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Students from non-academic households

Academic background

Please note:

We are pleased to receive your feedback on the "Recommendations for Holding Classes with Heterogeneous Groups of Students". They are meant as a basis for discussion.

Constructive criticism is welcome and will be taken as an opportunity to revise the recommendations. We kindly ask you to send your comments to the following address:


We are pleased to state that the share of children from non-academic households as compared to children from academic households has increased in the past few years: while the percentage of students from non-academic families decreased continually between 1986 and 2006, this group of students has started to increase for the first time since 2007.

According to the results of the 19th social survey of the German National Association for Student Affairs of 2009, it is still only 15% of the students in Germany who come from non-academic households. The chances to study are five times higher for children with parents who are self-employed or civil servants (where at least one parent has graduated from university) than for those from non-academic households.

In many cases, taking up studies is not so much natural but rather a risk. Lacking financial and/or moral support by the parents, reservations against the benefit of an academic degree and problems with regard to the competitive pressure among students may affect the study progress severely. Non-traditional students often doubt whether they are in the right place at the university and whether they are welcome here and meet the requirements to study successfully.

The “IV Eurostudent” study published by HIS (Hochschul-Informations-System) in December 2011 also shows that children from non-academic households have a hard time climbing up the educational ladder in Germany. The delay in university access is particularly striking here. First-generation students are much older on average than their fellow students: 28 years as compared to 24 years for a “medium” and 23 years for a “high” educational background.

One big problem for students from non-academic households is funding their studies: due to the age and the limited financial resources of the parents, earned income is usually the most important source of funding for this group of students. As a consequence, many of them have to interrupt their studies in order to work to earn money.

Another result of the HIS study is that a smaller number of students with a lower educational background as compared to those with a high educational background study abroad for some time.

These factors indicate that we must be more sensitive for the situation of students from non-academic households at the university. First-generation students are as able as other students and they are part of a highly selected group. However, they often have to face bigger challenges as they do not feel as comfortable in the academic sphere. These challenges include:

  • demonstration of their skills, e.g. in discussions;
  • preparation for and passing examinations;
  • scheduling the studies for the next several weeks or months / the next semester;
  • initiation of internships or semesters abroad;
  • application for tutorials or student assistant jobs;
  • the intention to earn a doctorate degree.

The following measures help you to support and integrate these students

  • Try to make students conquer their fears of speaking in public, encourage them to join discussions and appreciate every contribution – irrespective of the quality;
  • Create an atmosphere in your class in which there are no “silly” questions;
  • Foster work in groups because it is easier to overcome one’s inhibitions here;
  • Give definitions of academic terms and foreign words without being asked;
  • Give clear and transparent instructions for the preparation and execution of examination, if necessary in writing;
  • Involve these students in structuring the class;
  • Show the students that there is no need to be awe-struck by the academic world;
  • Encourage students to plan stays abroad and complementary studies;
  • Offer advice for scheduling the course (e.g. for the next two semesters);
  • Confirm students that the university is exactly the right place for them, that they have opted for the right course and that they are able to perform as required;
  • Inform students about services offered by FU Berlin and other institutions to support students (see “Advice Centers”).

We would like to thank Katja Urban, Managing Director of, for advice and information provided during the preparation of these recommendations.