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The ANKOM Initiative


The joint recommendation of the BMBF, the KMK and the HRK to German universities in 2003 stressed the importance of ‘the award of credit points in further training and transfer of credits towards a higher education degree’. This was also a key issue in the context of the 1999 Bologna Declaration (ReferNet. BIBB, 2008). In the process of strengthening links between vocational and higher education, the Resolution of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) on ‘Higher education entrance for vocationally qualified applicants without a school-leaving certificate conferring university entrance entitlement’ was a cornerstone. (KMK, 2009). This Resolution opened up the access to higher education for those holding a vocational qualification without having a university entrance entitlement (Abitur or Fachabitur).

For Germany the challenges related to these issues were:

  • the low level of academization, which was below OECD average (OECD, 2010);
  • career barriers for qualified vocational education graduates, despite their high level of qualifications;
  • low permeability between vocational and higher education impeding innovation;
  • very little motivation for lifelong learning and further training – as a result of the lack of permeability.

Lifelong learning is particularly important in terms of the new competence requirements on the one hand, and the demographic development of German society requiring a highly qualified workforce on the other (cf. Stamm-Riemer et al., 2011).

In order to address these challenges, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) launched the ANKOM Initiative (an acronym for ‘ANrechnung beruflicher KOMpetenzen auf Hochschulstudiengänge’), which can be translated as ‘Credit transfer of occupational competences to higher education courses’[1] in 2005. The main goals of this initiative were:

  • to evaluate qualifications and competences acquired in vocational training, professional practice and continuing education and training
  • to identify these competences as equivalent academic credits transferrable to relevant higher education courses; and
  • to develop corresponding transfer models and concrete practical procedures to raise the permeability between the vocational and higher education sectors.

Between 2005 and 2008, the Federal Ministry of Education and Science (BMBF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) funded eleven regional projects and a process-monitoring programme. The project management agency was the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The eleven regional projects were developed in four different fields – information technology, health and social care, industrial/technical and commercial sectors – and focused on two specific approaches: accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) and accreditation of prior certificated learning (APCL). They were carried out in nine universities (Lüneburg, Oldenburg, Berlin, Hanover, Brunswick, Bielefeld, Duisburg-Essen, Illmenau and Darmstadt) and in a Chamber of Commerce and an Industry training centre (Stralsund) in cooperation with partners in further vocational training. Additionally, a committee was set up to provide specialist support to the ANKOM initiative with representatives from the relevant BMBF actors, trade unions (DGB and IGM), the University Rectors’ Conference (HRK), the German Industry Board for Vocational Training (KWB) and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). The Higher Education Information System (HIS[2]) provided scientific support for the project in conjunction with the Institute for Innovation and Technology (IIT) of VDI/VDE-IT[3] (BMBF, 2008; ReferNet BIBB, 2011; Cedefop, 2006).

Based on the results of the initial phase (2005-2008), the researchers supporting the ANKOM II Initiative developed the ‘Quality assurance guidelines for procedures to transfer credits to university courses for skills acquired professionally or outside school’[4]. These guidelines describe the following credit transfer procedures: learning outcomes, examination of equivalencies, credit transfer procedures and evaluation (BMBF, 2011).

During the ANKOM III Initiative[5], funded between 2011 and 2014 and accompanying research conducted in 2015, twenty projects were funded and carried out. These projects concerned various subjects from fields such as health management, business administration, chemistry, biology, optometry, financial management, agriculture, librarianship and nursing studies. The German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW; formerly known as HIS) carries out the accompanying research and the promotion of the scientific discourse in cooperation with the Institute for Innovation and Technology (IIT) of VDI/VDE-IT[6] (BMBF, 2013).

Over the last decade, reforms and enhancement of permeability between vocational training and higher education have been redoubled. They focus on the following three directions:

  • expanding opportunities and simplifying processes for vocational qualification holders to access higher education;
  • transferring credits for vocational competences to university degree courses; and
  • establishing institutional frameworks to smooth the transition into the higher education sector for vocational qualification holders (Meerten, 2012).

Within the framework of the ANKOM III Initiative, the focus is currently on the implementation of validation approaches tested in previous stages, to develop sustainable solutions that will last beyond the duration of the respective funded projects (European Commission; Cedefop, 2014).

Procedures and processes

The ANKOM III Initiative focussed on optimizing transitions and creating supportive conditions. To these ends, the following procedures and activities were implemented:

  1. information and advisory provision for target groups (such as course requirements, credit transfer process and organization of studies) in cooperation with stakeholders from the vocational training sector as required;
  2. online preparatory modules to interpret competences already acquired, taking requirements for higher education courses into consideration (collaboration with vocational training providers in each region);
  3. mentoring and coaching;
  4. flexible online courses enabling students to combine work and personal life with their studies; and
  5. degree courses in parallel with work or job-integrated programmes (Wiesner, 2015).

For example, the University of Oldenburg developed preparatory courses leading to a bachelor degree in business administration, with a view to identify gaps in competences, knowledge and skills using self-assessment instruments.

Outcomes and ways forward

Although an important contribution to the permeability between vocational and higher education has been made, and although the latest figures of transition rates from vocational training to higher education for vocationally qualified students without an Abitur did increase between 2010 and 2014 (Centre of Higher Education), the credit transfer system alone cannot be expected to lead to a sizeable increase in transition rates and permeability. According to the findings of a scientific backup evaluation, additional enabling conditions for holders of vocational competences must be created. In order to motivate more vocational qualification holders to embark on a degree and complete their studies successfully, it is of utmost importance to take account of their working and living conditions and their specific needs (Stamm-Riemer, Loroff & Hartmann, 2011). Also, an improvement in transition rates depends on a bundle of measures. Some Länder in Germany, for example, Hesse and North-Rhine-Westphalia, have worked to improve access conditions in higher education for students without an Abitur/Fachabitur. These measures included introducing courses adapted to students with a vocational background and increasing awareness about the ANKOM initiative in the media (Centre for Higher Education).


Germany. Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung. 2013. Report on Vocational Education and Training. Bonn, Berlin.

Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung (Germany). Studieren ‘Ohne Abitur’. http://www.studieren-ohne-abitur.de/web/information/daten-monitoring/quantitative-entwicklung-in-deutschland-insgesamt/ (Accessed 13 May 2016).

CEDEFOP. 2014. European Inventory on Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning: Country report Germany.  http://libserver.cedefop.europa.eu/vetelib/2014/87053_DE.pdf (Accessed 20 January 2016).

Germany. Kultusministerkonferenz. 2009. Hochschulzugang für beruflich qualifizierte Bewerber ohne schulische Hochschulzugangsberechtigung, (Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz vom 06.03.2009). http://www.kmk.org/fileadmin/Dataeien/veroeffentlichungen_beschluesse/2009/2009_03_06-Hochschulzugang-erful-qualifizierte-Bewerber.pdf

Hippach-Schneider, U., Krause, M. and Woll, C. 2007. Vocational Education and Training in Germany. Short description. Luxembourg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Hippach-Schneider, U., et al. 2008. Germany VET Policy Report 2008, Progress in the Policy Priority Areas for Vocational Education and Training. ReferNet-Country Report. Bonn, BIBB.

Meerten, E. 2012. Boosting permeability between vocational training and higher education: transition measures and study models for people with vocational qualifications under the new BMBF-funded Initiative ANKOM. Berufsbildung in Wissenschaft und Praxis: BWP. . 41, 4, pp. 58-59.  http://www.bibb.de/en/23183.php (Accessed 20 January 2016).

Mucke, K., Grunwald, S. 2005. Hochschulkompatible Leistungspunkte in der beruflichen Bildung: Grundsteinlegung in der IT-Weiterbildung. Bielefeld, Bertelsmann.

OECD. 2010. Education at a Glance. Paris.

ReferNet and Cedefop, 2006.Thematic Analysis: Accumulating, Transferring and Validating Learning. Report on Germany.  http://www.refernet.de/media/a13_refernet_thematic-analysis_08.pdf (Accessed 20 January 2016).

ReferNet and BIBB. 2008. ReferNet Country Report Germany 2008. Progress in the Policy Priority Areas for Vocational Education and Training. Bonn.

——. 2011. ReferNet Vet in Europe. Country Report Germany. Bonn.

Stamm-Riemer, I. 2007. Accreditation of prior certificated learning: learning pathways from vocational education and training to higher education. 6th International Colloquium of the ‘UNIversity in the SOciety? UNISO 2007’ on ‘Lifelong Learning and Qualifications in Higher Education’ , 9-12 July 2007, Versailles.  http://www.dzhw.eu/pdf/pub_art/22/2008_contributionUNISO_Stamm_HIS.pdf(Accessed 20 January 2016).

Stamm-Riemer, I. Loroff, C. & Hartmann, E. A. 2011. Anrechnungsmodelle. Generalisierte Ergebnisse der ANKOM-Initiative. Hannover, HIS Hochschul – Informations – System GmbH.  http://www.his.de/pdf/pub_fh/fh-201101.pdf (Accessed 20 January 2016).

Wiesner, K-M. 2015. ANKOM – Förderung von Maßnahmen für den Übergang von der beruflichen in die hochschulische Bildung. In: Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung: Datenreport zum Berufsbildungsbericht 2015 – Informationen und Analysen zur Entwicklung der beruflichen Bildung. Bonn. pp. 465-466.


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