6. System performance in terms of graduate pathways

Brandenburg’s higher education graduates are well equipped with work-related experience at entry into the labour market (Figure 6.1). Among all graduates, 63% have completed a mandatory internship, 30% have experience from voluntary internships and 52% have worked in a field-related job alongside studies. One-third have been abroad for education-related purposes and one-quarter have completed vocational training before their higher education studies. Compared to the whole of Germany, Brandenburg’s graduates are less likely to have had a mandatory internship but more likely to have completed a voluntary one. Mandatory internships are less common in the state than elsewhere in Germany, especially for graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Graduates of the humanities – where studies are typically seen as less relevant for the labour market – have fewer opportunities for mandatory internships, irrespective of region. However, humanities graduates from Brandenburg participate more in voluntary internships and international education exchanges. Box 6.1 describes the data underpinning the results in this chapter.

Within all subject groups, Brandenburg’s graduates have less experience in jobs related to their field of study. Yet a field-related internship increases the prospects of employability after graduation (Figure 6.2). In Brandenburg, as in the rest of Germany, a field-related job during studies is linked to lower chances for being neither in employment, nor education or training (NEET) or casual employment after graduation; this relationship is controlled for academic achievement, field of study, type of institution, age and gender. There is a similar relationship between a mandatory internship and protection from the risk of being NEET in East Germany but not in other regions.

Brandenburg’s higher education graduates enjoy comparatively strong employment outcomes at entry into the labour market. One to one-and-a-half years after graduation, most of Brandenburg’s graduates are employed (61%) or in further education (13% PhD and 10% Referendariat, see Figure 6.3, lower right panel). Only a small proportion of graduates are neither employed nor in education and training (NEET) (6%) or have a casual job (2%). Both in West and East Germany, the average employment rate of recent graduates is lower and the unemployment rate higher than in Brandenburg.

In Brandenburg, the employment outcomes of holders of master’s or equivalent degrees do not differ significantly from graduates with a bachelor’s degree who do not pursue master’s studies (Figure 6.3). Graduates with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to be NEET (10% vs. 6% for master’s and equivalent degrees). However, casual employment is more common among the master’s graduates (2% for bachelor’s versus 4% for master’s and equivalent). Overall, Brandenburg’s graduates perform slightly better than graduates at the same degree level in the West and East, on average. For instance, NEET rates in East Germany are 20% for those with a bachelor’s degree vs. 11% for those with a master’s degree or equivalent. Meanwhile, in West Germany, the figures are 16% for those with a bachelor’s degree compared with 8% for those with a master’s degree or equivalent.

Graduates of universities are more likely to advance to higher levels of study than graduates from universities of applied sciences (UAS), with bachelor’s graduates of UAS more likely to enter the labour market directly.

Master’s and equivalent degree graduates from different fields of study follow different employment patterns. Graduates in the humanities have lower employment rates and higher non-employment rates than graduates of other fields. Graduates in the natural sciences, the humanities and engineering are more likely to progress to higher-level studies than those in other fields.

There are regional differences in graduate employment by field of study. For example, in the humanities, the social sciences, economics and law, Brandenburg graduates have higher employment rates than their Western counterparts whose employment rate, in turn, exceeds the East German average. Graduates aiming at the teacher profession are usually still completing their Referendariat (mandatory preparatory service) one to one-and-a-half years after graduation.

Brandenburg’s graduates, on average, find their first job faster than graduates from other parts of Germany (Figure 6.4). Among the 2011-13 graduate cohorts, 66% of those surveyed reported finding a first job within three months of graduation. In East and West Germany, these shares amount to 58% and 61%, respectively. The relatively shorter job search time among Brandenburg graduates holds for both bachelor’s graduates (61% of whom find a job after a maximum search of three months) and master’s graduates.

Most German graduates find their first job after graduation by applying for open positions or to an employer (Figure 6.5). Some graduates use internships, side jobs or personal contacts as a stepping stone to the labour market. The use of career services and advice at the higher education institution (HEI) is rare. Differences in job search methods across regions are small. Unsurprisingly, Staatsexamen graduates are more likely to get a job through their Referendariat. With the exception of Staatsexamen graduates, bachelor’s graduates are more likely than master’s or equivalent degree graduates to find a first job through contacts, internships or prior jobs. One reason may be that, in the period studied, bachelor’s graduates were still relatively new to the German labour market. Consequently, employers may have preferred to “screen” their skills within internships or temporary employment arrangements before hiring them.

Approximately one recent graduate in three from Brandenburg’s HEIs finds work in the business service sector (information and communication; finance and insurance; real estate; professional, scientific, and technical activities). Meanwhile, nearly one in five graduates is employed in the public administration and other services sector (Figure 6.6). Only 14% of Brandenburg’s recent graduates work in manufacturing compared to 28% in East Germany and 27% in West Germany. This small relative share of graduate employment in manufacturing is due to the state’s industrial structure, where there are fewer high-skilled jobs in manufacturing. As a result, graduates in natural sciences and engineering are more likely to work in the services sector than their peers elsewhere in Germany.

Most of Brandenburg’s recent graduates hold jobs well matched to their qualifications in terms of performance expectations and level of position. In other words, a position is considered “matched” to qualifications if it demands skills and/or knowledge appropriate to the graduate’s qualification (Figure 6.7). The shares of graduates with a matching job are highest for those with a master’s or equivalent degree in the natural sciences and engineering. Conversely, the share is lower for graduates with a master’s and equivalent degree in the humanities, social sciences economics, and law, as well as for graduates with a bachelor’s degree. Within the latter three groups, Brandenburg’s graduates are less likely to be employed in a matching job than comparable graduates from HEIs elsewhere in Germany. This may provide insight into the relatively high employment rates and fast transitions to a first job of graduates with bachelor’s degrees in humanities and social sciences in Brandenburg shown above. Such graduates may be more likely than graduates from other regions to compromise on employment quality in terms of job match instead of remaining not employed until they find a well-matching job.

Several caveats should be applied to the interpretation of results. First, the fields of study with the highest match are engineering and natural sciences. In these fields, there is more likely to be a call for the application of knowledge (as opposed to skills) acquired in the survey respondents’ studies. Respondents will always recognise when they are applying advanced knowledge. However, they may not recognise the application of skills. This is especially true of generic skills transferable between tasks and contexts such as the ability to think critically, analyse and communicate complex ideas. It is not clear employees will recognise when they apply intellectual resources developed as a result of and during the HE studies. Further, the phrasing of the survey questions may not prompt respondents to recognise the contribution to their work of social/emotional and other non-cognitive skills that graduates acquire during their studies.

Brandenburg has the highest outflow of students eligible for higher education among the German federal states but also for its higher education graduates. Only 34% of graduates work or reside in Brandenburg one to one-and-a-half years after completing studies (Table 6.1). This finding complements the observation, made in Chapter 2, of an outflow of people aged 25-65 from Brandenburg: that outflow contributes to a forecast reduction in the working age population over the next 20 years. In East and West Germany, the corresponding shares are 57% and 72%. Most Brandenburg graduates who remain to work in the state have also completed their secondary education there – this represents 23% of the graduates from Brandenburg’s higher education system. Conversely, 54% of German higher education graduates have completed their secondary and higher education and started a job in the same federal state. Among graduates from Brandenburg who work outside the state, most take up a job in Berlin.

Some regional business stakeholders interviewed by the OECD review team spoke about employees’ reluctance to relocate to Brandenburg as described in the below examples:

  • A company whose headquarters is located in a rural region in Brandenburg operates an office location in Berlin for staff who do not want to move away from Berlin.

  • Another company enabled a young employee to study at a university in Berlin while working on-site in Brandenburg. After graduation, the young man did not return to the company.

  • A third company reported that many employees who studied in other parts of Germany and hold a degree do work at the company’s location in Brandenburg. However, they live in Dresden and accept regular commuting. The company even leased offices in a co-working space in Dresden to help free employees from commuting.

HEIs have been generally closed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, study from home or at a distance is common, leading many students to return to their parental homes in and outside Brandenburg. Many Brandenburg businesses believe there is a risk that not all students will return to their places of study following the pandemic.

Figure 6.8 shows the probability of graduates’ intentions to move from or remain in the state in which they pursued higher education. Brandenburg stands out as being at high risk of graduates leaving.

Voluntary internships seem to be a stepping stone for Brandenburg’s graduates to a job in the state, as well as outside state borders, particularly in Berlin. While mandatory internships in East Germany seem to bind graduates to the local labour market, the relationship between mandatory internships and working in the state after graduation in Brandenburg is not significant.

In addition, both the field of study and the graduate’s socio-economic background appear to play a role in the decision to work in the state after graduation. Students with highly educated parents are less likely to stay in Brandenburg and more likely to move to Berlin than graduates with non-tertiary educated parents (other factors held constant). In addition, many STEM graduates leave the Berlin-Brandenburg region for better opportunities in the Western federal states. Meanwhile, many humanities graduates relocate to Berlin for their first job, after accounting for academic achievement, gender, socio-economic background and internships. By contrast, law graduates often stay in Brandenburg because of employment prospects in the state’s judicial system. Brandenburg’s future teachers, similar to teaching graduates from West Germany, also usually stay in the state where they studied due to state-specific regulations for the profession. In addition, the decision to remove civil servant status for teachers in Berlin is expected to encourage more Brandenburg teaching graduates to remain in the state. However, few teaching graduates are willing to move to rural areas despite the demand being strongest there.

As noted, Brandenburg has a high proportion of international students, second only to Berlin. Most international students in Brandenburg study STEM and business – fields in demand in the state labour market. This compensates largely for declining domestic student demand in these fields of study. International students could contribute significantly to the state labour market once they graduate. They represent a potential pool of human capital that could be invaluable in light of changing demographics and the need for advanced skills to transform Brandenburg’s economy. These students could also make a better transition into German society and the labour market than other immigrants because they have the experience of living, studying and working in Germany.

Being adjacent to the federal capital is both an asset and a liability to Brandenburg. On the one hand, it provides a home for firms, entrepreneurs and professionals who wish to share in the economic strength of Berlin while avoiding some of the costs of location in the federal capital. On the other hand, Berlin acts as a magnet for the talent that Brandenburg has grown, leading to the outwards migration of higher education students and skilled professionals. The challenge for Brandenburg is to capitalise on the asset, while creating an environment that encourages the skills created in the state to contribute productively to the state economic development.

Building relationships between HEIs and the world of work is mutually beneficial to HEIs and to employers. Understanding the needs of employers helps programme leaders in HEIs to make their teaching programmes more practice-oriented. This, in turn, helps make graduates more work-ready and more able to add value to their employers more quickly. Brandenburg’s employers need to learn how they can benefit from co-operation with HEIs. HEIs can act as a source of expertise and research information. They can also provide education and continuing education and training (CET) to a firm’s workers, which can lead to better use of people’s skills (and therefore, greater demand for advanced skills) and increased productivity. Such a situation will increase the quality of local jobs in terms of salaries and the possibility for career progression. This, in turn, will facilitate graduate retention in Brandenburg and help attract highly skilled people to the state. Many higher education graduates take up jobs outside of the state, particularly in Berlin, and strain the state’s skills system.

Internships are one way to strengthen the relevance of higher education programmes to employers and to build relationships between HEIs and firms. Internships give employers the chance to build a relationship with a student who may then work in that firm after graduation. At the same time, understanding the needs of employers encourages HEIs to make their teaching programmes more practice-oriented. This helps make graduates more work-ready and more able to add value to their employers more quickly.

Public-sector agencies such as government departments and local authorities do not systematically offer internships to higher education students. However, the nature of government work means they can contribute usefully to interns, particularly to those in less vocation-oriented studies such as the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

As noted, firms often prefer longer, mandatory internships integrated into the study programme because they do not have to pay the intern. Smaller firms often lack the financial resources to recruit interns despite the possibility of high returns on investment. Most Brandenburg students, however, need to earn during their studies; therefore, most students prefer paid voluntary internships.

Students also appear not to receive information from their HEI’s career services on local internship opportunities. Stakeholder interviews with the OECD review team suggest that links between HEIs and companies are often established at the personal level – between individual academics and individual company representatives, rather than at an organisational level.

The state government is addressing recognised deficits in career guidance at HEIs. The Gute Arbeit (good work) initiative, for example, is examining the career orientation and development of post-docs. In 2018, the state’s four universities joined forces in the Brandenburg Postdoc Network to provide targeted help with the academic career path, career advice, coaching and mentoring programmes for post-doc researchers. Within this structure, contacts for entry into the non-academic job market are conveyed to interested post-doc researchers. This recognises that not everyone can stay or is willing to stay in academia.

All of Brandenburg’s HEIs have collaboration agreements with business associations and some local companies. Each HEI has arranged bilateral agreements with the chambers of commerce (see Box 6.2 for some examples), and the employment agency, as well as with public partners, especially the Wirtschaftsförderung Brandenburg GmbH – WFBB (Economic Development Agency Brandenburg). WFBB has co-operation agreements with all HEIs in Brandenburg, and conducts an annual review and planning session with them. It is also involved in other bodies that allow for contacts with HEIs, such as the advisory board for “dual studies” at the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg.

Brandenburg’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) welcome external support in offering work placements for students. Local companies appreciate the state-run Innovationsfachkräfte programme, which subsidises salaries for highly qualified graduates and Werkstudenten (student trainees). The programme has proven successful in attracting local students and HEI graduates to Brandenburg’s labour market. The crafts sector, WFBB and MWAE should continue promoting this scheme and ensure its sustainability. HEIs support firms through initiatives such as Mittelstand 4.0, Kompetenzzentrum Cottbus and InnoHub 13. However, HEIs need to develop their capacity to provide such tailored support via their transfer centres and Präsenzstellen.

Public agents, such as chambers of industry and crafts and WFBB, encourage co-operation among SMEs. This would allow them to share administrative expenses and be better placed to offer internships, research projects, CET measures and other opportunities. Interviewed business stakeholders have praised WFBB’s programmes “Students on Tour” and “Profs on Tour” for bringing students/academics to local companies. Perspektivwechsel also appears well suited to connect SMEs with potential new recruits and to help SMEs get to know the study offer and research facilities at HEIs. This programme can be enhanced to provide matching opportunities to many more researcher-entrepreneur couples per year state-wide.

The federal programme "Development of continuing education and training associations", established by the Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales - BMAS (Federal Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs) within the frame of the recent Federal Strategy for CET, supports companies to maintain the employability of workers. Weiterbildungsverbünde (CET associations) are networks engaging several companies and actors in the CET landscape, including HEIs and regional labour market actors. This allows CET measures to be organised and carried out across company boundaries. The focus is on the exchange between partners of a network; identification of CET needs in the companies; and advice on, and research for, suitable CET programmes that meet those needs. The aid to participating companies can cover up to 70% of the participation costs in a CET measure.

Collaboration between Brandenburg’s employers and the HEI sector may also result in targeted management training for SMEs that collaborate, or have the potential to establish connections, with multinational companies. Language skills are also especially important. Lack of English-speaking SME owners and employees with appropriate management and technical skills may prevent international players from involving local SMEs.

Brandenburg’s HEIs have been increasingly supporting entrepreneurship among their students and have become environments conducive for entrepreneurs according to data from the Start-up radar and EXIST-Gründerstipendien. Some HEIs are introducing (alone or jointly with regional business players and public agents) complementary support services. These include mentoring, active involvement of students in research activities, co-working spaces and incubation facilities (e.g. InnovationCampus Schwedt/Oder). However, these efforts would need further support via the state innovation or transfer strategies or through regional economic structures such as the clusters.

With the continued internationalisation of Brandenburg’s economy, businesses have a greater need to recruit graduates with foreign language skills, particularly English. Consequently, HEIs need to instil language skills and intercultural competencies in their graduates. However, the take-up of international exchanges in Brandenburg HEIs (particularly UAS) is low (Schirmer, H., 2017[6]). Therefore, it is important to integrate international dimensions into the curriculum at HEIs. Apart from teaching intercultural and international knowledge and skills, HEIs need different approaches to learning. This should include English-taught programmes and courses, supplementary study materials in English, and engaging German students more actively in exchanging with their international peers. Moreover, it is important to assess whether the funding model and institutional framework contracts are effective in promoting outward student mobility. If not, they should be adjusted.

Many international students struggle to improve their German language skills, to get acquainted with new learning technologies and approaches, to build a professional network and social contacts, and to finance their studies. Brandenburg’s HEIs help international students adjust to life in the state. Buddy programmes, for example, connect international students with domestic counterparts and courses to teach the German language and convey German history and culture. Some Brandenburg HEIs arrange stays with German host families and mentorship programmes to help alleviate social isolation.

Despite the German language courses, language skills remain a major barrier for international students to fully transition to the labour market. Many international students study in programmes that are offered in English and do not necessarily develop strong German language skills. This can make it difficult for them to find employment or operate effectively in the Brandenburg and German labour market upon graduation. SMEs also identify German language problems as the main reason for not employing international graduates. Lack of knowledge of the German working culture and worries about reputedly high efforts for administrative procedures and integration are additional barriers to employing international students in Brandenburg.

Europe-wide surveys indicate that international students in Germany expect support from HEIs tailored to their needs (European Commission, 2019[7]). Introducing international students to local employers via internships mediated by the HEIs and chambers of commerce, as well as WFBB’s “Students on Tour”, can help bridge the culture and language gap. This, in turn, would facilitate smoother integration into the domestic labour market (see Box 6.3 for examples from Europe).

A welcoming culture and anti-discriminatory social climate are essential to attract students from abroad to Brandenburg. The state government has created state commissioners to promote diversity and counter discrimination. The curriculum for teaching degrees has been revised to sensitise prospective teachers and school students about the problem of racism at Brandenburg’s schools. MWFK also established anti-discrimination as a priority field of action. In addition, some HEIs have appointed anti-discrimination commissioners to serve as the contact point for students and employees who feel disadvantaged because of their ethnic origin, religion or beliefs.

Attracting top international research staff to Brandenburg would further the internationalisation of the system. It would also increase the attractiveness of Brandenburg’s HEIs as locations for quality studies and research. To attract international researchers, the HEI needs an impressive research track record in the relevant field. Offering guidance on potential visa sponsorships, providing clear information related to the potential relocation package and career prospects are important enablers. The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) in Leuven, Belgium, is often referred to as best practice in attracting international researchers. It has extensive coaching for young faculty members, including training in language, communication, teaching and management skills. VIB also takes care to advertise the offer to the right scientific audience (VIB, n.d.[8]).


[7] European Commission (2019), Attracting and Retaining International Students in the EU, European Commission, Brussels, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/news/emn-study-attracting-and-retaining-international-students-eu-2019-09-04_en.

[4] Hoffstätter, U. and S. Vietgen (2020), DZHW-Absolventenpanel 2013. Daten- und Methodenbericht zur Absolvent(inn)enkohorte 2013 (1. Befragungswelle), Hannover, DZHW.

[5] Industrie- und Handelskammer Potsdam (n.d.), Forschung & Innovation - Vernetzung Wirtschaft/Wissenschaft, https://www.ihk-potsdam.de/ihk-service-und-beratung/innovation-forschung/perspektivwechsel-3907056 (accessed on 13 May 2021).

[2] International Centre for Higher Education Research (2015), Kooperationsprojekt Absolventenstudien (KOAB), https://istat.de/de/koab_a.html.

[1] Krücken and Flöther (2015), Generation Hochschulabschluss: Vielfältige Perspektiven auf Studium und Berufseinstieg. Analysen aus der Absolventenforschung, Waxmann.

[3] Potsdamer Evaluationsportal (2013), Absolventenbefragung, Universität Potsdam, https://pep.uni-potsdam.de/articles/absol.html.

[6] Schirmer, H. (2017), Die wirtschaftliche und soziale Lage der Studierenden in Potsdam 2016. Regionalauswertung der 21. Sozialerhebung durchgeführt vom DZHW für das Studentenwerk Potsdam., DZHW.

[8] VIB (n.d.), Home - About, https://vib.be/ (accessed on 2 January 2022).

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