Some 2.5 million students ‒ a record high in enrolment rates at German universities. At the same time, more and more young people who have acquired university entrance qualifications decide against going to university and opt for vocational education and training (VET) instead, as current data show.

Export hit from Germany? Cars and machines, of course. But also apprenticeship steadily climbs up the hit list. Several European countries, like Spain, are introducing apprenticeship-type schemes to alleviate youth unemployment. In US President Obama’s view the asset of this system is that young Germans can acquire a vocational qualification and be job-ready by the end of upper secondary education. To obtain similar qualifications, young Americans need to attend a community college after high school.

In 2011, 2.6 % of the apprentices in Germany had not completed ISCED level 2, almost every second had completed Realschule (usually 10 years of schooling) and approximately every fourth had completed Hauptschule (9 to 10 years of schooling). However, 22.1 %, more than one in five, people commencing a VET programme could have chosen to study at a university or university of applied sciences, say the statisticians. From 17.7 % in 2005 the number of VET learners holding a university entrance qualification has steadily increased.

This can be explained by the general rise in the number of persons eligible to study at university. In 2011, this increase was particularly dramatic. In Bavaria and Lower Saxony, following a change in the duration of upper secondary general education, two age groups passed their exams to gain university entrance at the same time. Conscription was also abolished. Hence, a hitherto unseen number of first semester students flooded German universities. VET also benefited from this situation, even though the rush was less than that hitting the universities.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 524 000 of a total of 741 000 people who took up VET in 2011, opted for an apprenticeship, combining practical work in an enterprise with study at a vocational school. The remaining 30% chose one- to three-year programmes that are mainly school-based to become wood sculptors, foreign language assistants, chefs or physiotherapists, for instance. Contrary to apprentices, learners in these programmes are not remunerated.

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