In the 1992-93 academic year, higher education was available at 314 institutions of higher learning, with about 1.9 million students enrolled. Institutions of higher learning included eighty-one universities and technical universities, seven comprehensive universities (Gesamthochschulen), eight teacher-training colleges, seventeen theological seminaries, 126 profession-specific technical colleges, thirty training facilities in public administration (Verwaltungsfachhochschulen), and forty-five academies for art, music, and literature. Nearly 80 percent, or 250, of these institutions were located in the old Laender, and sixty-four were in the new Laender. Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia had the largest share of these institutions, sixty-one and forty-nine, respectively. In 1990 about 69.7 percent of students at tertiary-level institutions went to universities and engineering schools, and another 21.7 percent attended vocational training colleges (Fachhochschulen).
German university students can complete their first degree in about five years, but on average university studies last seven years. Advanced degrees require further study. Because tuition at institutions of higher education amounts to no more than a nominal fee except at the handful of private universities, study at the university level means only meeting living expenses. An extensive federal and Land program provides interest-free loans to students coming from lower-income households. Half of the loan must be paid within five years of graduation. Students graduating in the top third of their class or within a shorter time than usual have portions of their loans forgiven. Loans are also available to students receiving technical and vocational training. In the early 1990s, about half of all students were obliged to work while attending university.
Unlike the United States, Germany does not have a group of elite universities; none enjoys a reputation for greater overall excellence than is enjoyed by the others. Instead, particular departments of some universities are commonly seen as very good in their field. For example, the University of Cologne has a noted economics faculty. Also in contrast to the United States, German universities do not offer much in the way of campus life, and collegiate athletics are nearly nonexistent. Universities generally consist of small clusters of buildings dispersed throughout the city in which they are located. Students do not live on university property, although some are housed in student dormitories operated by churches or other nonprofit organizations.