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The WBL Scene in Germany: A Snapshot

Although not always referenced as WBL, making use of the work environment as a vehicle for learning is relatively well-established idea in Germany. This tradition dates back from the 70’s, with the establishment of the first vocational schools; a model which was later transferred to higher education. Internships are also popular in Germany, especially with the further development of the universities of applied sciences, which included them as quasi-compulsory elements in their programs.  More recently, traineeship and entrepreneurial activities have gained momentum. Trainee programs were first introduced by large multinational corporations, but nowadays they can be found also in SMEs. German graduates embraced the concept mainly because they see it as a good opportunity to have a better insight of different fields of work specialization, and the possibility of ascend to managerial positions. As per entrepreneurship, the last decade has witnessed an increasing interest, with large cities such as Berlin and Munich becoming centers of excellence.

In respect to disciplinary areas, WBL activities in Germany are still concentrated on the applied sciences, especially in business and engineering. Part of this concentration is explained by the strong institutional differences established by the German higher education system between universities of applied sciences and research-based universities. The first are clearly embracing, via different formats, a collaborative relationship with external enterprises as well as a more practice-oriented formation. The second, on the other hand, is still closely connected with the Humboltian tradition of a holistic education.

As  for the assessment and impact of WBL practices, a few studies conducted by career service companies on the student’s perception over quality internships and traineeships, as well as statistics regarding the offering of dual study programs demonstrated an increasing satisfaction of German students and graduates with their internship/traineeship experiences as well as an increasing number of dual-study program offerings. According to a recent study by Hesser and Langfeldt (2016), the number of dual study programs offered by German HEIs increased 137% in 10 years , and the number of companies offering places at dual studies also increased from almost 20 thousand to 40 thousand in the same period. This expansion demonstrates the increasing interest in this type of programs from students, HEIs and companies.

Concerning internship and traineeships, the Praktikantenreport 2014 showed that more and more students perceive internships as an opportunity to facilitate entrance in the labor market, with 71% of the participants agreeing with the statement in 2015 in compared to only 46% in 2009. The report also showed that 84% of interns maintain a straight relationship with their employer after the experience, which is an indication of higher employability for those who make an internship.

Overall, WBL context in Germany is favorable and well developed, especially in contrast with other EU countries. This has to do not only with the long-standing tradition of vocational education, but also with the support of regional policies and the development of the universities of applied sciences, which have embraced a practice-oriented education, consequently fostering the development of WBL activities at multiple levels. It is very likely, therefore, that interesting transferable cases of good practice arise from the German examples, in line with the WEXHE purpose.


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