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Step 4: What is my certificate worth?

You have found a university course or a training occupation that interests you? Then you should apply. To do this, you have to be able to produce certificates that demonstrate your suitability. Petra Kourukmas, an advisor at the Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB) of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the States of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn, answers questions about the recognition of foreign qualifications.

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German version

abi» Ms Kourukmas, whom do I contact if I want to have my certificate recognised?

Petra Kourukmas: In Germany, various bodies are responsible for the recognition of vocational or academic qualifications. The universities make their own decisions about admissions. If you do not know which body you should contact, you can write an e-mail to us – also in English or Arabic – and send a scan of the certificate with it. The e-mail address is zab@kmk.org.

abi» How do you decide what my qualification is worth?

Petra Kourukmas: We do not make the decision, we advise the competent bodies, and we are guided by the educational system of the country in which the certificates are issued. For example, if you have acquired a scientific secondary school qualification in Syria, you can study all subjects there. Medicine and other very popular subjects require a particular average grade. That is also the case here. If, on the other hand, you have a literary secondary school qualification, you can – just like in Syria – study social sciences, the humanities or law.

abi» Can I enrol directly at a university as soon as I know the result?

Petra Kourukmas: First, you have to decide which university you would like to attend. The university website will tell you whether you have to apply directly to the university or via Uni Assist, the central application service for international students in Germany, and whether you need to have your certificates translated.

abi» But the university entrance qualification is no use to me if I can’t speak German ...

Petra Kourukmas: That is why you have to learn the language, ideally starting when you are still in the refugee shelter. The employment agencies or the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) provide language courses. Many universities offer intensive German courses. You also need a knowledge of German to be admitted to a preparatory college.

abi» What is a preparatory college?

Petra Kourukmas: A preparatory college prepares foreign applicants for a university course if their schooling in their country of origin is not sufficient. They teach subjects such as mathematics or biology – depending on the study objective. You will also learn German. The advantage is that the German lessons are related directly to the university course. After the preparatory college, you will do an assessment test that will entitle you to admission to the university course.

abi» If I find out that my certificate does not qualify me for a German university, what do I do then?

Petra Kourukmas: You can make up for your lack of a higher education entrance qualification through second chance learning, at evening classes or adult education colleges, for example. This is also possible at some vocational colleges. Or you can consider what training programme you would like to do. Seek advice, as Germans do when they do not know precisely which occupation they would like to pursue.

abi» What about language skills?

Petra Kourukmas: It varies. In the IT sector, for example, you can get a long way with English, but you cannot manage in a vocational school without German. Many vocational schools offer supplementary language courses for non-Germans.

abi» What happens if I wasn’t able to bring my certificate with me or if I lost it on the journey?

Petra Kourukmas: The university has to check your qualifications in another way. This is done in three stages. Firstly, you must have a residence permit; secondly, your previous education must be credible; and thirdly, you may also have to demonstrate what you already know or what you can already do. For example, if someone says that they have studied civil engineering, they must be able to draw a construction plan. However, the universities make the decision about this.


In the Anabin database, you can research how qualifications acquired abroad are assessed in Germany. The search is conducted via “School qualifications providing access to higher education”. In the list, you can select your country of origin. The publisher is the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs.


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Ein Foto von Petra Kourukmas Ein Foto von Petra Kourukmas

Petra Kourukmas

Petra Kourukmas, an advisor at the Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB) of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the States of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn