Access to education


Country Report: Access to education Last updated: 06/04/23


Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik and Marlene Stiller

As a matter of principle, the right and the obligation to attend school applies to all children in Germany, regardless of their status. However, since the education system falls within the responsibility of the Federal States, there are some important distinctions in laws and practices.

For example, compulsory education ends at the age of 16 in several Federal States, therefore children in those states do not have the right to enter schools when they are 16 or 17 years old. Furthermore, it has frequently been highlighted that parts of the education system are insufficiently prepared to address the specific needs of newly arrived children. While there are ‘best practice’ examples in some regions for the integration of refugee children into the education system, obstacles remain in other places, such as lack of access to language and literacy courses or to regular schools.[1] One such best practice example for education during the Covid-19 pandemic is the district of Treptow-Köpenick in Berlin, which deployed mobile teams and tablets to support distance learning of children and youth living in youth welfare facilities in 2021.[2]

Access to education is particularly problematic in initial reception centres such as arrival and AnkER centres. Especially the lack of sufficient internet access and digital infrastructure in many reception centres, make it difficult to access education offers which have been moved online.[3] In 2016, an association of various NGOs (regional refugee councils, Federal Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, Youth without Borders) started a campaign called ‘School for all’ (Schule für alle) to draw attention to the fact that children in many initial reception centres have only had very basic schooling and no access to the regular school system for the duration of their stay in these facilities (see Freedom of Movement: Obligation to Stay in Initial Reception Centres). The Federal Ministry for Education and Research partly acknowledged the shortcomings and launched a programme to facilitate the early access to educational material. Along with the ‘Foundation reading’ (Stiftung Lesen) the Federal Ministry aims to distribute reading material to arrival centres to support children and their families in gaining access to the German language.[4] Furthermore, NGOs have criticised the fact that access to education services is severely limited for asylum seekers above the age of 16, many of whom have not finished school in their countries of origin and therefore need access to the school system in order to gain a degree.[5]

These problems continue to exist today. In 2021 the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories started a comprehensive study called ‘ReGES – Refugees in the German Educational System’.[6] The first preliminary findings suggest, that especially the regional differences in how and when access to the schooling system is granted for children seeking asylum highly impacts the participation opportunities of children.[7] The team of researchers identified four main factors which influence the educational participation. Whereas family and individual resources seem to play a minor role, external factors stemming from the regulatory system of the different Federal states predominantly determine participation in the educational system. Four factors have been identified as influential: First, the duration until school enrolment in Germany.[8] Half of all federal states exempt asylum-seeking children from compulsory education until they have been assigned to a municipality (Hesse, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Platinate, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt).[9] According to the study, this delays the start of school for one to two months. Second, the type of class attended and third, access to different types of schools is important. Here the preliminary data suggests that the more restricted children are in choosing their path in the educational system, the less chances of participating in the regular educational system they have. Here more research is required, as to the research team. Fourth, the flexibility of the school system on age-appropriate placement in school classes impacts the participation of asylum seeking children in the educational system.[10]

Problems with access to the education system have particularly been reported with regard to initial reception centres renamed as AnKER centres in Bavaria in 2018. The general policy foresees the provision inside the AnkER centres of both schooling for children aged 6-16 and professional school (Berufschule) for persons aged 16-21. The AnKER centre in Regensburg is one of the only facilities allowing children up to the age of 16 to go to regular schools. This was originally only made possible because the authorities did not manage to build the necessary facilities on time, but has stayed that way. However, persons aged 16-21 are provided education in containers in the centre, not at school.[11]

In the AnKER centre in Manching/Ingolstadt classes are provided within the facility. The classes mainly focus on German language, but also cover maths and other subjects. A certificate is provided upon completion of the course. However, asylum seekers do not undergo examinations at the end of the year since people stay for shorter periods. If an asylum seeker wishes to access regular schools, a test assessing their capacity to attend classes in regular schools is conducted, namely to assess German language level.[12] This was done following successful litigation in March 2018, when Manching/Ingolstadt was a ‘transit centre’, which led authorities to grant access to regular schools for six children from Kosovo, after an Administrative Court had decided that children from these centres with sufficient German language skills had the right to attend the regular school system.[13]

The problem of lack of access to the education system in initial reception centres may have been mitigated to a certain extent by the legal clarification, introduced in 2019, according to which the general maximum time-limit for a stay in initial reception centres is of six months for families with minor children. Because of this amendment, children should be housed in decentralised accommodation after a few months (possibly earlier than the maximum six-months time-limit allows), which should in turn result in them having access to regular schools at their new place of residence. By way of example, in Saxony the authorities have ‘an established policy’ of allocating families with school-age children to municipalities within three months.[14]

In legal terms, asylum seekers generally have access to vocational training. In order to start vocational training, they need an employment permit.[15] However, the fact that asylum seeker’s permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) are issued for a 6-month-period frequently renders access to vocational training impossible. Training contracts usually have to be concluded for a duration of two or three years. Hence potential employers are often hesitant to offer vocational training to asylum seekers since there is a considerable risk that the training cannot be completed if the asylum application is rejected.

Studying at university is generally permitted for asylum seekers, but only possible by practical difficulties. The Federal States’ laws that regulate access to higher education do not impose any restrictions with regards to a foreigner’s residence status. Thus, asylum seekers with a permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) or tolerated stay (Duldung) legally have the same access to university as other foreigners. However, the higher education laws set requirements with regard to qualifications (university entrance qualification), knowledge of the German language and health insurance coverage, which are difficult to meet in practice for asylum seekers. Additionally, they are also not entitled to students’ financial aid when in possession of a permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung). In the Federal States, which are responsible for university education, and on the Federal level there have been numerous initiatives to support refugees and asylum seekers to access universities and successfully conclude their studies.[16] Funded with EUR 100,000 million by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Academic Exchange Service for example introduced from 2016 onwards several measures and programmes to facilitate access to university for refugees.[17]In a study it has been observed that whether in 2015 and 2016 inclusionary efforts were mainly self-organised by volunteers, informal and spontaneous, universities formalised support structures in establishing first contact persons for beneficiaries and applicants for international protection.[18] The ‘German Rectors’ Conference’ (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK)) of higher education facilities stated that the numbers of newly registered refugees at German continue to rise or remain at a higher level. In 2020 around 3,000 beneficiaries of international protection registered for universities. The HRK confirms the findings of the study in stating that there is a growing synergy between support programmes of universities and the special need of refugee students.[19] However, other studies suggest that once accepted at universities, refugees continue to face difficulties in their studies. The difficulties mainly stem from a lack of mixed social networks between refugee and German students. Accordingly, this is rooted in forms discrimination, different teaching and studying approaches in Germany compared to countries of origin and deficiencies in the German language.[20]

Integration courses

An education measure of practical relevance for adult asylum seekers are the integration courses, coordinated and financed by the BAMF. In contrast to beneficiaries of international protection, asylum seekers are not entitled to participate in an integration course. Only two groups of asylum seekers are eligible to participate:

  • those with a ‘good prospect to remain’ based on their nationality and its recognition rate – as of 2021 these were Eritrea, Syria and Somalia. Afghanistan was added in early 2022.[21]
  • asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany before 1 August 2019 and who are employed, follow vocational training, are registered as unemployed, participate in preparatory training to take up employment, or are taking care of children under the age of three.[22] According to the government, a registration as unemployed requires that access to the labour market exists in the first place.[23] However, such access is very limited especially during the first nine months (see Access to the labour market).

Asylum seekers who meet these criteria can also be obliged to participate in integration courses by the authority providing social assistance.[24] Participation is free of charge for asylum seekers.[25] In their general form, integration courses consist of 600 language lesson units and 100 lesson units in an ‘orientation course’ where participants are meant to learn about the legal system as well as history and culture in Germany and about ‘community life’ and ‘values that are important in Germany’.[26]

In 2019 the BAMF concluded the first part of an evaluation study on the integration programmes. According to the first findings, only half of the enrolled participants reach the level B1 in German language after the competition of the course, although according to the teaching schedule this is the goal.[27] The BAMF explains this by the increasing heterogeneity of the participants in their general educational background, their knowledge of the latin characters and possible trauma.[28] Other researchers criticise though that in the report of the BAMF systematic and didactic shortcomings have been left out.  According to their experience, teachers for integration courses work under precarious conditions, which leads to not well prepared classes and a lack of a didactic concept. Instead of a holistic approach, participants often memorise the answers for class tests and do not gain profound knowledge of the democratic system in Germany.[29] Next to the general integration courses, there are special courses e. g. courses for women or parents, literacy courses or intensive courses for experienced learners.




[1] For an overview of practices regarding the integration of refugee children into schools as of 2018, see See Julian Tangermann and Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, ‘Unaccompanied Minors in Germany – Challenges and Measures after the Clarification of Residence Status’, March 2018, 56-57, available in English at

[2] Bezirksamt Treptow-Köpenick, ‘Mobile Unterstützung in der Pandemie: Jugend-Lern-Hilfe für Kinder und Jugendliche in Heimen‘, 05 January 2021, available in German at:

[3] See AWO Bundesverband, ‘Unterbringung von geflüchteten Menschen und die Corona-Pandemie. Forderungen an die Politik und Empfehlungen an die Praxis, October 2021, 18, available in German at:

[4] Federal Ministry for Education and Research, Stark-Watzinger: Flüchtlingskindern Bildungschancen ermöglichen, press release 3 January 2022, available in German at:

[5] See the campaign at:

[6] Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories, ReGES – Refugees in the Germene Education System, project description available at:

[7] G. Will et al., Educational Policies Matter: How Schooling Strategies Influence Refugee Adolescents’ School Participation in Lower Secondary Education in Germany, Frontiers in Sociology, vol 7, 22 June 2022, available at:

[8] Ibid.

[9] Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk, „Beginn der Schulpflicht für asylsuchende Kinder’ – Datengrundlage für den Strukturindikator zum Recht auf Bildung, available in German at:

[10] G. Will et al., Educational Policies Matter: How Schooling Strategies Influence Refugee Adolescents’ School Participation in Lower Secondary Education in Germany, Frontiers in Sociology, vol 7, 22 June 2022, available at:

[11] ECRE, The AnkER centres Implications for asylum procedures, reception and return, April 2019, available at:

[12] Ibid.

[13] Süddeutsche Zeitung, ‘Flüchtlingskinder aus Transitzentrum dürfen reguläre Schule besuchen’, 9 March 2018, available in German at:

[14] BAMF, Evaluation of AnkER Facilities and Functionally Equivalent Facilities, Research Report 37 of the BAMF Research Centre, 2021, 85, available in English at

[15] Section 32(2)(1) Employment Regulation.

[16] See for example the overview provided by the conference of university rectors, or the programmes of the DAAD,

[17] German Academic Exchange Service, Refugees at Higher Education institutions, available at:

[18] J. Berg et al., Formalising organisational responsibility for refugees in German higher education: the case of first contact positions, Studies in Higher Education vol. 47, Issue 6, 2022, available at:

[19] German Rectors‘ Conference, Studium für Geflüchtete – Zahl der Neuimmatrikulierten von Geflüchteten stabil auf hohem Niveau, 2020, available in German at:

[20] A. Bouchara, Bildungsbedürfnisse und Hindernisse von Geflüchteten in Deutschland: eine empirische Studie zu sozialen Netzwerken von Geflüchteten an deutschen Hochschulen, interculture Journal vol. 18, Issue 31, 2019, available in German at:

[21] BAMF, ‘Trägerrundschreiben Integrationskurse 01/22. Anpassung der Herkunftsländer „mit guter Bleibeperspektive’, 12 January 2022, available in German at:; BAMF, Was heißt gute Bleibeperspektive?, lastly updated 17 January 2022, available in German at:

[22] Section 44 para. 4 Residence Act.

[23] Der Paritätische Gesamtverband, ‘Arbeitshilfe zum Thema Flucht und Migration. Soziale Rechte für Flüchtlinge, 3. aktualisierte Auflage, December 2019, available in German at:

[24] Section 44a para. 1 Residence Act.

[25] BAMF, ‘Integration courses for asylum applicants and persons whose deportation has been temporarily suspended’, 298 November 2018, available at:

[26] See BAMF, ‘The content and stages of the procedure’, available at

[27] Migration Media Service, Wie entwickeln sich die Integrationskurse?, 25 June 2020, available in German at:

[28] BAMF, Forschungsprojekt “Evaluation der Integrationskurse”, 16 September 2019, available in German at:

[29] Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, Integrationkurse auf dem Prüfstand, 22 April 2020, available in German at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation