Executive summary

The economy of Brandenburg, one of 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany, is undergoing major structural change, which opens new prospects for highly skilled workers. As part of this process, the state has intensified efforts to diversify the economy towards cleaner and more knowledge-intensive industries. This includes developing advanced manufacturing, exploiting spill-over effects from the start-up scene in Berlin, fostering entrepreneurial activities at its own higher education institutions (HEIs), promoting innovative places for working and living, and transitioning from coal production to next-generation technologies. As the driver of skills development and research in the state, the higher education sector will play an important role in building human capital and innovation capacity to help the state unleash these opportunities for economic and social development.

Brandenburg’s higher education sector is developing a strong human capital and research base for the state’s economy. This involves offering specialties that provide skills for the labour market; attracting international students, especially in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and making studies more attractive both through greater support for students and more flexibility. Strengths of Brandenburg’s higher education sector are highlighted below:

  • The teaching and research profiles of Brandenburg’s eight public HEIs are complementary. Each HEI has specialties that it performs especially well and for which it has gained a reputation for excellence. As a result, Brandenburg’s higher education graduates enjoy strong employment outcomes at entry into the labour market in the state and beyond.

  • HEIs have attracted a growing number of international students to programmes in demand by the state’s labour market, particularly in STEM and business fields. These students have strong potential to contribute to economic development of the state upon graduation.

  • HEIs are laying the groundwork for greater success for students through better guidance and support systems, and more flexibility in entry requirements. They have introduced more orientation programmes to support completion of studies, and students appear to be making good use of them. HEIs have also become more flexible, allowing students with less conventional schooling background and people who are working to participate in higher education.

  • The state government is also making efforts to attract students and meet their needs more effectively. The ministry responsible for higher education, Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kultur (MWFK) has established two structures that play a prominent role in attracting students to Brandenburg’s HEIs. Netzwerk Studienorientierung (Study Orientation Network) – an independent association of the eight public HEIs – is the largest provider of career and study guidance in Brandenburg. With offices at each HEI and coverage of all in-state schools, it organises about 1 000 events per year; many events have become virtual since COVID-related closures. Präsenzstellen (presence centres) bring HEIs closer to prospective students and companies in remote areas of Brandenburg.

  • Improving education opportunities in STEM has been high on both governmental and HEI agendas, especially for engineering, which is in great demand in Brandenburg. To become more attractive to students and better connected to the economy, Brandenburg’s technical HEIs have restructured their study offer and refocused their research. In addition, dual study programmes, combining academic studies with work experience in a company and vocational training, are increasingly offered. They appear to be a promising way of attracting more youth to higher education and retaining a skilled workforce in Brandenburg’s business sector.

Despite its many strengths, Brandenburg’s higher education sector also faces challenges. These range from projections of declining enrolment and low participation of youth to financial issues affecting both students and the institutions themselves. These challenges are highlighted below:

  • The state population is forecast both to fall and age over the next two decades, which will likely translate into lower enrolment in higher education.

  • The rate of direct transition from secondary school to higher education in Brandenburg is the lowest among all German states. Of those who left Brandenburg secondary schools with a qualification to enter higher education, only two-thirds made the transition.

  • Several factors hinder participation of Brandenburg’s youth in higher education. The perceived high costs of higher education and strong returns on vocational education and training deter students, especially girls and disadvantaged students, from entering higher education. Relatively low expectations of Brandenburg’s school leavers and their parents about prospects for higher education completion pose another barrier. Finally, distance to regional HEIs due both to the largely rural character of the state and the locations of institutions creates an obstacle to higher education enrolment.

  • The perceived high costs of higher education in Brandenburg result from several factors. First, schools do not offer enough guidance about financial options for studies. In addition, many schools are not using their right to nominate prospective students to the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German National Merit Foundation).

  • The Federal Training Assistance Act (BAföG) is rigid, hindering both participation and completion of higher education in Brandenburg. In-state students are older and take longer to complete their studies than elsewhere in Germany, which decreases their eligibility for federal financial assistance. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds are in an especially difficult position: 41% of these students in Brandenburg (versus only 16% in Germany) do not qualify for BAföG, because they have been enrolled longer than the regular study time of their programme.

  • Uncertainty among public HEIs about the constraints imposed by state-aid law limits their offer of continuing education and training.

  • Several state ministries are involved in skills development, but their efforts are not fully aligned. A high-performing higher education system helps develop the skills and build the research and innovation capacity needed for a more knowledge-intensive economy in the state. However, strategies for skills and economic development contain limited reference to higher education.

Brandenburg could build on the recommendations laid out in this OECD report to enhance the visibility of its HEI programme offer, improve its alignment with skills and innovation demand in the state, and make it more attractive to prospective students from the state and beyond. The recommendations include:

  • Maintain diversity and foster excellence in teaching and research by investing in HEIs’ areas of excellence so they can perform at a high level in teaching, research, study conditions, student support and labour market outcomes, by ensuring that HEIs maintain capability and quality as they grow (e.g. through hiring teachers as student numbers increase), and by attracting top international researchers.

  • Encourage reskilling and upskilling through improving study offerings and pathways, securing public funding for HEIs; and considering revival of Bildungsscheck programme to support continued education and training.

  • Ensure strong study and career orientation support:

    • By the higher education sector: by advertising the areas of excellence in teaching and research to draw the interest of prospective students and leading researchers, further lift the performance of those research groups and encourage the exploration of opportunities for knowledge transfer; engaging student ambassadors and alumni in spreading the word about their alma mater via own social media channels; improving visibility of the information and counselling offer at HEIs; and targeting students beyond state borders (particularly in Berlin) to motivate them to study, work and live in Brandenburg.

    • At all secondary schools: by providing comprehensive information about study and career paths, programme options, and financing options (including scholarships) for the various education pathways and non-financial support mechanisms available to students; providing individual counselling for students and parents; and actively nominating gifted students for scholarships of excellence by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.

  • Ensure inclusive access to and participation in higher education by offering individual guidance and peer support, particularly to disadvantaged students via Netzwerk Studienorientierung and Präsenzstellen; introducing a student mentorship programme between school students and HEI students; enhancing peer support programmes at HEIs and increasing their visibility; advocating for a comprehensive and principle-based review of federal student financial aid; maintaining flexible teaching formats that combine virtual and in-person classes; and exploring Präsenzstellen as study sites.

  • Strengthen collaboration between HEIs and local employers by maintaining the Innovation Expert support programme for both graduate and working student employment; offering more practical learning opportunities in the state government sector for students; encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to share their administrative burden and co-operate with HEIs on internships and research projects; maintaining HEIs’ capacity to provide tailored advice to local SMEs via transfer offices and Präsenzstellen; providing matching opportunities to more researcher-entrepreneur couples via the PerspektivWechsel programme; enhancing financial support for HEIs’ entrepreneurial activities via the transfer strategy, state innovation strategies and regional economic structures, and the performance-based funding model.

  • Co-ordinate skills development across the state government through the establishment of a State Skills Council in which MWFK and other relevant ministries and stakeholders participate. The Skills Council would be responsible for developing a long-term vision for Brandenburg as a location for research and innovation, and advise the state government on how to realise this vision. It would also maintain strong links to public agencies and social partners to address the distinct skills and economic challenges of different regions within the state.


This work is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Member countries of the OECD.

The project "Analysis and advice for a renewed tertiary education strategy for Brandenburg and guidance on categorisation of scientific continuing education" was funded by the European Union via the Structural Reform Support Programme (REFORM/IM2020/004).

This publication was produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

Photo credits: Cover © elettaria/Shutterstock.com; Cover Illustration: Christophe Brilhault.

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