The Framework Act for Higher Education (Hochschulrahmengesetz – HRG) and the Higher Education Acts of the Länder stipulate that institutions of higher education are responsible for providing subject-related advice accompanying a student's studies throughout the entire duration of their course.
The responsibilities of counselling in the higher education sector include the provision of information and advice for students and those applying for higher education on the content, structure and requirements of a course of study; it assists students during their complete course of study, and in particular on completion of their first year, by providing subject-related advice. Counselling tasks are divided among lecturers, who provide specialist guidance, and the student counselling office, which provides general guidance. The student counselling offices are also responsible for helping students cope with personal difficulties and for dealing with questions relating to their studies. In addition to lecturers and the student counselling offices, student bodies in each department also offer support and assistance relating to the individual subjects. In many cases special introductory seminars are held at institutions of higher education for future applicants. In providing counselling, higher education institutions are intended to cooperate in particular with the employment agencies responsible for careers advice and the offices responsible for the Staatsprüfungen (state examinations).
Some institutions and departments provide tutorials and refresher courses to students during their first semesters. These courses are conducted by undergraduate and research assistants and have the following functions:
- to furnish information about facilities, academic/scientific working methods, the structure of the course of study and examination requirements
- to help in overcoming difficulties understanding and learning the material and encourage self-study in study groups
- to provide long-term individual support and further social relations between students
The quality of the counselling and care programmes for all students, in particular for students in special circumstances and foreign students, is to be extended and assured. For foreign students, central administrative bodies such as international offices or international centres are as a rule the first points of contact at higher education institutions. Networking their central procedural knowledge with non-centralised advisory offices affiliated with the different university departments is important and essential to successful academic counselling. The establishment of posts for independent ombudsmen, which are filled voluntarily, by lecturers for instance, should be promoted. These may also be service centres with an arbitration role.
Student support organisations (Studentenwerke) also play an important role in academic counselling. The institutions of higher education and student welfare organisations have set up a variety of independent offers especially for foreign students. The central point of contact at the German National Association for Student Affairs (Deutsches Studentenwerk) is the Servicestelle Interkulturelle Kompetenz (service office for intercultural competence); this is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bildungsministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF). Offers include special student counsellors, clubrooms, grants and service centres. Cooperation between academic counselling offices at the higher education institution and student support organisations should be promoted, for instance to enable problems encountered by foreign students to be resolved quickly, including with regard to their residence status. The Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) has for many years been financing various funding programmes of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD) providing general counselling and care services for foreign students at German higher education institutions. In addition, through various DAAD programmes, BMBF funding and funding from the Ministry of Culture and Science of the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen has been used in recent years to develop and disseminate diverse pilot projects on the substainable internationalisation of German institutions of higher education (e.g. PROFIS, NRWege Leuchttürme) and the integration of international students or refugee prospective students (e.g. PROFIN, NRWege ins Studium).
Special counselling offers also exist for refugees who want to study. In recent years, structures have been developed at the institutions of higher education, as in the case of ‘NRWege ins Studium’ with financial support from the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen, to provide customised counselling for refugees and students with a refugee background who want to study, in order to cover the specific needs of these target groups.
For example, the DAAD, with the support of the BMBF, provides information for refugees in a special portal. What’s more, the handout “access to institutions of higher education and courses of study for refugees” ('Hochschulzugang und Studium von Flüchtlingen') provides answers to key questions related to the integration of refugees into institutions of higher education. It helps employees in institutions of higher education and student support organisations and has been drawn up by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge – BAMF), the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Culture of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (Kultusministerkonferenz), the DAAD, the German National Association for Student Affairs and the German Rector's Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz – HRK) in conjunction with the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration and can be called up on the websites of the institutions involved.
Besides, student counselling for students with impairments has been improved. The Studying with Disability Information and Advice Centre (Informations- und Beratungsstelle Studium und Behinderung – IBS) at the German National Association for Student Affairs is the nationwide competence centre on the topic of “studying with a disability”. The aim of the IBS was, and still is, to realise an inclusive institution of higher education. Within the meaning of Art. 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it advocates that people with disabilities should have non-discriminatory access to higher education and be able to study with equal opportunities. It is funded by the BMBF. On site counselling is also guaranteed in the institutions of higher education through the commissioners for the disabled and other advisory services.
The Counselling and Advisory Services and Studying with Children Unit (Servicestelle Familienfreundliches Studium) at the German National Association for Student Affairs supports the development and sustainable continuation of supporting offers for students with family commitments. It is supported by the BMBF. In addition, there are 47 student services organisations that offer social counselling for students, in some cases in advice centres, that have specialised in the interests of students with children. A number of institutions of higher education have also set up advice centres for students with children.
Students who have personal problems or learning difficulties can also consult student counselling offices and psycho-social counselling services of the student support organisations (Studentenwerke).
Since the start of the Bologna Process increasing numbers of higher education institutions have set up so-called career centres or career services to support students in their professional orientation.
Career centres or career services inform and advise students in the transitional phase from study into their professional or academic career path. The specific offers can be varied and range from job application training to individual coaching. Mentoring programmes which bring together students and graduates who are already established in their career have proven particularly successful.
Career services can also help improve the practical relevance of the study programmes, by strengthening exchange between teaching and the working world. Specifically, this can take place through the processing of contemporary practical examples in lectures, and through in-company projects and final papers, employing skilled teaching staff from the professional sphere, or through practical training stages accompanied by teachers.
A third strand of the work of the career centres is to facilitate contact management between higher education institutions and employers, and to place trainees and graduates. Examples include traineeship and job boards, “career books” with portraits of graduates, and career fairs. Even in career planning for young scientists career centres can help ensure reliability and point to opportunities outside academia.