Dual study-work programs in Germany: A unique opportunity for international students

  • university in Germany
Published on 2023-10-31 at 10:00
Dual work-study programs are distinctly German qualifications, although there do exist industry-oriented degrees elsewhere that are similar to them. As the name says, they are Bachelor's and Master's degrees, which include practical experience at a company in conjunction with academic classes on campus. They are particularly useful for subjects that are in themselves very vocational, such as business, design, engineering, technology and social work. 

What are dual study-work degree programs?

For many international students, the possibility of work experience abroad and cultural (including language!) immersion are major reasons why they choose to study outside their home country. Those doing traditional degrees, which are taught only on campus, tend to gain that work experience through volunteering, part-time jobs (within the number of hours that their student visa legally allows them to), work placements during breaks between semesters, and post-graduation work visas. 

However, their part-time jobs can often be unrelated to their field of study. Students often work as service industry workers (waiters, baristas, etc.), administrative staff, librarians or babysitters – when they're doing degrees in microbiology or economics! That's where a major advantage of dual study-work programs comes in: you can get an internship or vocational training in your exact field of study, even if it's hyper-specialized.

The German Exchange Academic Service says that there are three types of dual study-work programs: training-integrated (also called vocational-training-integrated), practice-integrated (also called internship-integrated) and career-integrated (also called job-integrated). In the first type, students attend classes on some days of the week and get training at a partner company on other days, i.e., both happen simultaneously. Upon graduating, they receive both their academic degree and a separate vocational certificate. 

In the second type, students alternate between phases of studying full-time and interning full-time – they don't do both at the exact same time. Plus, their time in the companies is as interns who collaborate in various departments – not as vocational trainees. This pathway is more suited for students who already have a very clear idea of what they want to do after graduating.

The third type allows students to work nearly full-time. Their full-time workload is slightly reduced, and their coursework is aligned and coordinated with their working hours. It's different from studying part-time because the workplace and educational institution are collaborating directly and aligned with each other.

This third form of dual work-study program is less accessible to non-EU/EEA students because their student visa does not allow them to work full-time. Non-EU/EEA students can only work for the equivalent of 120 full days while studying. Hence, the first two pathways, training-integrated and practice-integrated, are more open to non-EU/EEA students in Germany. Another restriction that these international students face is that dual work-study programs in public administration might require EU citizenship to be able to intern/train within German governmental organizations.

International students who already speak fluent German face no language barrier to using the language when they're training/interning in a company. Actually, it's difficult to find any dual work-study program that's offered exclusively in English. You'll, at the very least, need to know some intermediate German. As German institutions are becoming increasingly international, however, they are starting to increase the amount of English used in these programs – and even extending the practical portion to companies in other European countries!

Another big advantage is that students earn money for their work. Yes, even non-EU/EEA international students get paid. If they're doing the program at a private institution that charges tuition fees, the money they earn is used to cover their tuition fees. If it's at a public institution with no tuition fees, international students can easily earn €900 after taxes, which is often enough to cover their basic living expenses.

Which German educational institutions offer dual work-study programs?

Dual work-study programs aren't offered by all higher education institutions and for all subjects. There are a few practice-oriented subjects for which dual work-study isn't offered because these are professions that require workers to be fully qualified: law, medicine, teaching and theology. However, dual work-study options are available for other studies in the healthcare sector, such as biomedical engineering.

The three main types of educational institutions that offer dual work-study Bachelor's and Master's degrees are universities of applied sciences (called “Fachhochschule” as a category), universities of cooperative education (“Duale Hochschulen”) and vocational academies (“Berufsakademie”). Research-driven universities rarely offer them. Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and Trier University are two exceptions. They are research universities with some dual work-study program offerings, but this remains an exception.

Universities of cooperative education actually offer exclusively dual work-study degrees. The largest such university is the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, which has nine campuses across the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. It has various engineering, business and social work programs, including a BA in International Business that's primarily taught in English.

If you attend a vocational academy, you will also get a vocational certificate for a recognized profession alongside your degree. However, your degree will not be considered an academic degree but a state-recognized one. If you plan on doing a master's degree or PhD later, it might be tricky to get accepted with only a state-recognized degree.

As for universities of applied science, they are the institutions that offer over 70% of all the dual work-study programs in the country. Some are very old and as prestigious as research-oriented universities – and even count Nobel-winning scientists among their alumni. 

Doing a dual work-study bachelor's or master's requires a lot of discipline and excellent time management skills. Even if it requires more effort than a traditional degree, it is an excellent “foot in the door” approach to working in Germany before you even graduate. 

Are there similar programs outside of Germany? Strictly speaking, no, this is a program that's unique to Germany. But more broadly, yes, you can find degrees that include a compulsory or optional work placement module or summer internship as part of the program in most countries. You should consult each individual program and contact the program leaders to ask for more details.