Recognition of Australian Studies in Germany

In section 6.3 I have already discussed the issue of German students being accepted into a German doctoral programme on the basis of a degree acquired in Germany. In this section I discuss the recognition of individual courses taken in Australia towards a German degree, and also the issue of recognition of Australian degrees later in Germany.

Recognition of Individual Australian Study Units in Germany

Here there is one golden rule:

Get approval from your appropriate faculty examination committee before you leave for Australia.

The faculty examination committees make decisions about recognition of studies from other universities (whether in Germany or overseas). Sometimes, but not always, the real decision will be made by a professor who teaches similar courses, and he may recommend his approval (or otherwise) to the committee.

Lecture Units Taken in Australia

To obtain approval you will almost certainly need to provide a course description of the Australian unit. Usually a description in English taken from the website of the Australian university while suffice.

Projects/Theses Prepared in Australia

Some German students may wish to prepare a project/thesis in Australia and have this recognised for example as a Diplomarbeit or Masterarbeit. The normal equivalent of such projects in Australia is an honours project (see section 3.3), which like the German counterpart is designed to prepare the student for research. However, because the name of the degree is "bachelor with honours" many German committees will be sceptical, and may refuse to recognise it as equivalent. They make think of it as a German Bachelorarbeit, but that this judgement is incorrect is evidenced by the Memorandum of Understanding discussed in section 6.3, which accepts an honours degree with good results as an adequate preparation for a German doctoral programme. Also the weight of the project (as a full semester workload) makes it comparable. Some German professors expect their students to spend much more than one semester of workload from their students, but that is not in conformance with the German degree regulations.

It is somewhat more questionable (as the memorandum also makes clear) whether a project completed as part of a coursework master degree can be regarded as equivalent. The main exception involves a four semester master degree which includes a thesis with a workload of a full semester full-time, often with the title of an honours master degree, but also in this case there is no guarantee that the German committee will accept this. On the other hand there are a few three semester master degrees in Australia which (usually optionally) include a thesis or project that can be considered as equivalent.

Note for students wishing only to prepare a thesis/project in Australia:

Sometimes students wish to attend an Australia only to prepare such a project, without taking any courses. Organising this is extremely problematic in most cases and I would like to emphasize that neither I nor could help to arrange this kind of study. Probably the only way you might be able to achieve this is by directly approaching an Australian professor.

Official Recognition in Germany of Degrees Awarded in Australia

The decision whether a person can have his foreign degree officially recognised in Germany is made by the ministry of education (e.g. Kultusminister) of the German state in which that person lives. In the past such recognition had to be applied for on an individual basis, but with the reform of the German university system the Kultusministerkonferenz decided to relax the rules. It remains true that the individual states have responsibility for the decision, but in most cases they have included a paragraph in their state university law which allows most foregn university degrees to be recognised without an application for permission. Here is an example from the Baden-Wuerttemberg state law passed in the year 2000:

"§ 55 b Universitätsgesetz (UG) in der Fassung vom 1. Februar 2000 (GBl. S. 208)

Führung ausländischer Grade

(1) Inhaber eines ausländischen Hochschulabschlussgrades sind zu dessen Führung befugt, wenn die Hochschule nach dem Recht des Herkunftslandes anerkannt, zur Verleihung dieses Grades berechtigt und der Grad im Anschluss an ein tatsächlich absolviertes Studium ordnungsgemäß verliehen worden ist. 2. Gleiches gilt, wenn der Grad nach dem Recht des Herkunftslandes der Hochschule außerhalb der Hochschule verliehen oder zuerkannt wurde, sofern die Voraussetzungen des Satzes 1 im Übrigen erfüllt sind. 3. Einer Führungsgenehmigung bedarf es nicht.

(2) Inhaber ausländischer Hochschultitel und Hochschultätigkeitsbezeichnungen sind zu deren Führung nach Maßgabe der Verleihungsbestimmungen und des Verleihungsaktes genehmigungsfrei befugt, wenn die Rechtsstellung der Hochschule und das Verleihungsverfahren den Voraussetzungen des Absatzes 1 entsprechen.

(3) Inhaber ausländischer Hochschulehrengrade und Hochschulehrentitel sind zu deren Führung genehmigungsfrei befugt, wenn diese unter den Voraussetzungen des Absatzes 2 verliehen worden sind.

(4) Die Grade sind unter Angabe eines die Herkunft bezeichnenden Zusatzes in der Form zu führen, die dem Wortlaut der Verleihungsurkunde entspricht. 2. Der Berechtigte darf dem Grad zum besseren sprachlichen Verständnis eine wörtliche Übersetzung hinzufügen sowie eine im Herkunftsland zugelassene oder nachweislich allgemein übliche Abkürzung verwenden. 3. Eine Umwandlung in einen entsprechenden deutschen Grad findet nicht statt.

(5) Soweit Äquivalenzabkommen und Vereinbarungen der Länder der Bundesrepublik Deutschland die Inhaber ausländischer Grade abweichend von den Abatzen 1 bis 4 begünstigen, gehen diese Regelungen vor.

(6) Eine Grad- oder Titelführung in Abweichung von den Absätzen 1 bis 5 ist untersagt."

Of course I cannot guarantee that every German state has an identical law, but I am reasonably confident that they do. However, if you are in doubt you should check with your local ministry of education.

Recognition of Australia Degrees by German Employers

Sometimes students asked me how German employers accept Australian degrees. Of course there can be no single answer to this question. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the climate has changed very considerably with the reform of the German university system. In my experience it is now frequently the case that employers see Australian degrees very positively, regarding study in Australia as a sign of enterprising students. But I cannot guarantee that every German employer will take such a viewpoint.

My advice to students in general is that it is worthwhile for them not only to complete a Master degree in Australia but also to finish off their German master degree or Diplom after their return to Germany. (If you take my advice the recognition of German units in Australia and then the recognition of Australian units in Germany often means that the total time for completing both is not longer than is needed just to complete the German degree alone, and their are cases where it is even shorter! This advice is not based on a lack of confidence in the Australian degrees. After all, there were no German universities listed in the 2009 rankings of the best 50 universities worldwide, see
while six Australian universities were listed, although Australia had only a quarter of the population of Germany in 2009!


The first conclusion to be drawn from the above discussion is that the Australian university system (and also other Anglo-American systems) is not only very different from what you, as a German student, might have expected, but it also shows how difficult it is for you to move easily from one system to the other. And this situation has arisen despite the fact that one of the main aims of introducing bachelor and master systems into German universities was to facilitate such movement. Unfortunately German politicians, administrators and professors did not inform themselves well before they rushed into making new laws and introducing new degree structures.

The second conclusion which you must draw is that if you want to spend time in an Australian university (or in any university in the Anglo-American world) you will have to think very carefully about how you do this – and the more knowledge you have of the possibilities, the more successfully you are likely to be.

For example, would you prefer – after your bachelor degree from Germany or after achieving bachelor equivalence – to enrol in a bachelor honours degree (which with good results qualifies you to enter a PhD Programme in the Anglo- Saxon world and theoretically also in Germany) or in a Master by Coursework degree? The quality of the lectures will probably be better (and more research oriented) in the honours degree and in the honours degree you will also probably have to complete the equivalent of a Diplom- or Masterarbeit. But if you do this you should realise that hardly anyone in Germany will realise what kind of a study you have undertaken and will "dismiss" this as a mere bachelor degree! If on the other hand you enrol in a coursework master degree – even in a conversion degree – this will be much more highly recognised in Germany, but you may not be quite so satisfied with the course and its content.

In the next chapter we explore the basic possibilities which are open to a German student who has studied for at least two semesters in a German higher education institute and would like to obtain a degree or other award while spending one or two semesters in Australia. You will need to read not only this but the chapters which follow, if you want to be clear about your study options in Australia.

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