While Germany has just one university ranked within the top 50 in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15 – Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, at 49th in the world – the nation boasts a total of 42 entries in the ranking, more than any country outside of the US and the UK.
These 42 internationally ranked German universities are split amongst the numerous German states (Länder). While large numbers are concentrated in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Hesse – the nation’s most populous regions – German universities are in fact very well distributed throughout the country, with major cities such as Munich and Berlin boasting no more than three top German universities each.
Government investment in German universities
Those looking to study in Germany will already be aware of the changes taking place within Germany’s higher education market. As of September 2014, all undergraduate tuition fees were axed for both domestic and international students. At the same time, the government has continued to invest in funding schemes such as the Excellence Initiative Grants Committee in order to provide almost €2 billion (US$2.52 billion) in grant money to 85 institutions, with a further €2.4 billion (US$3.03 billion) approved over the past two years in order to continue development across a total of 99 institutions.
Technology is another frontier on which the nation continues to focus, helped by the recent establishment of TU9 (Technische Universität 9), an alliance of nine of the top technological universities in Germany, known for excellence in research and popularity among international students, with a 15% international student average at all TU9 institutions.
Below are the top universities in Germany, divided by Länder, based on the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15.
Top universities in North Rhine-Westphalia
The most populous German state, North Rhine-Westphalia is located in the west of Germany and is home to approximately 17.5 million, some 22% of the nation’s population. A prime location to study in Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia claims the highest number of top German universities (nine) and is home to the city of Düsseldorf (its capital) and Cologne (its largest city).
Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen is the top ranked university in North Rhine-Westphalia, at 147th in the world. It is the only TU9 member in the state and one of two institutions in the region to receive funding from the government’s Excellence Initiative. The other is Universität Köln.
The top universities in North Rhine-Westphalia are:
- Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (147th in the world; 9th in Germany)
- Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (177th in the world; 11th in Germany)
- Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (249th in the world; 16= in Germany)
- Universität zu Köln (305th in the world; 23rd in Germany)
- Ruhr-Universität Bochum (388th in the world; 28th in Germany)
- Universität Düsseldorf (411-420 in the world; 32nd in Germany)
- Technische Universität Dortmund (TU Dortmund, 491-500 in the world; 36= in Germany)
- Universität Bielefeld (501-550 in the world; 38= in Germany)
- Universität Duisburg-Essen (501-550 in the world; 38= in Germany)
Top universities in Baden-Württemberg
The third largest German state in terms of both population and size, Baden-Württemberg is home to 11 million people. As well as thriving automobile, engineering and metallurgical sectors, Baden-Württemberg is famous for its fairytale forests and historic towns. Baden-Württemberg is home to two TU9 members (Universität Stuttgart and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, KIT) as well as the highest-ranked university at which to study in Germany – Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg.
The capital and largest city of Baden-Württemberg is Stuttgart. The top universities are:
- Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg (49th in the world; 1st in Germany)
- Universität Freiburg (121st in the world; 4th in Germany)
- Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT, 127th in the world; 5th in Germany)
- Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (141st in the world; 7th in Germany)
- Universität Ulm (249th in the world; 16= in Germany)
- Universität Stuttgart (274th in the world; 19th in Germany)
- Universität Konstanz (310th in the world; 24th in Germany)
- Universität Mannheim (328th in the world; 25th in Germany)
Top universities in Bavaria
The biggest state by size and the second-largest by population, Bavaria is home to 12.5 million people. With diverse industry in technology, engineering, beer and tourism (anyone for lederhosen?), the state’s top two universities two are Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and Technische Universität München (TU München), which both gain funding from the government’s Excellence Initiative and one of which, TU München, is a member of TU9.
Two of the top universities in Bavaria are located in München (aka Munich), the capital and largest city in the state. The top universities in Bavaria are:
- Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (52nd in the world; 2nd in Germany)
- Technische Universität München (TU München, 54th in the world; 3rd in Germany)
- Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (285th in the world; 20th in Germany)
- Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (341st in the world; 26th in Germany)
- Universität Regensburg (395th in the world; 29th in Germany)
- Universität Bayreuth (481-490 in the world; 35th in Germany)
Top universities in Hesse
With a densely packed population of six million, the German state of Hesse is split between two of its biggest cities – Wiesbaden, the capital, and Frankfurt am Main, the largest financial center in continental Europe. Frankfurt is also home to the highest-ranked university in Hesse, Universität Frankfurt am Main, which is ranked 217th in the world. The Technische Universität Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt) is the only TU9 member in the state.
The top universities in Hesse are:
- Universität Frankfurt am Main (217th in the world; 14th in Germany)
- Technische Universität Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt, 269th in the world; 18th in Germany)
- Philipps-Universität Marburg (491-500 in the world; 36= in Germany)
- Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen (551-600 in the world; 41st in Germany)
Top universities in Berlin
Both a city and a state, Berlin is a multicultural and cosmopolitan student city, the seat of the German parliament and government, and a hugely popular tourist destination for its culture and history. Berlin boasts three of Germany’s top-ranked universities, more than any other city. Of these, Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) is a TU9 member.
The top universities in Berlin are:
- Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (134th in the world; 6th in Germany)
- Freie Universität Berlin (150th in the world; 10th in Germany)
- Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin, 192nd in the world; 12= in Germany)
Top universities in Lower Saxony
The last German state to get rid of its tuition fees, Lower Saxony is home to around eight million people, with key industry in automobiles and energy. As well as the historic, fairytale cities of Hamelin and Göttingen, Lower Saxony calls Hanover (or Hannover) its capital. Two of the three internationally ranked universities in Lower Saxony are TU9 members – Technische Universität Braunschweig (TU Braunschweig) and Leibniz Universität Hannover; the other, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, is the state’s highest ranked.
The top universities in Lower Saxony are:
- Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (146th in the world; 8th in Germany)
- Leibniz Universität Hannover (421-430 in the world; 33rd in Germany)
- Technische Universität Braunschweig (TU Braunschweig, 501-550 in the world; 38= in Germany)
Top universities in Saxony
Home to ‘Silicon Saxony’, Europe’s largest micro-electronics industry, as well as rich culture, architecture and natural surroundings, the Free State of Saxony is home to just four million people. Dresden, the state’s capital, is home to the state’s only TU9 member, Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden).
The top universities in Saxony are:
- Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden, 234th in the world; 15th in Germany)
- Universität Leipzig (289th in the world; 21st in Germany)
Other top universities in Germany
Seven more German states are home to at least one top German university, including the city-states of Hamburg and Bremen, two of the smallest states in the country. Hamburg is a cosmopolitan seaport, while Bremen is a historical city with strong industry in technology and engineering.
The remaining five states featured within the rankings are Schleswig-Holstein, a maritime state; Rhineland-Palatinate, famous for good wine; Thuringia, home to a strong student population; Saarland, a culturally diverse state bordering France; and Saxony-Anhalt, famous for its arts and cultural institutions such as the Bauhaus Dessau.
The remaining top universities in Germany are:
- Universität Hamburg (192nd; 12= in Germany) – Hamburg
- Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (396th; 30th in Germany) – Schleswig-Holstein
- Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz (300th; 22nd in Germany) – Rhineland-Palatinate
- Universität Bremen (348th; 27th in Germany) – Bremen
- Universität Jena (397th; 31st in Germany) – Thuringia
- Universität des Saarlandes (441-450; 34th in Germany) – Saarland
- Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg (601-650, 42nd in Germany) – Saxony-Anhalt