Part-time studies: Not yet established despite record numbers

On behalf of the CHE Center for Higher Education Development, CHE Consult has been analyzing the development of part-time study programs in Germany on an annual basis since 2016. This year’s edition of the “CHECK – Part-Time Studies in Germany“”, is now available. It covers all part-time study programs offered  of the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the country and the demand for these programs students.

About one third of the working population in Germany is employed in  part-time positions. In contrast, although the proportion of part-time students has increased to 7.5 percent of the total amount of students enrolled in HEIs, this figure shows that part-time study  still far from being an established alternative to conventional, full-time studies. The causes of this lie, on the one hand, in the general framework conditions of the German higher education system and on the other, the limited range of courses offered by HEIs, as a current overview by the CHE Center for Higher Education Development shows.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, 214,000 people in Germany were officially studying part-time in the winter semester of 2018/19. This corresponds to an increase of 11,000 persons in comparison to the previous year. The proportion of part-time students among all students is currently 7.5 percent, higher than ever before.

With 100,000 students, around half of all part-time students are enrolled at a university in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). However, Hamburg has the highest proportion of part-time students, with one in five studying part-time, ahead of NRW (12.9%).The Saarland comes last in the ranking with 121 official part-time students, which corresponds to a rate of 0.4%.

“Flexible, part-time models in the world of work are now well established. In the areas of academic learning and further education, part-time models are still a long way from being established, despite the record number of part-time students we’re seeing”, said Frank Ziegele, Managing Director of CHE, assessing the current figures. He added that this lack of progress applies in particular to public universities.

About half of all part-time students make use of study opportunities at private universities. Of the 14 institutions with more than 2,000 part-time students, only four are public universities.

In real terms however, the number of “de facto” part-time students is likely to be significantly higher that the numbers suggest, owing to students who are enrolled in a full-time program but study less intensively and therefore longer than planned, explains the CHE.

One of the reasons for the low official figures for part-time students is the poorer financial framework conditions with which part-time students are confronted. “For many students, part-time studies are likely to be significantly more expensive than a full-timeprogram. Every second part-time student falls back on the paid study offers of a private university. In the case of studies at public universities, although they are offered free of charge, the missing BAföG eligibility for part-time students makes itself noticeable”, explains Cort-Denis Hachmeister expert for university access at the CHE.

A further reason for the low official figures might be the low number of part-time courses on offer. According to the data in the HRK Higher Education Compass, only one in every six degree programs in Germany are also open to part-time students. In the current winter semester of 2020/21, the proportion of courses offered on a part-time basis16.1 percent. This represents an increase of 2.2 percentage points in comparison to the previous year.

The Saarland holds the top position in terms of the proportion of courses offered on a part-time basis. Here,two out of three study programs (67.1%) can also be studied part-time. Hamburg and Brandenburg follow with 53.8 and 46.4 percent respectively. In five federal states, the proportion of part-time courses is less than 10 percent. Bremen has the lowest proportion of part-time courses on offer at 2.1 percent.

At 17.2 percent, the range of part-time courses offered at universities is somewhat more extensive than at universities of applied sciences, which only offer 13 percent of their courses on a part-time basis. Master‘s students and people who would like to study parallel to their job also have a greater choice at 19% of the courses offered on a part-time basis in comparison to Bachelor’s courses (14.3%).

In the social sciences, the part-time option exists for every fifth degree program. The lowest percentages are found in agricultural and forestry sciences with 7.7%.

The statistical basis for the part-time option quota cited here is the data of the Hochschulkompass of the German Rectors’ Conference for the winter semester 2020/21. The percentage of part-time students is based on data from the Federal Statistical Office for the winter semester 2018/19.