Implementing Bologna structures and principles in German universities

As one of 47 countries participating in the Bologna Process, Germany has successfully implemented the two-tier structure of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. By winter semester 2016/2017, 91 % (approx. 16,800) of all German study programmes led to a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree. These new programmes proved to be attractive to international students.

The main objective of the European study reform (“Bologna Process”) has been to create a common European Higher Education Area, supporting mobility for students and teachers at an international level and promoting the mutual recognition of grades and exams across the member countries.  (For more see and

But implementing the two-tier structure has just been the first step. German universities have taken up the challenges of the other Bologna action lines that the ministerial communiqués deal with, e.g. the promotion of mutual recognition across education sectors, the increasing diversity of the student population and, first of all,
the quality of the student experience.

An HRK working group assessed the progress made so far in implementing “Bologna” in Germany and presented its report in April 2013. In a second step, the group formulated recommendations for action which were adopted by the HRK in November 2013. The recommendations are addressed at the Federal Government and those of the Länder, at the leadership of higher education institutions and at higher education staff.

Employability and academic standards

New competency profiles have been developed, especially for the Bachelor’s degree programmes. Bachelor programmes are oriented towards subject-specific standards, but also general skills relevant to the labour market. Thus they qualify graduates for careers throughout Europe. Studies have shown that career prospects are good for graduates entering the labour market directly after achieving their Bachelor’s degree.

Widening access to higher education:
recognising non-formal competencies

The Bologna reforms have coincided with a number of other challenges that German universities are facing. These include the declared political objective to widen access to higher education for new student groups, such as adults with professional experience looking for further education and training. This development has to be seen against the background of an ever increasing demand for highly trained specialists and the growing expectations job seekers have to meet in the labour market. An important tool in this process is the recognition of prior (experiential and professional) learning as contributing to a degree course.

Diversity – a key issue for strategic university management

Reacting to an increasingly diverse student body, German universities are  developing and implementing diversity management strategies to systematically address the complex needs of different students, e.g. in terms of special curriculum structures or learner support.

Improving the quality of teaching

Bologna” and its concept of “student-centred learning”, including measures such as individual support, innovative methods and teacher training, for example, require better framework conditions to allow universities to unfold and foster their opportunities for excellent academic training. Hence, the Federal Government and the federal states have agreed on a joint funding programme as a third pillar of the Higher Education Pact. Until 2020, approximately two billion euro will be available to enhance the quality of teaching at universities. For more information, see the press release "HRK welcomes the Joint Initiative for Teaching: "High quality teaching lies at the core of Bologna."

Public recognition of excellence is another way to encourage good teaching at German universities. To this end, the HRK together with the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft awards the “Ars legendi Prize” for outstanding achievements in teaching in higher education. The prize is endowed with 50,000 euro and until 2012 it has been awarded annually in a given discipline. The 2012 applications were invited from the social sciences. As from 2013 the Ars legendi Prize will be awarded not for teaching in a given discipline, but for excellent performance in a specific teaching situation. The 2013 prize will focus on good teaching in the initial phase of study programmes.


By introducing the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System ECTS, a common European language has been found for assessing workloads and for recognising study periods spent at another institution. Additional transparency instruments, such as the Diploma Supplement, are also improving the cross-border readability of the new degrees.

Furthermore, universities have expanded and improved their quality assurance procedures systematically. As part of this development, German universities are developing and testing processes to ensure that recognition of achievements is transparent, flexible and properly validated. The HRK supports this through its “nexus” project by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and exchanging “good practice”.

All of these developments illustrate that German universities are facing a broad range of challenges – made even more daunting by the constantly increasing student numbers and by funding that for many years has not kept pace with the widening tasks. Nonetheless, German universities continue to confirm their ability and determination to meet these challenges through an impressive number of innovative projects, initiatives and models.

As a result of the debates on the purpose and ways of implementing the Bologna reforms, a new culture of student involvement in higher education has emerged. Students are taken seriously as experts on their own learning experience and partners within the academic organisation. This development makes a valuable contribution to the further design of high quality teaching and learning at German universities.

Project nexus - Forming Transitions, Promoting Student Success

The project "nexus – Forming Transitions, Promoting Student Success" ended on April 30, 2020.

The German Rectors' Conference (HRK) has been running this project since 2014 with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to support universities in further developing their study programs and improving the quality of their studies.

The content, materials and publications are still available under (in German). They represent the status quo at the end of the project and will not be further updated.