (Vermittlungsausschuss), and the supreme state authorities of the federal states is governed by the Joint Rules of Procedure of the Federal Ministries (Gemeinsame Geschäftsordnung der Bundesministerien, GGO). Depending on the subject or issue at hand, the relevant ministry takes the lead, e.g. in the case of education, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF); youth: Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ); labour and social affairs: Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, BMAS); consumer protection: Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz, BMJV).
For instance, an interministerial working group for democracy promotion and extremism prevention (Interministerielle Arbeitsgruppe "Demokratieförderung und Extremismusprävention") has been set up by BMFSFJ and the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Innern, BMI). The working group serves to coordinate and strengthen the efforts of the federal government to prevent extremism.
The Joint Science Conference (Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz, GWK), which consists of representatives of the federal government and federal states, coordinates matters relating to national, European and international science and research policy that touch upon both the national and the state level. The GWK is composed of the federal and state ministers responsible for science, research and finance.
If major, socially significant issues require a cross-sectorial discussion, the lower house of parliament (Bundestag) can establish a study commission (Enquete-Kommission) or a parliamentary advisory council (Parlamentarischer Beirat).
On the cooperation between ministries/authorities with public sector, educational and training organisations, see also Tackling Early leaving from Education and Training in Europe.