Germany and Degrees from Foreign Countries –
A Never Ending Story
This article is not planned to be derogative of German institutions. But Germany is the most hard-line country in the world when it comes to the acceptance or recognition of foreign degrees and, to explain why this is so, will require me to take a journey into a realm of totally restricted free speech and academic freedom. I am not inclined to speak bad about my country of origin or to speak bad about my people. However, I feel that certain legal imbalances must be mentioned nonetheless.
History of restrictions of Foreign Degrees
The first occurrence of a restriction in Germany for the use of foreign degrees occurred under the Weimar Constitution in 1939 when Imperial Chancellor Adolf Hitler promulgated a new law governing the use of foreign degrees in Germany. The law was aimed predominantly at Jewish scholars who often held titles and degrees from foreign Torah Colleges, but it also applied to many opposition persons who were not in line with the purification mania of National Socialist ideologists. It is noteworthy that in 1939 though formally in existence, the democratic constitution of the Weimar Republic had already been knocked out for six years by the so-called Enabling Act of 19331; this Act permitted the National Socialist Regime to act at will outside the provisions of the democratic constitution in order to implement rules and regulations according to their totalitarian will.
In regards to foreign education, the National Socialists expressed their totalitarian views in a law named the Academic Degree Act2 (Akademisches Grad Gesetz). This was promulgated in June 1939. In particular, Section 1 of the law provided that:
- German nationals who obtained an academic degree from a foreign university were required to seek permission from the Imperial Minister for Science, Education and Peoples Education to hold this degree.
- The permission (for holding the degree) could be given in general in regards to academic degrees from certain foreign universities.
It is further stated (Section 2) that:
- Among the requirements which are mentioned in Section 1, the Imperial Minister for Science, Education and Peoples Education can withdraw a previously given permission for holding a foreign academic degree and in the case of a general permission (Section 2:2) the Minister can order the withdrawal (of the permission) in individual cases.
In July 1939, a Decree was issue entitled: “Regulation Implementing the Law on the use of Academic Titles” (AkaGrGDV). This regulation referred to Section 8 of the Act andprescribed that:
- An application for authorization to hold a foreign degree (Section 2:1 and Section 3 of the Act) must be presented directly to the Minister for Science and Education. The application shall contain the following: matriculation certificate, study and audit evidence or a certified copy of the award certificate and a certified translation into German, all must be accompanied by: curriculum vitae.
- As to be considered a temporary stay (in Germany) in the sense of Section 3:2 of the Act, the subject’s stay may not exceeds the period of three months.
- Following the license (to hold a foreign degree), a certificate is issued to the applicant.
- The foregoing provisions shall not apply in cases where the approval has been given generally for holding a particular foreign university’s degrees according to Section 2:2 of the Act.
- The withdrawal of a domestically conferred university degree is to be decided by a committee consisting of the Rector of the University and the Deans. At universities, where a structuring into faculties (departments) is missing, the deans are replaced by two lecturers of the university appointed for a period of five years by the Imperial Minister for Science and Education.
- The decision of the Committee shall be effective upon delivery. Notification is in accordance with the rules of civil procedure regarding servicing one of its motions.
- The decision on a waiver of a withdrawal (Section 4:4) is possible after consulting the aforementioned Committeeaccording to Section 3:1 of this Regulation.
The validity of this regulation ended together with the Academic Degree Act in 2007. However, we shall see (below) that exactly those legal principles, which governed the Academic Degree Act and especially the ‘Regulation Implementing the Law on the use of Academic Titles’ have been incorporated in the General Permission Decree from April 2000 and the Educational State Laws that followed.
Holding a Degree – Then and Now?
Having noted the contents of the Law, we need to consider a definition for ‘holding a degree’ (einen Grad führen). To hold (führen) a degree publicly in Germany means the following:
- Putting the academic title on a letter head
- Putting the academic title on a businesscard
- Putting the academic title on bell
- Mentioning the title more than once when talking to another individual, even at different occasions
But, it is the opinion of this author that the Germans had and still have: (1) a rigid idea of what constitutes holding a degree; (2) no regard for free speech in the matter. Further, I will argue that the law (Section 4:3) opens the door wide for individual discrimination in that an individual can be forbidden to hold a foreign academic degree even if the use of his specific foreign alma mater was generally permitted in Germany. The ‘lucky ones’, whose foreign degrees were recognized, had them “nostrificated”, i.e. converted into matching German degree, a process only known to most of us through the recognition of our driver’s licenses when we change the country of residence.
The Legal Position Today
The 1939 Act and the accompanying Regulation was only revoked in 2007 (Bundesrecht aufgehoben durch Art. 9 Abs. 2 G v. 23.11.20073. To understand this long delay we need to refer to what happened to Germany after the 8th of May 1945. Germany lost the WW II and the winners had a problem as they had enabled United Nations basic structures before the end of the war. According to the legal basics prescribed it was not permitted to annex other country’s territory. (Although, German territory was annexed and given to Poland whose eastern territory in turn was annexed by Soviet Russia and incorporated mainly into Belo Russia). Thus, to facilitate and ongoing presence in Germany, the Allies of WWII did simply not “close down” the Weimar Republic (still German Realm or German Empire) but partitioned it into three parts and erected two puppet states, one in the West, Federal Republic of Germany, one in the Middle, German Democratic Republic GDR (nowadays historically erroneously called East Germany) and a third part that was separated, emptied of the prevalent German population by ethnic cleansing and given to Poland and then Soviet Russia.
The West German ‘puppet state’ FRG prevailed over the Communist counterpart, the German Democratic Republic’ due to its economic strength and in 1990 the GDR was incorporated in the FRG with the blessing of all former Allies of WW II. As the annexation still cannot be legally finalized according to current international law, as a shrewd legal solution the Federal Republic of Germany claimed to be identical with the German Realm, in regards to the territory “partially identical”4. So we have the schizophrenic fact that on one hand the FRG has dropped for herself all claims of the lands that have been given to Poland. On the other hand, due to the FRG’s claim to be the German Realm it must maintain to accept a population that can show, for example, a German family name or a German grandfather or grandmother from the annexed third part of Germany. This annexation issue is also the reason why to date a German constitution does not exist, but a surrogate constitution called “Basic Law”. In addition, it is the reason why there is no peace treaty between Germany and its former enemies but the so-called 2+4 Treaty that defines and approves certain changes in the FRG’s status and is presented usually as the equivalent of a Peace Treaty.
This legal gymnastics is illustrated best as something similar to the Operating System, Windows, with all its contemporary layers of modern user interfaces, under which we find the old-fashioned DOS system. If we compare the old laws of the German Realm with DOS, and if we compare the contemporary laws of the Federal Republic of Germany with modern Versions of Windows Operating Systems, we see what is expressed in Article 123 of the Basic Law of the FRG.
Contemporary Germany has some underlying laws of the German Realm and some regulations developed by the former Allied Occupiers (SHAEF) that are still in force. As the Allies of WW II, mainly the US, brought their ideas of laws into the Federal Republic of Germany, it goes without saying that education became an affair of the federal states in Germany as well. And so the above-mentioned Academic Degree Law from 1939 (Akademisches Grad Gesetz) survived its creator for five decades and was incorporated into State law and Statutes. With the advent of the European Union, however, those old legal structures have led to friction and an increasing number of legal actions have put the FRG leadership under pressure to effect change. For instance, EU Directive 89/48/EEC5, established in 1988, stipulates that there may not be any form of discrimination against degrees from membership states of the EU, so in April 20006 Germany’s Permanent Conference of State Education Ministers, decreed the following:
With regard to general permission to hold foreign degrees by unified legal statutes:
- A foreign university degree, which has been conferred according to the law of the country of origin after a study which has been completed after due examination, and is thus a recognized university degree, can be held in the way it has been conferred by adding the bestowing university’s name, (for the better understanding, e.g. John Doe, MBA (Doetown University). Furthermore, the conferred degree may be translated if necessary; the approved or evidently customary abbreviation can be held, and a translation word by word can be added in brackets. The conversion into a German degree does not take place, except in the case of those who are accorded under Federal Law the status of a Displaced Person, i.e. originate in that part of Germany that had been de facto annexed to other countries after 1945. The same applies to ecclesiastic and governmental degrees.
- A foreign honorary degree, which has been conferred according to the laws of the country of origin by a university or another institution, can be held in the way it has been conferred by adding the bestowing institution. Exempt from the general permission are foreign honorary conferring by foreign institution that did not have the right to confer the corresponding academic degree as outlined in Section 1 above.
- The regulations of Section 1 and Section 2 are to be applied accordingly for working titles at universities and university titles.
- Whereby agreements and treaties between the Federal Republic of Germany and other states regarding equivalency in the field of universities and agreements of the federal states (of the FRG) favor the owners of foreign degrees in difference to Sections 1-3, those regulations prevail according to state law implementation.
- Holding degrees in difference from Section 1 to 3 is not permitted. Degrees obtained by title purchase are not permitted to be held. An individual who holds a degree has to give certified evidence for his/her right to do so upon request of a government agency.
This directive given by the permanent conference of the State Education Ministers was ratified for implementation in all 16 Federal States of the FRG until 20057. The first state to implement the directive was the more liberal State of Lower Saxony in 2000 and the last to follow was the hard-line State of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2005.
The 16 state laws are now uniform and mirror basically more or less exactly the aforementioned directive. Also noteworthy is the fact that the General Permission decree and the 16 Educational State laws still employ the same principles that were deducted from the Academic Degree Act. The only difference being that whereas the Academic Degree Act required the issuance of individual degree holding permits, the General Permission and the State Laws now require a kind of self-control by the citizen. The affect of this is that a legal error on the part of a citizen may see them called before the court and suffer severe financial punishment and, possibly, a criminal record.
There are small differences within the respective State Laws that have the potential to affect individuals in ways that have not been fully recognized.
What do the 16 German State Laws Say Today?
The General Permission Decree from 2000 and all State laws require that a foreign degree must come from a university/college that is recognized as such in the country of origin. Furthermore, the conferred degree must be recognized by the country of origin. However, some state laws only require that the university/college itself be recognized. In Table 1, those states marked with “1” permit foreign degree if the university/college is governmentally recognized. Those marked “2” require that not only the university/college but also the degree itself must be recognized explicitly by the government. Honorary degree must always come from institutions that are governmentally permitted to issue the corresponding academic degree. Concerning this, only a few states permit the holding of an abbreviated degree (marked with “3”), whereas the hard-line states require the degree written in complete words (marked “4”). There is one state that discriminates openly against transfer of academic credits from private academies located in Germany towards academic degrees at foreign universities as practiced, for example, by the University of Wales7 in the United Kingdom. The state is indicated with “5”. Another state indicates that the foreign degree must be considered ‘an academic degree according to European regulations’; this remains obscure as no EU law is mentioned, neither is there any indication given that the regulation requires observance of the educational laws of the 27 EU Member states. This ‘exceptionally intelligent work’ of German jurisprudence is marked with “6”.
The Implications of Regulations Governing Foreign Degrees in Germany Today
Hopefully, in the above, I have made the case that the legal basics expressed in the Academic Degree law of 1939 have been fully incorporated into the General Permission Decree from 2000 and enactments by all 16 German Federal States by 2005. The important difference is that today’s citizen is required to make sure that he follows the law and written permits for holding foreign degrees or conversions are abolished.
Table 1: Indications of the Requirements of State Laws Relating to Foreign Degrees8 (Refer Text)
- Baden-Württemberg 1 4
- Bavaria 1 3
- Berlin 2 4
- Brandenburg 2 4 5
- Bremen 1 3
- Hamburg 1 4
- Hesse 2 3 6
- Mecklenburg-Pomerania 2 4
- Lower Saxony 2 3
- North Rhine Westphalia 1 3
- Rhineland Palatine 2 4
- Saarland 2 4
- Saxony 2 3
- Saxony-Anhalt 2 4
- Schleswig-Holstein 2 4
- Thuringia 1 4
Current State laws require that a foreign degree can be held in the recognized or evidently customary abbreviation, providing that the conferring university/college is mentioned. Regrettably, permission is not given to abbreviate the university name in either the General Permission Decree from 2000 nor in any of the State laws and this constitutes an inconvenience.
In the case that John Doe obtained an MBA from Phoenix University in the USA, on his letter head or business card the degree must notated:
John Doe, MBA (University of Phoenix)
A doctoral degree from a Latin country would be required to be stated thus:
Dr. (Universidad Autonoma di Nicaragua) John Doe
The Spanish countries abbreviate differently in the case of a woman and so In the case of Jane Doe it would be
Dra. (Universidad Autonoma di Nicaragua) Jane Doe
The same principle applies to all lecturers and professorial positions at foreign universities.
As a further complication, honorary doctorates and honorary professorships are to be written fully in 10 out of 16 states, in the following manner:
Doctor Honoris Causa (Universidad Autonoma di Nicaragua) John Doe
Honorary Professor (University of Liberia) John Doe
Similarly, if somebody has two degrees from different institutions, they are required to indicate this as follows:
Dr. (Universidad Autonoma di Nicaragua) John Doe, MBA (University of Phoenix)
or better still:
Honorary Professor (University of Liberia) Dr. (Universidad Autonoma di Nicaragua) John Doe
I would like to assure the reader that I am not exaggerating and leads us to the field of penalties for failing to observe established law.
The Case of “Dr Death”
“Dr. Death”, the “Plastinator” alias Dr. Gunther von Hagens exhibits dead bodies that have been prepared with his plastination process. The man and his work are certainly a question of taste, however, it is clear that he brought a lot of work and income (and tax payments) to the desolate city of Guben, at the German Polish demarcation line (where unemployment usually is about 20%), by establishing his permanent exhibition there.
Dr von Hagens holds a doctoral degree from a German university and a professorship awarded from China. On his letterheads and signatures he sometimes uses the abbreviation Prof. Dr. without indicating the Chinese origin of his professorship. He was convicted in 2005 and fined of €108 000. He was acquitted only after a lengthy legal battle in 20079but only ‘second class’, i.e. he had to pay his lawyer and court expenses which amounted to €30 000 to €40 000.
For similar offences, ‘mere mortals’ are fined between €2 000 and €20 000EUR plus legal expenses.
Exemptions for Some Degree Holders
The General Permission and some of the State Laws permit people with displaced person status under the Federal Displaced Persons Law (which aims exclusively at people who come from the old East German provinces which are nowadays de facto annexed into Poland, Russia, Belo Russia and Ukraine) can still have their foreign degrees conversed into German degrees and therefore write their doctoral degree in the abbreviated form (Dr) without university mention. Furthermore, all degrees which have been issued within the European Union and are governmentally recognized, can be held without mentioning the university.
Exemptions have also been made for American doctorates obtained at a university listed on the so called Carnegie List10. Graduates from these universities may use the abbreviation “Dr.” (plus mention of the university) instead of the alternative “PhD”, which is largely unknown to the public in Germany.
Finally yet importantly, doctoral graduates from Russia, Canada, Australia and Israel may be referred to as “Dr” plus the mention of the university. They fall under an amendment called “regulation for favoring regulations”11 according to section 4 of the General Permission Decree of 2000.
German Regulations and International Standards – Freedom of Speech
Compared with Germany there is only one Federal State of the USA that has such draconian laws and that is Oregon. OSAC authority regulations that decree as ‘foreign’ any degree obtained in other federal states of the USA. The OSAC position was challenged in a lawsuit between Oregon and Kennedy Western University that claimed that the Oregon law violated KWU graduates’ constitutional rights by unreasonably restricting their ability to use a lawfully obtained academic credential. Under the eventual settlement agreement, the State agreed not to enforce this statute as long as KWU degree holders disclosed their school’s non-accredited status when representing their academic achievement12. The state had to soften its stand on ‘foreign’ and so called ‘unaccredited degrees’ as there is still a right for free speech in the US. Thus, inhabitants of Oregon who hold a degree that is not approved by OSAC, can still declare it providing they mention the university from which it was obtained. Furthermore, foreign degrees need not be accredited as a university needs to be in most of the German Federal States In such cases, no university needs to be mentioned on a letterhead or a business card. So, in Germany a person may find himself in court for citing a degree from an unaccredited university, whereas it is sufficient in draconian Oregon to cite a degree providing the university is stated. In Germany, all foreign degrees from outside the EU (that are from accredited universities) may be used in Germany only if mentioning the university. However, degrees from unaccredited universities may not be held in public at all. It is not even possible to mention the degree more than once while talking to a specific person. Not only once, in that particular conversation but once in a discussion with that person for all time! It is also a crime to cite an unaccredited degree on a business card or letterhead in Germany. Even mentioning it on a website, will risk an appearance in a German court!
The German Constitution and Free Speech
This is a difficult question because, as stated above, Germany does not have a constitution. Since 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany has operated a surrogate constitution called Grundgesetz. i.e. “Basic Law”. This is still the case in 2010 despite that fact that Germany was supposedly given independence from Allied rule in 199113. Since that time, German politicians have failed to introduce a real constitution within a real German republic.
But even the surrogate constitution has a free speech provision, which in Germany is referred to as “Meinungsfreiheit” (freedom of expression) in Article 5, Section 114 of the Basic Law. Two statements under this Article are of special interest here:
(1) Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing, and pictures and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
(3) Art and scholarship, research, and teaching shall be free. The freedom of teaching shall not release any person from allegiance to the constitution.
If “censorship” is unacceptable, how is it that a German citizen is not permitted to mention a qualification they have obtained? Further, where is academic freedom in scholarship, research and teaching when a teacher is prevented from writing his academic degree on a blackboard?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 194815 declared in the preamble that:
“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, (we look for) the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want are proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people”.
Similarly, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights16 makes clear that:
“This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”.
These directives appear to be in opposition to German regulations governing the citing of qualifications not approved by the State. Thus far, the German government has operated contrary to such international and EU requirements with complete impunity.
The sixteen Educational State Laws and the General Permission Decree from .2000 of the Federal Republic of Germany have nearly the same provisions as the Academic Degree Act of 1939 from the German Realm. It is evident that the Academic Degree Act and its accompanying Regulation were fully incorporated and very actively employed in the Federal Republic of Germany from the beginning of its conception in 1949, and that it only reluctantly ushered in the General Permission Decree and the State Education Laws in the years 2000 to 2005. It is important to remember that:
- The provisions of the Academic Degree Act were introduced by a deformed Weimar Republic which for six years had been changed to a totalitarian by the Enabling Act of 1933. The provisions of the Act were made by a totalitarian system that was strongly biased against anything and everything “foreign”.
- The important implication in the current State Laws is that they neither ushered out, nor eased, nor abolished the discriminatory provisions within the Academic Degree Act. These survive today within the provisions of the General Permission Decree and all 16 State Laws. The only change was a shift from the need for individuals intending to use a foreign degree in the Federal Republic of Germany to get permission to so do from a government commission in favour of placing full legal responsibility on the individual to not use a degree openly that did not have official approval.
Reference to current international law shows that the Educational Laws prevalent in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) break the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that this practice has been blatantly pursued from the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany over six decades.
Further, the FRG has not adhered to its own proclamation of freedom of speech (Basic Law, Article 5, Sections 1 and 3) in prosecuting people who have mentioned more than once that they have a foreign degree and fining them €2 000 to €20,000 an recording a criminal conviction according to Criminal Code §132a (Unauthorized Use of Official Titles)17!
Germany is now operating within the supranational EU structure and is more or less a Federal State within the European Union EU. How is it possible that the FRG may surmount European Law Provisions like Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which clearly states that Freedom of Expression is protected with impunity? How is it that the FRG is still bringing its citizens before court for a speech crime, when they were simply wishing to inform their fellow citizens and business partners of their academic credentials?
It is a courageous citizen with enough financial stamina (and a high-quality lawyer) who is willing to invest 4-5 years of his/her life in a legal battle that would start at a District Court, then through two Appeals Courts before finally coming before the Constitutional Court of the FRG. Thereafter, the applicant would probably have to take the case to the European Court on Human Rights in Strassbourg to obtain justice. However, this is what may be necessary to change the Educational Laws in the FRG. They have retained the imprint of totalitarianism over seven decades.
- Baden-Württemberg § 37, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000, , law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized:
http://www.landesrecht-w.de/jportal/portal/t/265/ page/bsbawueprod.psml/action/portlets.jwMainAction?p1=1o&eventSubmit_doNavigate=searchInSubtreeTOC&showdoccase=1&doc.hl=0&doc.id=jlr-HSchulGBWV5P37&doc.part=S&toc.poskey=#focuspoint Bavaria, Article 68, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000 plus abbreviation of honorary degree possible, law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized
http://www.verwaltung.bayern.de/Volltextsuche-.117.htm?purl=http://by.juris.de/by/gesamt/HSchulG_BY_2006.htm#HSchulG_BY_2006_rahmen Berlin, § 34 a, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000, discriminates, however, against professional doctorates
http://web.fu-berlin.de/zwv/vorschr/berlhg.pdf Brandenburg, § 28, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000, discriminates, however, against professional doctorates and discriminates against degrees where studies have been made at private German academies whose course work have been recognizes as academic credit by a foreign university.
Bremen, § 64b, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000 plus abbreviation of honorary degree possible, law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized
Hamburg, § 69, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000, law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized
Hesse, § 22, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000 plus abbreviation of honorary degree possible, contains an obscure reference that degrees must be understood as degrees according to European legislation
Mecklenburg-Pomerania, § 42, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000
Lower Saxony, § 10, Bremen, § 64b, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000 plus abbreviation of honorary degree possible, law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized
North Rhine Westphalia, § 69, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000 plus abbreviation of honorary degree possible, law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized
Rhineland Palatinate, § 31, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000
Saarland, § 63, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000
Saxony, § 44, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000 plus abbreviation of honorary degree possible
Saxony-Anhalt, § 19, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000
Schleswig-Holstein, § 57, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000
Thuringia, § 53, Sect. 3, Version equivalent to directive 14.04.2000, law indicates that the university rather than the degree must be recognized
- https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gm.html Look under independence