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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Adult education and training funding


3.Funding in education

3.3Adult education and training funding

Last update: 27 November 2023


The public sector, industry, social groups, continuing education institutions and public broadcasting corporations as well as the general public bear responsibility for continuing education.

This joint responsibility is reflected by the funding principle, which obliges all the parties concerned to contribute towards the cost of continuing education in relation to their share and according to their means. Public-sector funding (local authorities, Länder, the Federal Government, the European Union) includes the following areas:

  • institutional sponsorship of recognised continuing education institutions by the Länder on the basis of continuing education legislation
  • institutional sponsorship of Volkshochschulen (local adult education centres) and sponsorship of activities of continuing cultural education by the local authorities,
  • grants for adults seeking to obtain school-leaving qualifications under the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz – BAföG) and career advancement training under the Upgrading Training Assistance Act (Aufstiegsfortbildungsförderungsgesetz – AFBG - R166),
  • individual promotion of  continuing vocational training for emplyees by the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit),
  • continuing education for employees of the Federal Government, Länder and local authorities.

In 2019, four-fifths of education spending was provided by the Federal Government, the Länder and the local authorities, with the remaining fifth coming from private households, non-profit organisations and companies, as well as from abroad. The Federal Government financed a total of 10 per cent of education expenditure. The main focus of its funding was in the area of support for participants in education and further education, 57 and 100 per cent of which was financed by the Federal Government respectively. Industry provides a considerable proportion of funding for schemes under which people can obtain and improve vocational and/or working skills and qualifications. Companies spend substantial funds on continuing education for their staff.

The further education and training that is necessary for the labour market, in particular for the target groups of the unemployed, people threatened by unemployment and low-skilled persons is financed by contributions pursuant to Book Three of the Social Code (Drittes Buch SozialgesetzbuchArbeitsförderung) from unemployment insurance scheme funds as well as by taxes pursuant to Book Two of the Social Code (Zweites Buch Sozialgesetzbuch - Grundsicherung für Arbeitsuchende), which regulates the basic social security for persons seeking employment. Since January 2019, this has also been the case for workers whose professional activities can be replaced by technologies, who are otherwise affected by structural change or who are seeking further training in a bottleneck occupation. In 2022, expenditures for the promotion of continuing vocational training pursuant to Book Three of the Scoial Code by the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) amounted to Euro 2.79 billion (around Euro 346 million for the acquisition of a vocational qualification, more than Euro 1.5 billion for continuing education measures from the continuing training budget and more than Euro 1.3 billion for unemployment benefits for continuing vocational training).

Social groups (churches, trade unions, and so on) also bear a proportion of the cost of running their continuing education institutions. They guarantee the widest possible access to continuing education by setting their fees at an appropriate level.

The obligation of employers to grant employees leave for training while continuing to pay their wages may be regarded as indirect funding for adult education; this is regulated in most Länder in laws on paid training leave and educational leave. The Land law rules differ depending on the purpose of the education or training (vocational, socio-political or general continuing education).

Fees Paid by Learners

Those attending continuing education courses make a contribution towards their cost. This contribution can be subsidised by tax relief and by assistance for low-income groups and for special courses. For example, depending on the Land, between 12.1 and 38.8 per cent of the cost of Volkshochschulen courses (especially general continuing education) was covered by course fees in 2020. In particular, those on career development courses within continuing vocational training bear a large proportion of continuing education costs themselves. Additionally, costs are partly covered by enterprises within the framework of personnel development measures.

Continuing academic education at higher education institutions is funded by the fees of course members.

Financial Support for Adult Learners

Financial Assistance under the Federal Training Assistance Act

Grants are provided for adults seeking to obtain school-leaving qualifications under the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz – BAföG). Training assistance under the Federal Training Assistance Act is for example granted for the attendance of Abendschulen or Kollegs, if the student has not yet exceeded the age of 30 at the beginning of the training section. Participants in courses of the so-called zweiter Bildungsweg may receive financial assistance of between Euro 439 and Euro 715 (in case of attendance of a Kolleg) monthly under the terms of the Federal Training Assistance Act. This support takes the form of a grant and therefore does not need to be repaid. A health insurance or long-term care allowance of up to a total of Euro 109 may also be granted and, where applicable, a child-care supplement of Euro 140 per month for each child.

Financial Assistance under the Upgrading Training Assistance Act

Those who take part in career advancement training programmes under the Upgrading Training Assistance Act (Aufstiegsfortbildungsförderungsgesetz – AFBG) have a legal right to state funding that is comparable with student funding in accordance with the Federal Training Assistance Act. The so-called Upgrading BAföG supports full-time and part-time continuing education courses offered by public and private providers that specifically prepare participants for public further training examinations pursuant to the Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz – BBiG), Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (Handwerksordnung – HwO) or equivalent qualifications pursuant to federal or state law. The professional qualification aspired to must be above the level of a skilled worker, journeyman and assistant examination or a Berufsfachschule qualification. The AFBG supports persons who prepare for an upgrading training qualification as a master craftsman or master tradesman in industry, educator, state-certified technician, business administrator, economist, certified specialist, Bachelor Professional, Master Professional or one of more than 700 comparable qualifications in an eligible scheme. This grant is partly a subsidy and partly a low-interest loan from the Reconstruction Loan Corporation (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau – KfW). Support for participants who already have a Bachelor's degree or comparable higher education qualification is also possible. However, this has to be their highest higher education qualification.

The Federation spent a total of around Euro 392 million in 2020 for support pursuant to the AFBG, the Länder provided around Euro 111 million. This corresponds to the shares of expenditure stipulated in the AFBG of 78 per cent for th Federal Government and 22 per cent for the Länder. Around 178,000 participants were supported in upgrading training schemes, just less than 99,000 of whom participated in a full-time scheme and over 79,000 in a part-time scheme. As part of the National Skills Strategy, an additional Euro 350 million were spent on upgrading training in the 19th legislative period.

Financial Assistance through Grants

As part of the support programme entitled Vocational Training Promotion for Gifted Young People, the Federal Government assisted by the Vocational Training Foundation for the Highly Talented (Stiftung Begabtenförderung berufliche Bildung gGmbH  – SBB) provides grants to support continuing education measures for high-performing young people in employment who have completed a recognised course of vocational training in accordance with the Vocational Training Act, the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code or one of the health sector professions governed by federal law and who are younger than 25 on commencing the programme (Further Training Scholarship). The federal government also supports gifted people with professional experience who want to start studying after several years of professional activity via the SBB (upgrading scholarships).

Voucher programmes for the promotion of non-formal further education

For more than a decade, Germany has also been supporting continuing vocational training in the form of voucher programmes. At the federal level since 2008 through the so-called education premium (Bildungsprämie). The funding period of the education premium funding programme was extended for applicants until the end of 2021 and the redemption option for the education premiums awarded was extended until mid-2022. The education premium consisted of the two components premium voucher and savings voucher. The education premium consists of the two components premium voucher (Prämiengutschein) and savings voucher (Spargutschein). Those interested in continuing education could receive a subsidy of up to Euro 500 to finance continuing education measures (premium voucher) if certain conditions are met. The financing of further training measures has been facilitated by the opening of the Capital Accumulation Act (savings voucher).

Since the start of the programme in 2008 until the end of December 2021, around 405,000 premium vouchers and 30,000 savings vouchers have been issued. According to the experience of the two previous funding periods, almost 75 per cent of the premium vouchers are actually redeemed. No redemption figures are available for the savings vouchers. The Corona pandemic led to a 10 per cent drop in annual demand in 2020 and 2021.

After the expiry of the education premium, the Federal Government announced that it would close the funding gap for people on low incomes with a successor programme. With the Lebenschancen-BAföG, a new, overarching funding instrument is planned that will also include the target group of the education premium. The programme is intended to provide support for individual continuing education beyond professional development, regardless of age. Annual subsidies for people with low incomes are planned, which will be saved in a free account until they are redeemed for the desired further education.

In addition, the majority of the Länder have their own regulations for the promotion of non-formal vocational continuing education and training, which support the vocational continuing education and training of employees and their guidance under designations such as (further) education cheque, qualification cheque, qualification cheque or continuing education and training bonus. The programmes differ from the training premium in terms of objectives, target groups and funding conditions. In addition, there are voucher programmes in some federal states which are aimed exclusively at employers to promote their employees.