Internationalization of Career Services at German Universities: Part I of III

A Guest Post by Jerome Rickmann

Director, International Talent Acquisition & Project Development

EBC Hochschule (a private multi-campus business school in Berlin)


I’m very pleased to have Jerome begin a three-part post on internationization of career services at German universities. We met at the European Association of International Education conference in September, 2015, in Glasgow. He and I shared many common concerns about the marginalization of the critical function of career services on campuses, and the need to re-define the work of these offices in light of pressures from students and their families about the ROI of a university degree.

Of course, Germany is now committed to accepting and re-settling many thousands of refugees and the impact of those of age to attend university is yet to be fully understood.  No doubt career service professionals will play a critical role in their transition from classroom to the workforce.

I hope readers will share comments about their campus commitments and responses to current socio-economic conditions in their country.

-Marty Tillman


Internationalization of career services has become one of the new buzz phrases in German higher education. But what does that actually mean? How do German universities define internationalization? What are the challenges and how do institutions try to overcome those?

There is little research that specifically tackles this topic but some data is available. In 2014, a German rector’s conference conducted a survey amongst German career services and international offices, asking about their internationalization practices. The main findings serve as a good indication for the current state of affairs:

When speaking of internationalization in German universities, we mean activities designed to help international students find work in Germany or to support German students finding work somewhere else in the world. The survey found that more than 78 % of the answering institutions already provide some sort of activity aiming to internationalize their services (e.g. training, projects, classes). Most institutions target mainly their students with an international background (about 61 %). The main challenge is that international students are not accustomed to the specifics of the German labor market, may face prejudices in hiring practices, and likely must struggle with language barriers – so most career service’s offers somehow aim to minimize the effects of these “disadvantages.” Unfortunately, there is not enough data to really be able to assess either the extent of these measures or their impact.

Whilst we can assume providing these services is a useful undertaking, we simply don’t know if these efforts have proven to be an effective match for the known demand from students. Knowing the state of career services in general in Germany, my assumption is that the actual impact is modest (services are chronically understaffed – we have an average ratio of 6000:1 in terms of students per career service employee).  I think my assumption is probably not too far off considering the answers to this survey question: “Which measures do you find necessary for a sustainable implementation of internationalized career services?”

The first four answers:

  • More money
  • More staff
  • Clearer assignment and distribution of tasks
  • More appreciation for the work

The current discussion about the integration of refugees in the German labor market suggests that the state will offer more and more funds for universities to provide assistance with their integration. Since needs of refugees will often be the same as the needs of other “migrants,” that might push the topic higher on the campus agenda. The fear though is that these will be targeted project related funds for a brief period of time, and as such, not really helpful for a sustainable long-term solution, since higher education institutions do not often consider career services of real strategic value.

In part II, I will write about the outgoing perspective (how German institutions support students wishing to gain work experiences abroad). In part III, I will write about innovative projects trying to push forward the internationalization agenda in German higher education.

One Comment on “Internationalization of Career Services at German Universities: Part I of III

  1. Jessica Ayub, Director of CareerServices at a Minnesota State College, USA & Formerly Faculty with International Students

    As Marty indicates, Germany is poised to spend years in resettlement efforts which no doub will involve higher education career services. With a return to free public tuition (although paying administrative fees) for international students, there may be greater demands, as well. It seems Jerome is wise to wonder about funding for immigrants and how that will impact career services personnel and deliverables. Hoping attention to these issues will enable positive solutions and long-term outcomes in the best interest of said parties.

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