4. System performance in ensuring access to higher education

Admission to any course of study leading to a first degree at a higher education institution (HEI) generally requires a general higher education entrance qualification (Allgemeine Hochschulreife) or a subject-restricted higher education entrance qualification (Fachgebundene Hochschulreife) (Eurydice, 2021[1]). The former entitles school leavers to study at any HEI in any subject or field, while the latter permits entry into universities of applied sciences (UAS) and only into specified university courses (MBJS, 2021[2]). In Brandenburg, the higher education entrance qualification for UAS (Fachhochschulreife) also allows students to enter specific university courses (which is not the case in all German states). The higher education entrance qualification can also be gained through vocational education or adult education (zweiter Bildungsweg) (Box 4.1).

Over 70% of students who enrolled in one of Brandenburg’s HEIs in the winter semester 2019/20 accessed it through a general university entrance qualification acquired through upper secondary schooling in Germany. Only 12% of students accessed higher education through an advanced technical college certificate or a subject-restricted entrance qualification. Around 15% of students acquired their entrance qualification abroad.

In some cases, HEIs may place additional requirements on applicants for specific programmes, beyond the general matriculation standard. For admission to certain study programmes, previous related practical experience is required. In certain study fields at UAS and universities, the applicant’s aptitude is determined through a separate test procedure. This applies particularly to sport, design and creative and performing arts.

According to the Brandenburgisches Hochschulgesetz (BbgHG) (Brandenburg Higher Education Act), § 9, vocationally qualified applicants without a higher education entrance qualification obtained at school are granted the right of entry to higher education under certain conditions (Hochschulzugang für beruflich qualifizierte Bewerber ohne schulische Hochschulzugangsberechtigung) (CHE, 2021[4]). Craftsmen certificates and advanced further training certificates have unrestricted access to higher education programmes similar to applicants with a general higher education entrance qualification. Vocationally qualified applicants without advanced further training can study programmes related to their work field after completing vocational training and work experience of at least two years in their field. In Brandenburg (unlike in states like Saxony or Saxony-Anhalt), these applicants do not have to pass additional aptitude tests. However, faculties or departments can stipulate such tests in their statutes (Technische Hochschule Brandenburg, 2021[5]). The knowledge and skills acquired outside of higher education can count for credit for up to half of a higher education programme, if the content and level are equivalent to the programme part being replaced (CHE, 2021[4]).

Generally, HEIs in Brandenburg recognise completed programmes, modules and courses from other HEIs in Germany and abroad. After successfully completing at least two semesters in another federal state, students can continue their studies in Brandenburg in the same or a closely related study programme, regardless of the type of higher education entrance qualification (CHE, 2021[4]). Individual HEIs take further decisions on the recognition and awarding of credits for academic achievements.

HEIs administer admission to bachelor’s and master’s programmes autonomously within the legislative framework. The legislation defines certain quotas: for instance, 10-20% of study places are reserved for specific groups (e.g. hardship cases, applicants for a programme in a field with high demand). The remaining places are allocated according to selection criteria: grades in the prior qualification and at least one other predefined criterion (e.g. subject-specific aptitude tests, application interview).

Programmes with nationally restricted study places (ie.g. medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, dentistry) are centrally co-ordinated by the Foundation for Higher Education Admission (Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung – SfH).

In 2015, Brandenburg’s Ministry for Education, Youth and Sports (Ministerium für Bildung, Jugend und Sport – MBJS) developed a strategy for career and study orientation. This set up a framework for a comprehensive, systematic career and study orientation at schools. The strategy was updated at end-2021 and will be implemented gradually as of 2022/23 (Box 4.2). Brandenburg’s government signed a co-operation agreement with the federal government (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung - Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales - Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs) and the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency) on the implementation of career and study orientation in Brandenburg’s schools.

Brandenburg’s schools offer some options for career and study orientation. Students can undertake work experience in the ninth grade and are offered career guidance during Studien- und Berufsorientierung (a study and career orientation seminar). This course requires students to reflect on their own professional future over two years and to get acquainted with requirements of the higher education and professional world (MBJS, 2021[7]). The Berufswahlpass (career choice pass) provides a structured tool for individual career and study orientation from grades 7 to 13 (including documentation of projects and practical experience, analysis of strengths and interests, career planning, etc.) (MBJS, 2021[7]). All grade 9 students receive the Kopfstütze (headrest) school calendar that gives useful advice for choosing careers and study fields. It also provides information on vocational training and study options in Brandenburg and Berlin. Students in grades 7 or 8 can take part in an analysis (Potenzialanalyse als Kompass) that explores their strengths, inclinations and interests as a compass for a structured, individual study and career orientation. The analysis includes student-self evaluations, a day of practical simulation and exercises, and individual counselling (kobra.net, 2021[8]).

Netzwerk Zukunft Schule und Wirtschaft für Brandenburg (The Network Future) manages the state strategy for career and study orientation and promotes co-operation between schools, businesses and HEIs (Netzwerk Zukunft, n.d.[9]). It supports schools, for example, in implementing their career and study orientation programmes and offers training for teachers in providing career and study orientation. For one day each year (Zukunftstag), businesses, HEIs, research institutes, public agencies and other organisations open their doors to students in grades 7-10 so they can gain first-hand work and study experiences (FBB, 2021[10]).

Netzwerk Zukunft has granted some of Brandenburg’s schools the “School with excellent career and study orientation” award (Netzwerk Zukunft, 2021[11]). This distinction recognises strong engagement in providing the mandatory Berufswahlpass, Kopfstütze, work placement and other features of the programme. In Brandenburg, this distinction is held by 61 of 149 Oberschulen (intermediate secondary schools) but by only 15 of 103 Gymnasien (academically oriented high schools) and 4 of 45 Gesamtschulen (comprehensive secondary schools).

Schools granted the award offer a wide range of activities that demonstrate the worlds of work and higher education to their students. Many can rely upon established networks with education providers and employers, strong alumni networks and “friends of the school” associations, extracurricular activities on campus, a relatively good material base and a strong school identity. These bring students and their families, teachers and school principals closer together. These schools can also compete for European and federal funding programmes to support their ambitious projects. Ensuring such a comprehensive offer state-wide requires opportunities for peer learning among all – public and private – schools. In addition, the state government may need to adapt its regulation for teaching hours to include a provision for career and study orientation. In addition, it may need to provide or expand earmarked state funding for the offer in study and career orientation.

HEIs play a key role in providing career and study orientation and have been funded for this role by the ministry and European Social Fund (MWFK, 2013[12]). The higher education framework agreement expects HEIs to expand orientation services, as well as to co-ordinate efforts for student recruitment and guidance with other institutions (MWFK, n.d.[13]). The measures of MWFK can be grouped into four pillars (Box 4.3).

HEIs have expanded their presence in the (online) media, providing information about studying in Brandenburg and dual studies. HEIs participate in career fairs organised and financed by MWFK. Online Self-Assessment provides an interactive opportunity for students to discover their own interests and skills and to gain insights into study programmes. Institutions offer information events and workshops in schools. They also organise information days and open houses where future students and parents can visit the campus and participate in seminars, workshops and other activities.

Zentrale Studienberatung – ZSB (HEIs’ student advice centres) provide information and guidance to (future) students, parents and teachers. As an independent association of the eight public HEIs, Netzwerk Studienorientierung (Study Orientation Network) is the largest provider of career and study guidance in Brandenburg (Netzwerk Studienorientierung Brandenburg, n.d.[14]). It runs offices at each HEI; provides guidance and counselling; and maintains the studieren-in-brandenburg.de website (Box 4.4). The network offers counselling and study orientation in and outside of schools, including study counselling, university information days, a workbook for future students, Instagram challenges, seminars and information evenings. It also provides training for school teachers. The network organises about 1 000 events per year, which attract about 30 000 participants. It is financed jointly by MWFK and HEIs.

The HEIs’ Präsenzstellen (presence centres) also provide information, including for student financing; advise (prospective) students; and engage in networking with companies, chambers of commerce and associations (Box 4.5). Each centre is set up and operated by one HEI or jointly by two HEIs in co-operation with business actors in Regionale Wachstumskerne – RWK (the regional growth core) that host the centre. Independently from its host HEI(s), each centre presents the offers of all HEIs in Brandenburg. The centres are steered by a co-ordination office at the TH Brandenburg.

Studentenwerke (student service organisations) are institutions under public law, affiliated with one or more HEIs. Brandenburg has two of these, one in Potsdam and the other in Frankfurt (Oder). In addition to processing applications for the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz BAföG) and other ways of counselling on financing options, they offer a comprehensive range of social security and student support services, and provide students with affordable housing. Day-care centres, organised with external providers, and counselling centres are also available.

The regional employment agency in Brandenburg (Agentur für Arbeit) also provides information and guidance for (prospective) students. The tasks of employment agencies include career guidance for young people, first-year students and higher education graduates. In Brandenburg, the employment agency has five branches; it reports reaching about 80% of the young people in Brandenburg with career guidance offers before they leave school.

Brandenburg’s schools appear to collaborate extensively with the employment agency. Many school representatives interviewed by the OECD acknowledged the agency’s support as structured, informative and usually unbiased towards any of the post-secondary paths. Moreover, the agency counsellors appear well informed about, and connected with, the guidance offer of other providers.

Brandenburg has one of the lowest rates in Germany of higher education enrolment (43% of the population were of school leaving age in 2018) (Figure 4.1). The rate is low despite a relatively high rate of higher education eligibility – holding a higher education entrance qualification (Hochschulzugangsberechtigung, HZB) among leavers from Brandenburg’s schools. In 2018, the state had one of the highest eligibility rates (54%). This means that more than half of the corresponding cohort obtained an entrance qualification that year. Of those who left Brandenburg schools holding a qualification to enter higher education, only 66% transitioned to higher education – the lowest rate of all German states.

In Germany, around two-thirds of students remain in the state in which they acquired their university entrance qualification. However, many students from the new Länder leave the state to study. In 2018, Brandenburg had the highest “student outflow rate” (73%) among the states (Figure 4.2, Panel A). A closer look at students’ destinations shows that nearly half of these students move to neighbouring Berlin. Some others can be found in Saxony (8.8%), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (6%) or North Rhine-Westphalia (5.8%).

Brandenburg’s high outflow rate goes hand in hand with a high “student inflow rate”, the highest among the Länder (Figure 4.2, Panel B). In 2018, 71% of all first-year students in Brandenburg obtained their higher education entrance qualification elsewhere – mostly in Berlin (30%) or a foreign country (27%).

However, the number of incoming students does not fully compensate for those leaving. The migration balance rate (i.e. the difference between the number of incoming and outgoing first-year students) shows a negative balance for Brandenburg (Figure 4.2, Panel C). Notably, Brandenburg’s has the lowest net inner-German migration. This means it loses many students to other federal states without attracting a substantive share of their students to its higher education. This is in contrast to neighbouring Berlin, where the migration rate is positive even without accounting for incoming international students.

Survey data on school leavers with higher education eligibility largely reflect the trends discussed above. In 2012, 63% of surveyed school leavers in Brandenburg, responded they would “definitely” or “likely” take up higher education studies, versus 70% in the rest of Germany (Figure 4.3). Instead, Brandenburg’s school leavers are relatively more likely to aim at vocational education and training (VET). Among the cohort of 2012, 28% of students intend to transition into VET compared to 20% in East Germany and 22% in West Germany. Analysis shows that, across Germany, students’ reported education goals are closely aligned to their later education behaviour. For example, 89% of final-year secondary school students who reported plans to pursue higher education were enrolled in higher education six months later. Similarly, 74% of students who aimed at VET followed through on their intentions within six months of completing secondary school (Box 4.6).

Brandenburg exhibits relatively greater socio-economic and gender differences in the decision to study than other German states (Figure 4.3). Male school leavers are 14 percentage points more likely than female school leavers to opt for higher education; students from high socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds are 20 percentage points more likely than students with low SES to choose to study. In Germany, on average, the gender gap amounts to 5.5 percentage points and the socio-economic gap to 16 percentage points. In Brandenburg, male students and high SES students are relatively less likely to aim at VET compared to female and low SES students, respectively.

In Brandenburg, as in Germany as a whole, around half of eligible students who intend to study intend to enrol at a university and approximately another quarter intends to continue at a UAS (Figure 4.5). A considerable share of those who wish to study – 20% in Brandenburg and 18% in Germany – are still uncertain about the type of HEI in their last year at school. There are socio-economic and gender differences in the choice of type of institution: students from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to opt for university and less likely to choose to study at Fachhochschule than students with low SES; male students are less likely to choose university education and more likely to choose a UAS than female students. However, the gender gap in the choice of Fachhochschule is considerably smaller in Brandenburg than elsewhere.

Brandenburg deviates more noticeably from the German average in choice of study field (Figure 4.6). A higher share of students who wish to study, and particularly a higher share of female students, choose a field of study from the social sciences. Brandenburg’s school leavers are also more likely than German students on average to opt for the natural sciences, and less likely to choose economics. As in the Eastern Länder on average, gender differences in Brandenburg with respect to choosing the teaching profession, economics and humanities are somewhat smaller compared to West Germany.

School leavers’ propensity to study typically depends on how they assess the costs and benefits of higher education. A higher share of students report the costs of studies play a role in their education decision in East Germany, including Brandenburg, than in West Germany (Figure 4.7). By contrast, the labour market returns to higher education are rated equally high: 90% of students in each region, for example, report that holders of higher education degrees have good career chances. With regard to VET, Brandenburg’s school leavers tend to perceive higher returns than their peers elsewhere in Germany, particularly in terms of income, working conditions and social recognition.

If social groups perceive the utility and costs of education investments differently, social disparities in education participation may emerge. In Brandenburg, as in the other regions, cost considerations are less likely to hamper high SES students in their education decisions than low SES students (Figure 4.7, Panels A and B). SES differences in the perceived returns to higher education are small in all regions. However, low SES students, especially those in Brandenburg, are more likely than students from advantaged backgrounds to rate the value of VET high.

With regard to gender differences, male students in all regions are more likely to perceive high returns to higher education than female students. Conversely, higher shares of female students assess the returns to VET as high (Figure 4.7, Panels C and D). The difference with respect to VET is more pronounced in Brandenburg. There, female students are nearly 10 percentage points more likely than male students to report a VET degree is linked to good overall labour market chances, high job security and good career options.

Students in higher education may be eligible to offset some study costs through financial support from the federal government or from a foundation that provides scholarships (see Chapter 5). However, information and advice on student financial aid appears fragmented. Brandenburg’s students are underrepresented in awards from Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German National Merit Foundation) – the oldest and largest organisation for promotion of young talent in Germany. Indeed, many of Brandenburg’s schools have never nominated one of their graduates for a scholarship.

Each April, Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes asks all schools in Germany leading to a higher education entrance qualification to propose talented graduates for a scholarship immediately after completing upper-secondary education. The schools are allowed to submit one proposal for every 40 graduates. In 2010-19, of the schools invited to nominate candidates, only 27% on average from Brandenburg responded. Nationwide, however, half of eligible schools did so.

Recent initiatives of Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony-Anhalt show that working together with state governments and local schools can significantly increase the number of nominations (Box 4.7).

A central component of education decision making is how students assess their chances to complete a degree successfully. This expectation may be based on objective evaluations of one’s academic performance and skills. However, gender stereotypes or class-specific education expectations and preferences may also affect this self-assessment. Compared to the rest of Germany, a lower share of Brandenburg school graduates expects to complete a higher education degree successfully (Figure 4.8, Panel A). In all regions, students with low SES are 14 percentage points less likely to hold such expectations than students with high SES (Figure 4.8, Panel B). After accounting for grades and type of school, the SES gap decreases substantially. This means a relatively poorer performance of low SES students and the type of schools they typically attend dampen their expectation of success in higher education. In addition, controlling for parental expectations of further education is linked to an additional small decrease of the gap. This indicates that, net of academic achievement, parental expectations play a smaller role in students’ expectations of completing a higher education degree.

In Brandenburg, the gender difference in education expectations is relatively larger. Female students are 12 percentage points less likely than male students to expect to complete a higher education degree successfully, compared to a gap of 7 and 6 percentage points in East and West Germany, respectively (Figure 4.8, Panel C). After accounting for grades, type of school attended and parental expectations of further education, these differences remain. This is partly explained by the small difference between female and male students in Germany in academic achievement and parental education expectations.

Well-informed education decision making enables a better match between students’ abilities, interests, expectations and their choice of study programme. In 2012, less than half of students in each region felt well informed about post-secondary education options (Figure 4.9). This applies equally to female and male students, as well as to students with low and high SES.

How students get information about education options generally depends on whether they aim at higher education or VET (Figure 4.10). Students who aim at VET gather information from companies, employers’ associations, internships and jobs more frequently than those who intend to take higher education.

However, for both groups, the Internet, school and family are the most common information sources. Among students who wish to study, high SES students are more likely than low SES students to get information support from the family. This is not surprising, given their parents by definition have a higher education degree and, thus, more knowledge about the higher education system. In Brandenburg, this difference amounts to a higher likelihood of 15 percentage points for high SES students and in Germany, on average, of 7.7 percentage points. Such SES differences are smaller among students who aim at VET. With regards to gender differences, male and female students have similar chances to get information from their school and family. However, they differ on the use of companies, employers’ associations and professional associations as information sources.

When deciding how to continue their education, many school graduates in Brandenburg and in Germany overall are overwhelmed by the huge number of education options, the unpredictable labour market demand and by an uncertainty about their own interests and aptitudes (Figure 4.11). Meeting the admission requirements of desired programmes and, particularly in the Eastern Länder, financing studies are further common difficulties for school leavers. By contrast, smaller shares of school leavers report that a lack of information or a lack of support from the school pose barriers to choosing further education. As expected, high SES students are less likely than students with lower SES to perceive the financing of studies as a problem. Furthermore, male students are in general less likely than female students to report difficulties in choosing post-secondary education. Male students are especially less likely than female students to perceive admission requirements as a hurdle. The latter may be due to the fact that male students are relatively less likely to opt for the more demanding studies at a university (see Figure 4.5) and that they hold higher expectations of success in higher education (see Figure 4.8).

Compared to the 2012 cohort, students who acquired their higher education entrance qualification in 2018, received more support from career and study counsellors, and teachers (Figure 4.12). In Brandenburg, one-third of students report being advised by a counsellor in 2018, which is 8 percentage points higher than in 2012. Moreover, one in five received support from teachers. In addition, support in Brandenburg appears more extensive than in the rest of Germany. These results are likely to be directly related to the launch of the federal and state strategies for career and study orientation in 2015 and the range of orientation measures at schools. In contrast, students rely less on advice from the wider family and friends.

Four of ten students report their school provided extensive information and guidance in choosing a course of study and career (Table 4.1). In contrast, 27% report having received little or no information about the various educational pathways from their school. The support level varies depending on the type of school: 44% of students at a comprehensive or academic school felt well supported by their school but only 32% of students at a non-academic school felt the same. The Germany-wide trend is similar. However, the results for Brandenburg by type of school appear surprising since many more non-academic schools than academic schools are granted the distinction “School with excellent career and study orientation”.

The expectations of parents, teachers and peers on whether students should pursue higher education may have an important impact on education decisions. Across regions, between 60-70% of students report that their parents, best friend, teacher and most people believe they should study (Figure 4.13). In all regions, students with high SES are more likely to report such expectations than low SES students. After accounting for grades and type of school, SES differences with respect to parents’ expectations of further education persist. Meanwhile, differences in teachers’ expectations decrease considerably. This suggests that parents follow class-specific aspirations that are not necessarily aligned with their children’s actual academic performance. For their part, teachers’ expectations are strongly based on academic performance. In all regions, gender differences related to other persons’ expectations of further education are small.

Figure 4.14 estimates the relationship between school leavers’ intention to study and the various likely determinants of education decision making discussed above. The magnitudes and directions of the associations are similar across regions. In all regions, the expectation of successfully completing higher education shows the strongest relationship with the intention to study, controlling for all other factors, including academic achievement and teachers’ expectation of further education. Parents’ and peers’ expectations of further education are also linked to a substantially higher likelihood of choosing higher education (around 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively, in each region). By contrast, teachers’ beliefs that students should study do not play a role after accounting for other factors, especially grades. Feeling well informed is also not associated with the decision to study.

Interestingly, the perceived returns to VET are relatively more important than those to higher education. A high perceived return to VET is associated with a lower probability of choosing higher education across regions of 14 to 17 percentage points. Meanwhile, high perceived returns to higher education lead to a higher probability of 4 to 6 percentage points of choosing higher education.

In Germany, on average, the costs of studying play a small role in choice. However, in Brandenburg, costs have a larger impact on the education decision, leading to a lower probability of intent to study of 9 percentage points.

Obviously, factors such as school grades, parents’ expectations, teachers’ expectations and perceived returns to study all interact. They also have different effects on high and low SES students and on male and female students. Figure 4.15 further analyses the SES and gender effects on the decision to undertake higher education. It breaks these differences down into their components, looking at how factors like school grades, students’ and parents’ expectations of success and perceived returns to VET contribute to the decisions of school leavers, controlling for SES (Panel A) and for gender (Panel B). In other words, it shows the relative importance of different factors to the intention to pursue higher education in each of the SES groups and in each of the gender groups.

Panel A quantifies how differences in various factors contribute to the difference between high and low SES in the decision to pursue higher education. Panel B shows the extent to which the various factors contribute to the gender difference in the decision to study.

Panel A shows that around one-third of the gap between high and low SES students’ decision making in Brandenburg (7 of the 20 percentage-point difference) cannot be explained by any factors in the model. However, of the factors in the survey, the difference in perception of returns to VET between high and low SES students makes the biggest contribution to the SES gap in the intention to study in all regions. This difference explains 17% of the SES gap in the intention to study in Brandenburg (or 3.3 of the 20 percentage-point difference between high and low SES students in the decision to study),

Differences in school grades also contribute greatly to the socio-economic differences in education decisions. In Brandenburg, school grades account for 12% of the difference between high and low SES students in their decision. This means that high SES students have a 2.4 percentage-point higher probability to study because of their relatively better grades. In East and West Germany, this contribution share is smaller – 10% and 9%, respectively.

Students’ expectations of success and parents’ expectations of further education also contribute to the SES gap in the choice of studying. However, their contributions are smaller than perceived returns to VET and school grades.

Panel B shows the decomposition of the gender gap in the decision making on higher education study. In Brandenburg, the other variables cannot explain about half of the difference. However, here too, the perceived returns to VET play a major role. Gender differences in the assessment of these returns contribute to about a quarter of the gender gap in each region. Differences in how male and female students rate their chances of success in higher education are also important.

Distance to regional HEIs is another factor in shaping students’ aspirations. This is due both to the largely rural character of the state and the locations of institutions. As distance to regional HEIs increases, a student’s intention to study decreases (Quast, Mentges and Buchholz, forthcoming[23]), which is often related to monetary costs and information deficits. Similarly, on average in Germany, 15-year-old students in a city of over 100 000 people are 12 percentage points more likely to expect to attend higher education than those attending a school in an area with fewer than 3 000 inhabitants – after accounting for students’ socio-economic status and maths proficiency (OECD, 2019[24]).

The average distance to regional HEIs affects both the decision to study and the choice of study location. Students who acquired their higher education entrance qualification in a remote place (far from an HEI) are willing to move farther away for their studies – if they have decided to study – than peers from cities and regions with a high density of HEIs (Quast, Mentges and Föste-Eggers, 2021[25]). These results have direct implications for Brandenburg, which is struggling to retain its eligible school leavers for in-state studies. The recent establishment of Präsenzstellen in remote areas is an important step in bringing HEIs closer to prospective students.

Equitable access to higher education is vital to help people adapt to a changing world of work. In Brandenburg, however, there remain large gaps in access and willingness to study between young people with high and low socio-economic status and between boys and girls. The DZHW Panel Study of School Leavers identified several factors that influence school leavers’ decisions and potentially create barriers to access. These include perceived high costs of studies, perceived high returns of VET, lack of self-esteem and parents’ views, and the large amount of available information. The large average distance to regional HEIs is another barrier to study for Brandenburg’s school students.

Timely, reliable and well-structured information about post-secondary education and training pathways, funding options and the labour market can ease students’ decisions about higher education.

There is a great deal of career and study advisory information for prospective students; indeed, there could be said to be an overload. Schools, career advisers, HEIs and government agencies are all “competing” sources, but their information is not connected. Many information sources tell the “story” from their own perspective. Their information may be authoritative and accurate but not comprehensive.

The main source of higher education information is the Hochschulkompass website run by the German Rectors’ Conference. It presents information about German HEIs and their programmes and allows for search by field of study, location and study format. It will soon be linked to the “hoch & weit” portal, which is geared towards mature learners with information about continuing education. Prospective students can also access online rankings of German HEIs and study programmes. The CHE ranking of the Centre for Higher Education, for example, contains information on teaching quality, research performance and equipment, as well as students’ opinions on study conditions. For some programmes, it also includes professors’ views of the reputation of their departments. The Arbeitsagentur website of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit – BA (Federal Employment Agency) provides labour market information, including trends by occupation. It also provides general information about the various post-secondary pathways and their funding options. In addition, it allows users to search professions by field of study and delve into sub-fields. The website also points students to several useful e-assessment tools.

At the state level, the studieren-in-brandenburg.de website targets prospective students looking for guidance about what and where to study at HEIs in Brandenburg. The website appears well structured and provides much relevant information for prospective students. However, a few additional improvements could make it even more user-friendly. A general search field as well as a search function for the study programme offer in Brandenburg, for example, might improve navigation. It could also provide general information about Brandenburg as a place to live and study and compile arguments in its favour (as the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern website does) or link to such information. Targeted information for international students in both German and English, as available on the websites of some other German states, could be considered. Direct links to social media profiles of HEIs rather than just their websites could appeal to young users.

Fachkräfteportal (Brandenburg Skills Portal) is another useful resource, offering information on the labour market in the state, the study offer and other related topics. The portal informs about job vacancies and apprenticeship opportunities in the state and provides useful information for newcomers, returnees, prospective students and other target groups.

The two websites – Hochschulkompass and studieren-in-brandenburg.de – are not linked and do not refer to each other, although both have been advertised via some national and state-level channels. Some countries have ensured their advisory websites combine information from all sources (e.g. labour market agencies, education agencies and education providers). A single, curated source of information can make it easier for prospective students and their families to make informed decisions (Hofer, Zhivkovikj and Smyth, 2020[27]) (see Box 4.8 for the Irish case).

Prospective students of higher education in Brandenburg – and the rest of Germany – need well-structured information and online guidance tools to make informed choices about their education pathways and study programmes. The federal government could work on making the Arbeitsagentur.de or another web portal a comprehensive information and counselling online tool for prospective students at German HEIs. This project could be overseen by a joint taskforce of the federal ministries responsible for employment, education and sciences, and the economy; BA and chambers of commerce and crafts; experienced career counsellors; and experts from the secondary and post-secondary education sectors.

Advisory tools and career information resources are critical mechanisms for helping students make wise choices. However, people will only access those tools and resources if they are focused on their studies and recognise the importance of education in opening career opportunities. That orientation starts from a young age and gains momentum as the student progresses through education. The comprehensive, integrated information resources and advisory tools discussed above contribute to that process. However, they are only one part of the broader orientation. Online tools can help students explore educational options and narrow them down to their interests, aptitudes and career expectations (Vuorinen, R., Sampson, J. P., & Kettunen, J., 2011[29]). However, these tools are rarely sufficient to motivate students to enter higher education, especially those from low-income families.

The orientation process involves many different components:

  • Brandenburg’s schools provide career and study orientation to students. However, the guidance staff at schools are often full-time teachers, who provide career and study orientation to students alongside their teaching responsibilities. Despite the training and support available to those teachers, it is unclear how well they can keep up to date on educational options, funding options (such as scholarships and BAföG) and labour market needs. In addition, schools struggle to support students and their parents with their applications. Yet support with applying for higher education and financial aid, provided in person, can boost enrolment in higher education (Bettinger et al., 2012[30]) (Oreopoulos, P. and R. Ford, 2016[31]).

    An information and guidance offer that combines all of the above aspects delivered across all types of in-state schools and funded appropriately could reduce uncertainty about the cost and labour market relevance associated with higher education in Brandenburg.

    Brandenburg’s schools could also be more active in nominating gifted school students for scholarships of excellence offered by Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes and informing about other scholarships. In the last decade, only one in four schools in Brandenburg invited to nominate graduates by the Foundation has done so compared to half of schools nationwide.

  • Parents and caregivers play an important role over many years in the orientation of young people towards their career and further education choices. They are role models and act as counsellors. Often, they are decisive participants in the decision-making process. However, parents may lack information about educational paths and developments in the labour market. An additional challenge for parents is how to talk to their children about occupations, the labour market and the occupational implications of educational choices in ways that engage and make sense to students. Ireland’s “CareersPortal” website (Box 4.8) supports parents and caregivers in this by providing questions that can stimulate conversations. In addition, public service offices would also need to be mandated and trained to provide advice and support, particularly to parents and working adults in the study and career choice decision, or to refer them to specialised counsellors in the field. Such offices include local employment agencies, revenue agencies and social welfare offices.

  • Brandenburg’s HEIs and Netzwerk Studienorientierung provide career and study orientation to prospective students in a structured way, including via digital counselling. StudiPortal is expected to offer online study orientation, preparation and guidance linked to the studieren-in-brandenburg.de website. MWFK has assured funding of these structures within HEI contracts and has expanded their mandates, but funding beyond 2023 remains an issue. However, HEIs are only likely to be effective in counselling when students have developed some level of orientation towards higher education. Further, it is not clear whether HEIs’ counselling is reaching prospective students from disadvantaged families or female students. Targeted outreach to vocational schools, and HEI role model and mentoring programmes may help raise the aspirations of remote families, those from low SES families and girls. In addition, the good showing of an HEI or study programme in rankings can draw interest from prospective students and their parents. Finally, HEIs should continue to invest in digital marketing and to increasingly leverage social media platforms – particularly WhatsApp, Instagram and TikTok, Germany’s most widely used platforms among youth (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2019[32]), as this is where they meet (prospective) students today.

  • Student mentors and ambassadors: The federal initiative ArbeiterKind.de uses volunteers – mostly students or academics – to target advice on higher education options to school students whose families have no experience of higher education in some parts of Brandenburg. Most of the volunteers are first-generation HEI students who use their own experience to encourage those who may not have thought of higher education. Austria’s recent experience in promoting access to higher education for underrepresented groups provides a useful model for regional and institutional initiatives (Box 4.9). Student ambassadors can also spread the word on line if they manage a social media channel and feed it in with videos about their lives as students. Successful and influential alumni can also help with student recruitment.

Bringing higher education physically closer to prospective students can also bridge the gap. Following the example of the “Campus connectés” in rural France (Box 4.10), the seven Präsenzstellen could be also used as sites for regional students enrolled at Brandenburg’s HEIs. Each centre could provide a connected classroom where students taking a course off-campus could work under supervision and benefit from individual and collective tutoring.

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