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Recognition of Degrees in Germany

Expatrio 2024-02-19
a graduate in Germany


Whenever you apply for a job in Germany or seek a working visa, academic credentials will be a key role. And that's a very good thing. After all, you've probably spent years acquiring professional certificates and postgraduate diplomas. 

However, in Germany, actually having qualifications isn't sufficient. You also need to have your qualifications officially recognized before they can be used as proof of skills. In this article, we'll explain how this important process works, so that all new arrivals in Germany can jump into the job market or launch a degree in no time. 

General Information

An overview about recognition of degrees in Germany

In an ideal world, all degrees would be treated equally, and employers or states would simply trust individuals as they seek work around the world. However, in reality, educational systems vary, and the quality and depth of degrees also vary. So a degree in medicine earned in Brazil may not have the same weight as one achieved in Berlin. 

In Germany, the process of recognition allows job seekers to compare their existing qualifications with the closest German degree equivalent. It's an official process which is mandated by Federal law, so there isn't much room for ambiguity. And if your degree doesn't measure up, an additional study may be needed. 

Professional recognition generally takes place via bodies that govern specific sectors such as medicine or psychotherapy. In the academic world, an organization called the Central Office for Foreign Education (better known as ZAB - Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen) performs the same role. 

ZAB also issues all "statements of comparability", which prove that your qualification is suitable, even if they pass through professional regulators. So it's at the heart of the system. 

Is degree recognition in Germany something to worry about? 

If you're coming across degree recognition for the first time, don't worry. The German state isn't seeking to prevent qualified professionals from settling in the country and sharing their skills. 

Instead, professional recognition is used as a form of "firewall", to ensure that only those with genuine skills and qualifications can apply for German jobs or university courses. As such, it's a common-sense procedure that can be found in some form almost anywhere in the world. 

Moreover, some areas of knowledge aren't even covered by degree recognition, so the process won't be required. Professional regulated under the Federal Recognition Act include medicine, nursing, legal work, teaching, pharmacy management, food science, and psychotherapy. Less stringent regulations also apply to architects and engineers.  Take the German recognition finder quiz now to find out more.


Academic Recognition

For internationals seeking to work or study in Germany

Recognition also extends to the German academic sector. If you are applying for an advanced degree that requires lower level qualifications, those earlier qualifications must be approved. If they aren't at the same level as their German equivalent, there's a good chance that your application will fail. 

At the same time, recognition of university level degrees is part of the process for most visa applications, meaning that both job-seekers and aspiring students need to know about it. 

What does academic recognition mean? 

Academic recognition isn't the same as professional recognition. While professional certificates will fall under the Federal Recognition Act (which lays down a list of regulated professions), academic qualifications aren't covered, so different procedures apply. 

In the case of academic recognition, the higher education institution that you are applying to will be responsible to ensure that all applicants possess sufficient qualifications. In practice, this tends to mean that universities are relatively strict, as they are keen to establish a high-quality student body. 

What is Anabin? 

In most cases, admissions staff will let a tool called Anabin check university qualifications. Run by ZAB, Anabin is a database of qualifications that stretches worldwide. From the student's perspective, it's a vital tool, making it easy to check whether your university qualifications meet German standards. 

The database is extremely comprehensive and up to date, so there's a very strong chance that your qualifications are covered. And it also provides help to contact ZAB offices across Germany, handy if extra queries are needed. 


Recognition of School Qualifications

In case you're coming to Germany to complete your Bachelor's degree

University degrees aren't the only documents that visitors to Germany may need to recognize. In fact, recognition of school-level qualifications and leaving certificates are just as important

This is especially true for individuals who are applying to study for a German Bachelor’s degree. In their cases, it's unlikely that they will have obtained other degrees, and school qualifications are the only evidence of their academic achievements. 

Again, as with university degrees, not all school qualifications from around the world have the same strength, and comparison of different education systems can be complex. Because of this, various tools have emerged to streamline the process, such as DAAD's access requirements database

Getting to know Germany's school leaving system 

Many German students leave school with a vital document called the Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (fortunately shortened in everyday life to the more manageable, HZB). 

The HZB acts as proof that the student is prepared for university-level courses, allowing universities to ensure that classes are composed of able, attentive, and motivated attendees. 

Importantly, the HZB isn't the only leaving certificate. Some leave school with a certificate at Realschule level, which tends to feed into vocational courses (not university). So foreign qualifications may be seen as equivalent to a lower tier. 

For more information about the German education system, head here

How to know whether your school leaving certificate qualifies 

Most of the time, students find out very quickly when they make inquiries at a potential site of study. And if you have any doubts about whether your certificates will satisfy your university's criteria, contact the admissions office and make a direct inquiry. 

It may also be necessary to have your school leaving certificate recognized by an external authority. These offices can be found in all major German cities, and a full list of locations and contact details is available via the Anabin database

If your qualifications aren't recognized, don't despair. Courses at Studienkolleg institutions can allow applicants to meet the required standard while giving an insight into German language and culture. 


Recognition Finder

How to check if your past achievements are recognized in Germany

When you come to apply for a job or university course in Germany, using a recognition finder tool will almost always be necessary. These essential resources offer up to date information about which qualifications represent equivalents to German titles or degree equivalents, so you'll want to bookmark at least one during the application process. 

Anabin is a popular choice, due to its global scope and the huge amount of information. Being run by ZAB, it has an excellent reputation and caters to millions of inquiries every year. 

Is my university degree recognized in Germany? 

To check whether your degree is recognized, head to Anabin and use the search engine. Select the country where your degree was awarded, then scroll down to find your degree type. 

Click on the degree type, and you'll see some extra information (in German). If you see the phrase Direkter Zugang (Direct Access), it signifies that you can proceed to a full application. If you see the word Feststellungsprüfung, extra preparatory qualifications may be needed

When you have a look around, you'll find most high-level Indian degrees recognized in Germany, for example. However, there may be some variations. For instance, sometimes universities are listed as legitimate, but specific courses at those universities are not covered. 

When that happens, don't panic. Just contact ZAB. You may need to supply a notarized copy of your degree certificate, but most of the time, it's just a minor issue caused by gaps in Anabin's records. 

Is a PGCE recognized in Germany? 

But what about specific vocational qualifications like the PGCE (the UK's Post-Graduate Certificate in Education)? Here the situation isn't quite as promising. Foreigners can teach in German schools without any problems, but qualifications from other countries generally aren't applicable, so fresh training will be needed

Non-traditional universities may also present some issues for applicants, particularly those asking is an open university (OU) degree recognized in Germany? But there's no cause for alarm here. Degrees from the OU should have the same standing as those from ordinary schools. 


Recognition Procedure

The step by step you need for recognition

By now, you should have some idea about what's involved in degree recognition, but it definitely helps to run through the process in detail. So let's conclude with a basic tutorial for new arrivals in Germany to follow. 

1. Find out whether you need to have your degree recognized. Remember that many vocational subjects won't require recognition, although regulated professions and university applications will. Using Recognition Finder is a good idea at this stage. 

2. Use Anabin to discover which organization is responsible for comparing degrees and other qualifications in the location you intend to live or study. 

3. Now, you'll need to build an application pack. This will include an application to have your degrees recognized (which may be supplied by your university or employer). It also requires your original degree certificates. This can be delivered in person or via post if individuals are applying from abroad. 

4. When the application has been sent, you'll need to wait while your qualifications are recognized, which can take three months. In some cases, you may be asked or be able to request a "skills analysis". This can help if you lack certain documents, such as degree certificates. 

5. The process concludes with a letter containing your "notice of equivalence". This may inform you that you have obtained "full recognition", meaning that your degree is equivalent to a German version. But "partial recognition" may also result, indicating that the authorities see your degree as lacking full parity. In some cases, recognition may be refused entirely, but if you check thoroughly before applying, this shouldn't be a problem.  

If all goes well, congratulations - you've achieved recognition of your qualifications, allowing you to commence studies or start your career in Germany. 

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