Thuringia is one of the smallest federal states in Germany, with the second smallest population, and most foreign visitors only know it for its famous bratwurst. This is a mistake, because the region has had an outsized impact of German history and culture as host of the intellectual pursuits of figures like Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang Goethe, one of the greatest battles of the Napoleonic Wars, and the education of Martin Luther.
Today, the region’s institutions of higher learning continue this tradition, with a diverse array of offerings across all academic disciplines in a variety of appealing settings. The “Free State” has four universities, four universities of applied sciences, and one art college located in six of its cities.
Friedrich Schiller University
The University of Jena is the only full University in the state of Thuringia. It was originally founded in 1558 by Duke Johann Friedrich of Saxony, the Duchy that ruled the area that makes up Thuringia at the time. In the subsequent 200 years, it rose in prominence, especially during the later rule of Duke Carl August in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this time, the patronage of the Duke and his Russian wife Princess Maria Pavlovna allowed the university to prosper and attract the talents of men like Goethe, Schiller, and Hegel.
Today, the university operates 10 academic departments and is famous for offering many uncommon subjects as major areas of study, such as Caucasian Linguistics. The university has all the traditional departments of a full university (humanities/languages, law, mathematics and medicine), and also offers theology, economics and business, social and behavioral studies, computer science, and natural and physical sciences. It is also by far the largest university in Thuringia, with over 20,000 students.
Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences
The city of Jena owes much of its current prominence to the study and production of optics, mostly thanks to the work of two men: Carl Zeiss and Ernst Abbe. In the 1800s, the science of lens production was still in its infancy, and the efforts of these two scientists greatly advanced the manufacturing processes for lenses in eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, and cameras.
In 2012 the University of Applied Sciences in Jena took on the name of Ernst Abbe to honor the great scientist, businessman, and social reformer. The institution, which was founded in 1991, focuses on offering students study programs in Eingineering, Business, and the Social Sciences. In total, the university of applied sciences offers 24 bachelor and 20 master programs and has an enrollment of around 5,000 students.
The University of Erfurt
The city of Erfurt was the first site of a university in the territory of modern Thuringia. In 1392, the university opened its doors to theology students under the aegis of Pope Urban VI. In the subsequent four centuries, the university would go on to host such church luminaries as Martin Luther, who received his studies in Erfurt, and would expand into a full university, offering humanities, medicine, law and theology to students from the region and beyond. The original university was closed in 1816 as a result of declining enrollment during the Napoleonic Wars, ending the longest tradition of higher education in Germany. Although several institutions of higher learning were created during the post war rule of the German Democratic Republic, the university wasn’t properly re-founded until 1994.
Today, the re-founded university offers courses in four academic departments with a focus on the humanities: Political Science, Humanities, Pedagogy, and Theology. The university also hosts the well-respected Willy Brant School of Public Policy and the Max Weber Graduate Academy for Sociology, and has a modest student body of around 6,000.
Erfurt University of Applied Sciences
Although it was only founded 25 years ago, the Erfurt University of Applied Sciences distinguishes itself by offering particular degrees that are less common at many other universities, filling an important niche for many students both in the region and abroad.
The university of applied sciences today offers programs in six academic departments: Social Services; Architecture and City Planning; Civil Engineering and Conservation; Facilities Engineering and Information Technology;, Landscape Architecture, Horticulture and Forestry; and Economics, Logistics and Transportation studies. It has an enrollment of approximately 5,000 students.
Weimar is not only the city of Goethe and Schiller; it is also the site of the founding of the Bauhaus architectural movement. In 1919, the university, which had previously been an art school, was incorporated by Walter Gropius into the Bauhaus School, whose name would later become associated with the approach to design created by Gropius.
The modern Bauhaus University would take on many forms after Gropius and the Bauhaus movement left Weimar in 1925, but in the 1990s it was reconstituted as an art and architecture university and christened with the Bauhaus name to signify its focus on experimentation, openness, creativity, international orientation, and closeness to industrial practices. The university awards degrees in nearly 40 programs in four departments: Architecture and Urban Development; Civil Engineering; Design; and Media. It’s current enrollment is around 4,000.
Franz Liszt Conservatory
The city of Weimar has hosted a number of internationally famous authors, artists, and musicians over the years. One of the most notable was Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, who helped to found the conservatory that bears his name today in Weimar. Today, students use the home where Liszt once lived for practice and courses.
Like most German conservatories, the Franz Liszt Conservatory is small and selective, with around 800 students studying in the center of Weimar.
Technical University of Illmenau
With a population of only around 26,000, Illmenau definitely qualifies as a college town, with TU Illmenau’s enrollment of 7,500 students making up nearly a third of the total population. The modern university has its roots in the Thuringian Technical School, a private academy that was founded in the late 1890s. Like most Thuringian universities, TU Illmenau had to be reorganized following the reunification of the country, which was when it received its designation as a Technical University, the only institution of its kind in Thuringia.
TU Illmenau today offers 19 bachelor and 24 master programs in five academic departments: Electrical Engineering and Information Technology; Computer Science and Automation; Mechanical Engineering; Mathematics and the Natural Sciences, and Economics and Media.
FH Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences
Located on the border of Bavaria and Thuringia in the traditional lands of Franconia, Schmalkalden is small city of 20,000 full of half-timbered houses. The local university of applied sciences has a fairly recent history, but thanks to recent state funding, it boasts some of the newer faculties in Thuringia.
FH Schmalkalden has an enrollment of around 3,000 studying in five academic departments: Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Economics, and Commercial Law.
Nordhausen University of Applied Sciences
Although it is one of the smallest and most recently founded institutions of higher learning in the region, the Nordhausen University of Applied Sciences offers several programs that many traditional university don’t. Bachelor students can study programs like Environmental and Recycling Engineering; Industrial Engineering for Sustainable Technologies; and Internet, Technology and Applications. Graduate studies can be completed in Energy and Ecologically Efficient City Redevelopment; Innovation and Change Management; and Public Management and Governance.