Explained! Technical University (TU) vs University of Applied Sciences (FH) in Germany

Difference between Technical University and University of Applied Sciences in Germany

As someone who is currently enrolled as a Student in Germany (University, if you’re wondering), let me explain the differences:

Unlike in other countries, if you want to study in Germany, your first roadblock isn’t which course to study, but rather which University to attend.

Germany is home to 3 types of Educational Institutions:

1. Universität incl. Technische Universität (TU) – University
2. Fachhochschule – University of Applied Sciences
3. Kunst-, Film-, und Musikhochschulen – Colleges of Art, Film and Musik

More often than not, you’d be finding yourself trying to decide whether to attend a University (Universität) or University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule).

The only problem?

You still don’t know the difference between a Technical University (TU) and a University of Applied Sciences (FH).

Is there a difference between “Universität” and “Technische Universität (TU)“?

In Germany, Universities are academic institutes with the right to award Doctorates and thus serve as a foundation for research and development across various fields of education.

Universities have the ability to offer any course and/or degree regardless of the field it is in i.e. Engineering, Media Sciences, Marine Biology, etc.

Technical Universities are as the name suggests, “Technical” and thus focus their efforts and resources only on Engineering and Natural Sciences and do not offer the full range of courses that you’d find at a University.

Note: If there is a University and a Technical University in the same city, the University often does not offer an Engineering/Science degree (although they can) for e.g. if you want to study Mechanical Engineering from Hamburg, you’ll have to study it at the Technical University of Hamburg as the Hamburg University does not offer it. On the other hand, the University of Bochum offers a full range of Engineering and Science Degrees. 

Note: Sometimes there is either just a University (e.g. University of Duisburg-Essen) or just a Technical University (e.g. TU Kaiserlautern) – Both offer similar benefits and can be counted in the “University” bracket.

Difference a University/TU & University of Applied Sciences

Now that we’ve seen that University and Technical Universities are more or less the same things, we can compare the concept of Universität (University) to a Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences) and point out the differences.

University/Technical University
(Universität)
University of Applied Sciences
(Fachhochschule)
Bachelor’s DegreeYesYes
Master’s DegreeYesYes – VERY HIGH chance that you won’t be eligible to do a Ph.D. afterward
Ph.D.Yes – Acceptance into a Ph.D. is tough if Masters was from a University of Applied SciencesNo – Not allowed to offer a Ph.D.
Curriculum GoalsAdapted for future research and developmentAdapted for market needs and job requirements
Curriculum PlanTheoretical and Research Oriented

The focus of the University is to maximize the student’s knowledge of the field and to develop independent thinking skills, thus preparing him for a potential doctorate degree. They focus on providing in-depth theoretical knowledge while the practical implementation of it is minimum.

All the cutting-edge research and development happens at the Universities as FH isn’t allowed to offer doctorates.
Practical Studies with a focus on Professional Application rather than Theory

FH implement a ‘hands-on’ approach with their curriculum. This doesn’t mean that students aren’t taught theory, but they’re taught enough to understand the basics with a focus being on teaching how it can be implemented.
Curriculum – Simplified Example80% Theory – 20% Practical50% Theory – 50% Practical
Field Of StudyUniversities offer a multitude of degrees across various education disciplines

Technical Universities focus on engineering and the natural sciences
Mostly, FH also focuses on engineering, natural sciences, and business administration
FacultyProfessors (Ph.D. holders) who decided to continue with their careers on the academic side of things after completing their doctorates (Ph.D.).

It is possible that the university professors don’t have relevant field experience.
Professors (Ph.D. holders) must have a minimum experience of 5 years, of which 3 years should be in the field/company.

This means that Professors are former employees at German Firms for e.g. BMW, AUDI, Siemens, etc.
Exam DifficultyTougher – Due to the theoretical approach of the Universities, exams are generally tougher since more content has been covered during the semester than in FachhochschulenEasier – Comparatively, exams are understood to be easier since the course work is less theoretical as compared to the Universities
Exam Duration1-3 months
Exams are often planned with 5-10 day gaps between them and thus allowing you to extra time to prepare
1-2 weeks
Exams are often planned with little to no gaps between them.
StudentsUniversities mostly attract students direct out of Highschool with no prior experienceApart from students with no prior experience, FH attracts people who’ve worked in the field after doing a training program (Ausbildung) and would like to expand their skillset without going too much into the theoretical part.
Class StrengthLarge Groups – 50-250 students per lecture for popular subjectsSmall Focused Groups – 20-60 students per lecture
InternshipDepends on the Course – Some courses/degrees have a mandatory internship (ranging from 8-13 weeks) in their curriculum, but many are designed without one as wellMandatory – 18-week internship i.e. Internship Semester is part of every course/degree
FlexibilityMore Flexible – Students have the ability to choose which courses they want to take or drop in a given semesterLess Flexible – Students are enrolled in the courses which are available in the given semester
Avg. time to finish DegreeTakes longer to complete – regardless of how many semesters a degree is planned for, University students almost always take an extra 2-4 semesters to complete their degree – mostly due to exams difficulty being very high.Can be completed in a timely manner – Due to the nature of the course work, students often finish their degree within the planned number of semesters.

Note: University examinations are tougher than their counterparts because their main goal in to instill independent thinking and therefore prepare students for PhDs. Exam questions are often of high difficulty and therefore, students tend to take longer to finish their degree.

Which Degree is more Valuable from a Job Perspective?

Since the Bologna Process, both institutions are legally obliged to award equivalent degrees.

However, there is no absolute answer and different people will have different opinions. Some people claim (and rightly so) that graduates from FH are more prepared to work in the field due to the nature of the course work they’ve been through, while others claim (again rightly so) that University graduates start with better salaries (4-7% better).

You will never find a job advertised for graduates from one institution and therefore, all positions provide equal opportunities for both candidates.

Which one is better for me?

University: If you’re interested in learning the nitty-gritty theoretical details about your chosen field and see yourself doing a Ph.D. in the foreseeable future, then the University would be the right option.

University of Applied Sciences: If you’re convinced that a field job is your destination and have no Ph.D. plans, then attending a Fachhochschule would be a better choice as it would better prepare you in accordance with the market requirements and would also allow you to avoid tough examination schedules of the University.

Conclusion

Since my aim was to answer the famous “University vs University of Applied Sciences” question, therefore I hope I’ve done exactly that and that it helps you decide.

If it does, let me know in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “Explained! Technical University (TU) vs University of Applied Sciences (FH) in Germany”

  1. if i do not have any prior work experience then am i eligible for university of applied sciences??

    1. Hi Arun,
      Yes – Work experience is not a requirement for admission into either a University or the University of Applied Sciences. I personally know a lot of students who went directly to a University of Applied Sciences without any prior work experience.
      In fact, I came to Germany directly out of High School based on an admission letter from a University of Applied Sciences (HS Weingarten) as well.

    1. Each Uni/FH have their own set of requirements based the course they offer, and therefore the answer can’t be either TU or FH. It’s just a matter of whether you fulfill the requirements or not.

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