The number of students in Germany has fallen for the first time in around 15 years. According to the Federal Statistical Office, it fell by one percent compared to the previous year. Previously, it had risen steadily since 2007. 2.915 million people are currently enrolled at a German university, almost 30,400 fewer than in the 2021 winter semester.
However, there is an increase in the number of first-year students. It is 0.4 percent higher than in the previous year. In 2022, 474,100 people began studying, which corresponds to an increase of 1,800.
With a view to the shortage of skilled workers, positive trends can be seen from the new figures – at least in part. With 41,100 first semester students, 2.6 percent more people began studying computer science than in 2021. There was also growth in mechanical engineering and process engineering: 23,200 people enrolled, which corresponds to an increase of 1.5 percent. There was also a small increase of 1.9 percent in electrical engineering and information technology with 13,300 new students. The office does not yet have any concrete figures for other subjects.
The reasons for the slightly declining number of students can be traced back to two factors. According to Destatis, since 2017 the number of young people in the "age groups relevant to first-year students" has decreased - in other words, the size of the cohorts is shrinking. In addition, the number of foreign students has fallen sharply since 2020 due to the restrictions imposed in the wake of the pandemic.
After all, this trend has now stopped. The number of foreigners at German universities has risen again, which partly explains the admissions among freshmen. There were around 350,000 in the current winter semester. The statisticians also see an "increased inclination to study among those entitled to study". The trend towards academic careers is therefore still recognizable.
This is not good news for the labor market. Because the development at the universities also explains the alarming figures for vocational training. In 2007 almost 626,000 new training contracts were signed, compared to 473,000 last year according to the Institute for Employment Research (IAB).
The fact that the number of students, but especially trainees, is declining is mainly due to the shrinking number of school leavers. According to the Federal Institute for Vocational Training (BIBB), this was still 555,003 nationwide in 2013, but in 2022 it will still be 450,901 - and a further decline to 445,091 is forecast for 2025.
As a result, there are simply not enough applicants for many training positions. The Federal Employment Agency (BA) had therefore started so-called follow-up mediation campaigns. A total of around 48,000 registered applicants were still looking for training between October and November, according to the BA when asked.
16,000 of them have found alternatives such as further schooling or a part-time job, but are still looking for an apprenticeship. At the same time, there were still 29,000 training positions to be filled. The negotiations will continue until January.
And the labor market urgently needs them. According to the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB), Germany will need at least 260,000 net immigrants each year over the next 40 years, both from EU and non-EU countries, to cover the personnel requirements of the state and companies.
With the now planned amendment to the Skilled Immigration Act, the traffic light primarily wants to bring workers into the country. But there should also be relief for students and trainees from non-EU countries.
For example, Hans Peter Wollseifer, president of the craft trades, calls for the immigration authorities to be converted into "real welcome centers". Heil and his cabinet colleagues remained vague as to how exactly students and trainees should be recruited.
“We have two million vacancies and 2.5 million unemployed. The fact that there is a disproportion is completely evident," says the deputy WELT editor-in-chief Robin Alexander on the debate about the immigration of skilled workers. You also have to ask yourself how to get people in Germany to work.
One of the biggest gaps is in the STEM sector. The shortage in the fields of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology is estimated at 326,100 skilled workers. "The shortage of IT specialists is increasingly causing problems for companies and will get dramatically worse in the coming years," says Achim Berg, President of the digital association Bitkom. "Demographic change means that significantly fewer young people with IT qualifications are entering the labor market, and at the same time more older people are leaving relevant professions," says Berg.
But this analysis falls short. In the IT sector of all places, the trend is going in the opposite direction. Although there is already a shortage of 137,000 skilled workers in the private sector alone, many companies are not doing enough to ensure that more young people come: there are significantly more applicants than training positions.
According to the BA, there were only 100 apprenticeships for the software developer profession this year for 199 applicants. By no means an exception: In all apprenticeships in information technology, the supply is below demand: there were 18,500 places for 20,700 applicants.
Nevertheless, a positive trend can also be seen in the number of trainees. Last year, 15,800 training contracts for IT specialists were concluded, which corresponds to an increase of at least five percent. The profession of merchant for e-commerce, which has only existed since 2018, also recorded an increase of 26 percent or 1900 trainees compared to the previous year.
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