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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.7Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation

Last update: 2 April 2024

Bilateral Agreements

The traditional exchange programmes for pupils, foreign language assistants and teachers of the Educational Exchange Service (Pädagogischer Austauschdienst – PAD) of the Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) are for the most part based on bilateral agreements on cooperation in the cultural and educational sector. With regard to international contacts and the international education in schools, the PAD is partner of the Ministries of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Senate Departments of the Länder. Furthermore, the PAD implements cultural relations and education policy measures on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt). The PAD cooperates closely with bilateral youth organisations as well as competence centres and funding agencies for international youth work to support cooperation between schools from two states and also sits on numerous commissions and committees.

Within the European Union, the conviction has grown that targeted efforts are needed towards practically-oriented education and training for the transition into employment, on the one hand to improve the employability of the individual and thus on the other hand to combat the high level of youth unemployment. Many European states consequently initiated national reforms and also began to amend laws in the field of vocational education and training. 

In order to support the international cooperation on vocational education and training, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF), in close cooperation with the relevant departments and organisations, created the Zentralstelle der Bundesregierung für internationale Berufsbildungskooperation at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB) in September 2013, in which the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung - BMZ) is involved with its own personnel. The Zentralstelle acts abroad as the German Office for Cooperation in Vocational Education & Training (GOVET) and is in charge of three key fields of work:

  • FUNCTIONS AS THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE FOR THE ROUND TABLE on international vocational education and training cooperation, in which the departments involved in the international vocational education and training cooperation vote under the leadership of the BMBF. 
  • ONE-STOP-SHOP, i.e. central point of contact for inquiries from national and international protagonists in vocational education and training cooperation. 
  • ACCOMPANIES the international bilateral vocational education and training cooperations of the BMBF.

Cooperation and Participation in Worldwide Programmes and Organisations

Copenhagen Process in the Vocational Education and Training Sector

With the Copenhagen Declaration of November 2002, the ministers of the EU member states responsible for education together with the European social partners defined specific areas and steps for intensifying European collaboration in vocational training.

Milestones of the Copenhagen process, in which strategic priorities, common goals and measures are regularly agreed, were the Bruges Communiqué of 2010, which emphasised in particular the need for greater labour market relevance through high-quality VET with integrated company practice, and the so-called Riga Conclusions of 2015, in which the ministers of education, together with social partners and the European Commission, set priorities for the period 2015–2020 to strengthen employment and competitiveness.

Germany has been actively involved in shaping the Copenhagen process from the very beginning and is represented in all the main working groups set up to implement the process. The Copenhagen Declaration identifies the promotion of transparency, recognition of qualifications and quality assurance in vocational education and training as the most important fields of action for the EU. At the European level, the following instruments are being developed or further developed as a matter of priority:

  • European Qualifications Framework (EQF): The EQF is a common European reference framework consisting of eight competence levels to which national qualifications frameworks are assigned. As a translation tool between the different national systems, it makes qualifications in Europe more transparent and comparable and promotes the cross-border mobility of learners and employees. The EQF is based on the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework, which entered into force in 2008 and was revised in 2017, as a key individual initiative of the new European Skills Agenda. With the German Qualifications Framework (DQR), the recommendation on the establishment of a European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning has been implemented at national level since 2013.
  • European Network for Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET): The German Reference Agency for Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training (DEQA-VET) is part of the European Network for Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training EQAVET (European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training) and is based at BIBB.
  • ESCO (European Skills, Competences, and Occupations) is the multilingual European classification for skills, competences, qualifications and occupations. ESCO aims to promote mobility of workers in Europe through transparency in communication and comparability. ESCO presents qualification and occupational titles, job descriptions, knowledge associated with occupations, practical skills and competences in all official EU languages as well as in Icelandic, Norwegian and Arabic.

Another important tool is the Europass to promote transparency and understanding of skills and qualifications. Introduced across Europe in 2005, Europass was modernised and made more flexible in 2018 through a revised legal basis. Europass is one of 12 measures of the European Skills Agenda 2020 and an important element in the context of the Osnabrück Declaration 2020. Europass consists of various components:

  • Europass profile: a protected and secure space where people can create a personal profile and update it at any time. The areas "My skills" and "My interests" encourage self-reflection and help to take stock and develop career prospects.
  • Self-assessment tool for digital skills: interactive online test based on the European reference framework for digital skills.
  • Europass library: A secure storage space for application documents, references and certificates, which can also function as a wallet ID for digital credentials.
  • Job and qualification trends: The tool provides in-depth information on the labor market in the EU as well as skills profiles for individual professions.
  • Course search: Based on the personal profile and the results of the digital skills self-assessment test, for example, users can search for specific training courses in the EU.
  • Qualifications: The portal offers information on national qualifications in all EU countries and the possibility to compare the qualification frameworks of individual countries.
  • Digital Credentials: The technical infrastructure enables digital skills to be issued, stored, shared and verified securely. Credentials can be assigned for qualifications, activities and authorizations.

The offers of Europass serve to make the skills and qualifications of EU citizens clearly and easily understood in Europe, and therefore simplify and promote the mobility for learning and working. In Germany the National Europass Centre (NEC) is the contact for all questions relating to the Europass ( It is located at the National Agency Education for Europe (Nationale Agentur Bildung für Europa) at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung – BIBB). The NEC administers the national database to apply for Europass mobility. Issuing agencies of the Europass Mobility are the PAD for the school sector, the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD) for the higher education sector as well as trade organisations and social partner organisations for vocational training.

The framework for enhanced cooperation between all VET stakeholders in the current decade is set by the European Council Recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience and the Osnabrück Declaration on vocational education and training as an enabler of recovery and just transitions to digital and green economies from 2020. The Osnabrück Declaration relies on VET to overcome the challenges related to demographic change, digitalisation and the need for eco-conscious action. Vocational education and training is placed in the context of lifelong learning and the need for better permeability in the education systems and equal value of academic and vocational education is emphasised. For the period 2021 to 2025, the Osnabrück Declaration defines four main objectives of cooperation in VET:

  • Resilience and excellence through high-quality, inclusive and flexible VET.
  • Establishing a new culture of lifelong learning – the importance of vocational training and digitalisation
  • Sustainability – a green perspective in VET
  • European VET Area and international VET

The respective objectives are backed up with concrete measures. These measures are to be implemented taking into account the principle of subsidiarity and the characteristics of the respective VET and education systems.

In order to concretise the implementation, the member states were requested to submit National Implementation Plans (NIP) to the European Commission by the end of May 2022. For Germany, the BMBF developed the National Implementation Plan (NIP) with the participation of social partners (business associations and trade unions), federal ministries and Länder bodies as well as other VET institutions. The NIP addresses, among other things, the further development of the digital infrastructure for in-company and school learning and teaching, the qualification of teaching and training staff, the strengthening of vocational education and training for sustainability, the expansion of further and advanced training courses and European and international VET cooperation.

The Bologna Process

Further major impulses for the internationalisation of German higher education institutes are provided by the intergovernmental Bologna Process, which builds on the Sorbonne Declaration adopted in 1998 by the ministers responsible for higher education in France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany. The Bologna Process was introduced in 1999 with the aim of creating a European Higher Education Area by 2010, characterised by a free mobility to be achieved through the transparency and compatibility of consecutive study structures, quality assurance systems on the basis of European standards and guidelines as well as the mutual recognition of academic achievements and qualifications. The objectives of the Bologna Process correspond with the reform efforts of the Federation and the Länder in the higher education sector.

In order to take stock once again, the eleventh conference of the ministers responsible for higher education of the now 49 signatory states was hosted by the Italian Bologna Secretariat in November 2020. With a view to the current political and economic crises, special emphasis was made of the contribution of the Bologna process to intercultural understanding and peaceful coexistence, to equality, critical thinking and tolerance through academic freedom.

In order to further develop cooperation within the framework of the Bologna Process and to ensure the implementation of the basic commitments, the ministers decided in their final communiqué, among other things, to provide further support to participating states that have problems implementing the agreed core areas:

  • a three-stage system compatible with the overarching Framework of Qualifications for the European Higher Education Area, the first two stages of which are equipped with an ECTS system;
  • adequate implementation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention;
  • Quality assurance in line with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area.

Germany has implemented the objectives of the Bologna Process in these three core areas and is making its experience available to other participating states.

The Bologna secretariat currently has its registered office in Albany. The secretariat will organise the work until 2024 on the basis of the decisions of the 2020 Ministerial Conference. This will deal in particular with the adequate implementation of all resolved projects in all European institutions of higher education.

Germany has made significant progress since 2000 in implementing the reforms agreed in the Bologna Process. In implementing the Bologna Process, Germany has achieved further progress over past years. According to the joint national report of the Standing Conference and the BMBF on the implementation of the goals of the Bologna Process 2000–2020, the German focus for the further development of the European Higher Education Area is on the further promotion of mobility and exchange, easier recognition of academic degrees, the strengthening of strategic partnerships between higher education institutions throughout the European Higher Education Area and the further promotion of the participation of underrepresented groups in higher education. The guarantee of scientific freedom and institutional autonomy in all states was seen as a particular challenge.

The German Bologna Follow-Up Group advises on the current developments and practical problems associated with the implementation of the Bologna Process. This group consists of representatives of the Federation, the Länder, the German Rectors' Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz – HRK) , the German Academic Exchange Service, students, the Accreditation Council (Akkreditierungsrat), the social partners and the German Student Services Association (Deutsches Studierendenwerk). Federation and the Länder support the reform of the German higher education system with numerous measures.

These include inter alia the Contract for the Future of Higher Education and Teaching (Zukunftsvertrag Studium und Lehre stärken) and the agreement Innovation in Higher Education Teaching (Innovation in der Hochschullehre) as well as study financing instruments (Federal Training Assistance for study abroad, educational credit and scholarships). This is in addition to the mobility promotion offered by the Federation via the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung as well as the funding offered by the HRK project “Modus”, which supports higher education institutions in implementing study reforms in Germany, and the team of Bologna experts which is coordinated by the DAAD.

Recognition of foreign qualifications

Germany ratified the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (Lisbon Convention), which was resolved on 1 April 1997, on 1 October 2007. The Convention provides for the simplified recognition of foreign coursework and qualifications and aims on the one hand at recognition for the purpose of higher education admission and on the other at the assessment of higher education qualifications for the purpose of entering the German labour market. The higher education institutions are responsible for recognition for the purpose of higher education admission, for admission to further study courses and for the crediting of specific courses and examinations. The right to carry titles conferred by foreign higher education institutions is regulated by the Land higher education laws. Information on this is distributed by the Länder education ministries. Holders of foreign higher education qualifications can apply to the Central Office for Foreign Education (Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen – ZAB), based in the Secretariat of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder, for an evaluation of their certificate for the classification of their degree in the German education system. An administrative fee currently amounting to Euro 200 is charged for this assessment, further assessments cost Euro 100.

The ZAB is the competent information and expert body for the rating and ranking of foreign academic certificates in the Federal Republic of Germany. On an international level the ZAB cooperates closely with the national centres of equivalence in the countries of the European Union (NARIC), the European Council and UNESCO (ENIC). Through the anabin database ( the ZAB provides information on the education systems, institutions and qualifications of around 190 countries. The data ranks just less than 40,000 foreign education certificates and is open to the public. Authorities get access to an extended area.