The various kinds of higher education institutions and the responsibilities they perform are governed by the federal states (Länder) in Germany through the provisions of the Higher Education Act. Each state has its own higher education laws, often adopted separately for each kind of higher education institution. These laws specify the range of responsibilities and duties which the institutions are required to perform.
This is why, as a rule, higher education institutions are differentiated by their given responsibilities. Germany has the following kinds of higher education institutions:
- Universities and higher education institutions with comparable responsibilities (universities, universities of technology/technical universities, distance studies/learning universities, universities of the federal armed forces, medical universities/schools, veterinary medical universities/schools, sports universities, church colleges and colleges of philosophy and theology, universities of education)
- Colleges of art and music
- Universities of applied sciences and universities of public administrative sciences
- Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University
Each higher education institution is divided into departments or faculties. Besides state (public) higher education institutions, private universities (state approved or recognised) also exist for specific subject areas (especially business, medicine, social studies) as do church-maintained higher education institutions (Catholic and Protestant).
The following sections provide important information on and an overview of the different types of higher education institutions in Germany and of their characteristic features.