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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: 8 May 2024


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 or adult 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, for the target groups of the unemployed, people threatened by unemployment and low-skilled persons as well as for employees 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. 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 subsequent acquisition of a vocational qualification, more than Euro 1.5 billion for continuing education measures from the continuing training budget and more than Euro 1.1 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). In addition, the financing of further training by employers, even without a legal obligation, is in their own interest to maintain competitiveness and secure jobs.

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 8.0 and 35.9 per cent of the cost of Volkshochschulen courses (especially general continuing education) was covered by course fees in 2021. 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 474 and Euro 736 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 206 may also be granted and, where applicable, a child-care supplement of Euro 160 per month for each child.

Financial Assistance under the Upgrading Training Assistance Act

Those who take part in career advancement training programmes have a legal right to state funding under the Upgrading Training Assistance Act (Aufstiegsfortbildungsförderungsgesetz - AFBG). 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 advanced training 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 e.g. 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 as their highest higher education qualification is also possible. 

The AFBG is financed 78 per cent by the Federation and 22 per cent by the Länder. In 2022, a total of over Euro 1 billion in funding was available under the AFBG.

Around 192,000 participants were supported in upgrading training schemes, around  118,000 of whom participated in a full-time scheme and over 74,000 in a part-time scheme. 

Promotion of continuing vocational training in accordance with the Second and Third Book of the German Social Code

Funding for continuing vocational training is regulated in both the Second and Third Book of the German Social Code. Funding is provided for further training costs such as course costs, travel costs, childcare costs or accommodation away from home. For unemployed people who are entitled to unemployment benefit, the costs of further training are covered in addition to the fact that unemployment benefit continues to be paid during further vocational training. In this case, only half a month of unemployment benefit entitlement is used up for each month of further training.

With the introduction of the Citizen's Income (Bürgergeld) in SGB II, further training opportunities for the unemployed and employees receiving Citizen's Income were also expanded and financial incentives increased.

Preventive further training support for employees in accordance with SGB III includes, on the one hand, the assumption of training course costs for employees and, on the other hand, the granting of wage subsidies to employers for periods of absence from work due to further training.

With the Law to Strengthen the Promotion of Training and Further Education (Gesetz zur Stärkung der Aus- und Weiterbildung) passed in summer 2023, the preventive promotion of further education will be expanded from April 1, 2024 and supplemented by a new funding instrument. In future, general employee support can be claimed regardless of whether the company is affected by structural change or the training takes place in a bottleneck occupation. These previous eligibility requirements will be transferred to the new "qualification allowance" funding instrument, which will support companies and their employees who are particularly affected by structural change. The qualification allowance can be claimed during the further training measure as a wage replacement benefit amounting to 60 or 67 percent of the previous earned income.

Further information on the Citizen's Income Act and the Act to Strengthen the Promotion of Initial and Further Training can be found in chapter 14.4.

Financial Assistance through Grants

As part of the  Vocational Training Promotion for Gifted Young People, the Federation 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 Federation also supports high-performing 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 this took place from  2008 through 2021througt the so-called education premium (Bildungsprämie), which consisted of the two components premium voucher (Prämiengutschein) and savings voucher (Spargutschein). The education premium consists of the two components premium voucher and savings voucher. 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).

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. Annual subsidies for people with low incomes are planned, which will be saved in a digital continuing education 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 earlier 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.