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Around 343,000 people in Germany are enrolled at private universities, which corresponds to 11.6 percent of all students in Germany. At most universities – unlike at state universities – sometimes lavish tuition fees are charged. But is the investment of several tens of thousands of euros worth it at all? In a recent report, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research has dealt with private higher education and the far-reaching transformation of the world of work and comes to the conclusion "that private universities are perceived much more clearly by their students as partners for lifelong academic learning than is the case at public universities."

Within just one decade, the number of students at private universities almost tripled between the winter semesters 2011/2012 and 2021/2022. At the same time, the total number of students has increased by only about a quarter during this period, and the proportion of students at private universities among all students has more than doubled. Students now demand a high level of practical relevance from universities, a good student-teacher ratio and an innovative study organization. In an educational landscape that, like the world of work, is subject to constant change, private universities in particular are trusted to meet these demands on higher education, according to the report prepared by the IW Cologne on behalf of the Association of Private Universities.

The composition of the student body at private universities is interesting. The courses are also accepted by older people who are already working: 27 percent of students are older than 30 years. In addition, 57.6 percent of all distance learning students and 49.5 percent of all part-time students in Germany are enrolled at private universities. More than one-third are enrolled in an economic subject, while only about one-eighth of all students are enrolled in state subjects. Other focal points were in the fields of psychology, social work and health sciences outside of medicine, which include nursing sciences, health management and health education. In the latter area, 34,200 students were enrolled at private universities, almost as many as at public universities.

Many do not know a single private university

Accordingly, according to the report, many students also stand out in terms of motivation and motivation to study; Accordingly, they want to prepare themselves professionally for the growing uncertainties of the world of work with their studies. Private higher education is perceived by its student body as particularly resilience-building. Two-thirds or more of them state that, in addition to technical content with personal responsibility, solution and customer orientation, decision-making skills and error culture, their studies have taught them the skills that are particularly urgently required in times of transformation.

For an accompanying online survey, more than 1100 people were interviewed for the report, all of them with at least a university entrance qualification. When it comes to how well private universities react to changing demands on the labour market compared to public universities, the majority see private universities as having an advantage – no matter where they studied. However, approval is higher among graduates of private universities (65 percent) than among those of public universities (53 percent).

However, the report also sees potential for development. Almost six out of ten respondents did not know a single private university. This shows the importance of gaining awareness beyond the traditional audience. Potential students also often perceive private higher education as too elitist (61 percent) or too expensive (90 percent).