1. Introduction

Brandenburg is one of 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany, bordering Poland in the east, surrounding the federal state of Berlin and bordering the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (in the north), Saxony (in the south) and Saxony-Anhalt (in the west). Brandenburg is one of the former East German states (the new Länder). The state capital, Potsdam, borders Berlin to the southwest.

The proximity of Brandenburg to the federal capital is both an asset and a liability. On the positive side, the state 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 locating in the federal capital. On the negative side, Berlin acts as a magnet for the talent that Brandenburg has grown, leading to the outward migration of higher education students and skilled professionals. The challenge for Brandenburg is to capitalise on the asset, while creating an environment that encourages homegrown skills to remain in the state.

Brandenburg’s population of 2.5 million, which represents 3% of the total German population, is forecast to fall over the next two decades. Brandenburg already has one of the oldest populations among the German states and the average age is forecast to grow even older. These demographic shifts have implications for the skill profile of the population and, hence, for the region’s labour market.

At the same time, Brandenburg’s economy is undergoing structural change, which opens exciting new prospects for highly skilled workers: The state has intensified efforts to diversify the economy towards cleaner and more knowledge-intensive industries, including the development of advanced manufacturing, spill-over effects from the start-up scene in Berlin, fostering entrepreneurial activities at its own higher education institutions, promoting innovative places for working and living, and the programmed closure of coal production and its replacement with next-generation technologies.

As the engine of skills development and research, the higher education system will play an important role in helping the state unleash economic opportunities and overcome its skills challenges.

This review aims to support the authorities and HEIs of the state of Brandenburg in improving education outcomes and skills levels of the state’s young people, and in reskilling and upskilling mature learners, which ultimately aims to promote economic development and social inclusion in the state. Key authorities involved include the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture (Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kultur (MWFK) ) of Brandenburg.

The OECD was asked to conduct analyses, collect good practice examples from other jurisdictions and countries, and provide recommendations to support MWFK in developing a new state strategy on higher education. This would better align the higher education offer to current and future needs of the state economy. For this purpose, the OECD:

  • analysed and diagnosed the policy landscape related to higher education and skills development, access paths into higher education, student profiles and graduate trajectories in the state of Brandenburg, using a wide range of available documents, comparable international data and German-specific micro-level data;

  • analysed and selected international and national examples of good practice to underpin the review’s recommendations for action to public authorities, HEIs and other relevant stakeholders such as schools and businesses in Brandenburg;

  • consulted via video conferences relevant stakeholders from Brandenburg – public agencies, HEIs, students, schools and businesses – to gain a better understanding of the project context and discuss pointers for action.

The review was part of the project “Analysis and advice for a renewed tertiary education strategy for Brandenburg and guidance on categorisation of scientific continuing education”, funded by the European Union through the Structural Reform Support Programme. It was conducted in close collaboration with MWFK, the state’s HEIs and the Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support of the European Commission.

The process resulted in this report, which Brandenburg authorities and HEIs will use to develop an updated, coherent and effective policy framework for higher education in the state. This will serve as the basis for a new higher education strategy.

  • Chapter 2 sets the context of the review for the higher education system in Brandenburg, and examines the economic and demographic challenges facing Brandenburg, describing the demographic trends and how the economy is expected to change. As coal mining is phased out and knowledge-based industries (like advanced manufacturing and health) assume greater importance in the state’s economy, the skill needs in the labour market will continue to evolve. That change will have important implications for the state’s higher education system. The chapter also sets out how the higher education system can contribute to the opportunities for further economic development in the state.

  • Chapter 3 looks at the organisation of the higher education system, including the legislation that determines how the system is governed, the state government’s arrangements for the steering and the funding of the system and the institutions’ governance and management approaches. The chapter also lays out the types of programmes offered and identifies issues the system must overcome.

  • Chapter 4 discusses the performance of the Brandenburg higher education system in ensuring access for young people. It focuses on the transition from secondary schools to higher education, career and study advice and orientation for secondary students, and the trend among Brandenburg’s school leavers to take up higher education. It explores the decision making of school leavers and sets out factors that influence the choice of study destination.

  • Chapter 5 looks at the performance of students in Brandenburg’s higher education systems, and discusses the profile of the student population, including its international component. It looks at success measures for students in the system – in particular, completion rates and the time taken to complete a qualification – and compares them with systems in other German states. The system of student financial aid that supports higher education students is also examined.

  • Chapter 6 looks at the performance of the Brandenburg higher education system in delivering labour market outcomes for its graduates; its graduates have high employment rates compared with those from other regions but that many find their careers outside the state. This chapter also looks at how Brandenburg’s success in enrolling and graduating international students could help fill skill gaps in the state’s labour market.

  • Chapter 7 sets out the government’s strategies and policies on higher education and discusses how the higher education system might shape the government’s skills strategy.

Chapters 2 to 7 undertake a situational analysis, describing arrangements and trends, then assess performance, looking at approaches to similar challenges from other OECD countries. Chapters 3 to 7 also give pointers for how Brandenburg’s higher education system might address these challenges in the future.

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. These strengths are highlighted below:

  • The teaching and research profiles of Brandenburg’s eight public HEIs are complementary. Each HEI has specialties that perform especially well and that have gained a reputation for excellence. As a result, Brandenburg’s higher education graduates enjoy comparatively 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 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. They have introduced more orientation programmes to support completion of studies, and students appear to be making relatively good use of them. They 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-19-related closures. Präsenzstellen 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 would inevitably translate into lower enrolment in higher education.

  • Direct transition from secondary school to higher education in Brandenburg is the lowest among all German states. Of those who left Brandenburg 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 returns of 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 for students to complete higher education 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.

  • The perceived high costs of higher education in Brandenburg are aggravated by 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 about funding options for the eight public HEIs 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.

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