The Federal Republic of Germany lies at the heart of Europe and is surrounded by nine neighbouring states. The territory covers around 357,000 km2 and stretches from the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Alps in the south. Germany has 83.2 million inhabitants, making it the most populous state in the European Union (EU). More than 22 million inhabitants have a migrant background, 11.8 million of these are foreign nationals and over 10 million have German citizenship. The national and official language is German. Special provisions exist in Sachsen and Brandenburg for the use of the Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian language, respectively, and in Schleswig-Holstein for the use of the Low German, Frisian and Danish languages.
The Federal Republic of Germany has been a democratic and social federation since 1949. The Länder formed in 1946 in the west built on the federalism of the German Empire (1871-1918) and the Weimar Republic (1919-33) in constitutional terms. The Grundgesetz of 1949 (Basic Law) stipulates that the traditional federal order be continued in the areas of education, science and culture. Thus, the primary responsibility for legislation and administration in the above-mentioned areas, so-called cultural sovereignty (Kulturhoheit), rests with the Länder. The federalist principle is an acknowledgement of the regional structure which has evolved through Germany's history and is an element in the division of power and also, in a democratic state, a guarantee of diversity, competition and community-based politics. In addition to the federal principle, the education system in the Federal Republic of Germany is characterised by ideological and social pluralism.
A decisive factor in the development of the German education system in a similar direction as from 1945 on was the cooperation of the Länder in the Kultusministerkonferenz, or Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, which was founded in 1948. The Unification Treaty of 1990 (Einigungsvertrag) between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic required the five Länder in eastern Germany to lay the legislative foundations for the reorganisation of education by 30 June 1991. Under the Establishment of Länder Act (Ländereinführungsgesetz) of July 1990, the five Länder in eastern Germany set up their own Ministries of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science which joined the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in December 1990 with a view to introducing a common and comparable basic structure in the education system by way of the self-coordination of the Länder in the Federal Republic.