Right from the start the Catholic Church has attached great importance to science and institutions of higher education. In addition to the theological faculties and Catholic universities, the spiritual communities, student associations and university pastoral care are present in the field of science as catholic organizations.
There are 11 state universities with catholic theological faculties. Moreover there are 37 Catholic theological institutes and other institutions at state universities which are concerned with the training of religious teachers and do not have the status or size of full theological faculties. At present there are five church colleges enjoying the status of Catholic theological faculties. All of them can award doctorates.
The religious orders have six colleges for the training of new members. All of them are recognized by the Church and the state. They therefore offer occupational possibilities outside the order and have in recent years also been admitting non-members.
The Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (KU) which was established in 1972 is the only one of its kind in the German-speaking world. Its unique feature is that it combines science and religion. Otherwise it is on a par with state universities as far as teaching and research are concerned. Students are admitted irrespective of their denomination and the conditions are the same as for state universities. Currently, the Catholic University of Eichstätt has about 120 professors, more than 200 other academic staff and 4,500 students. The university has eight faculties most of them covering the social sciences and the humanities.
In addition to the polytechnic courses offered at the Catholic University of Eichstätt there are six state-approved Katholische Fachhochschulen (universities of applied sciences). They offer courses in social affairs, religious instruction and ecclesiastical education, therapeutic pedagogy/nursing and management of educational institutions. The Catholic universities of applied sciences provide practical training on a scientific basis which is at least equal in status with that of state universities of applied sciences.
There are 125 Catholic student and university communities in Germany’s various institutions of higher education. It is their responsibility to provide pastoral support to Catholics at universities (academic staff, students, researchers or other staff). By providing such spiritual assistance the Church aims to promote a fruitful dialogue between the university culture and the teaching of the Gospel.
The activities of the individual university communities are supported by the Forum Hochschule und Kirche e. V.
There are various Catholic associations which promote the sciences and joint research projects. The most important of these is the Görres-Gesellschaft which was founded in 1876 to promote Catholic academic life and to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange. Its 3,011 members (as at 2008) are Catholic university teachers and academics, who in addition to their normal research and teaching activities at the university also engage in the society’s joint research projects.
The Kommission für Zeitgeschichte has been researching the recent past of German Catholicism. Its work and publications focus mainly on the relationship between state and Church and the involvement of German Catholics in party-politics and society in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Institut für Ostdeutsche Kirchen- und Kulturgeschichte, the Gesellschaft zur Herausgabe des Corpus Catholicorum, the Katholische Sozialwissenschaftliche Zentralstelle and the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institut für Ökumenik hold internal and sometimes public meetings and are involved in general academic research through their publications.
The agencies providing assistance for German and foreign students are likewise promoting educational work in the academic field.
The Bischöfliche Studienförderung Cusanuswerk, which provides scholarships for about 910 gifted Catholic students every year taking their first degrees, as well as some 200 preparing for doctorates, conducts a programme of specialized seminars and interdisciplinary studies. Its spiritual offers have been particularly well received and in some cases they are also open to former scholarship holders.
The Katholische Akademische Ausländerdienst (KAAD) offers its more than 550 scholarship holders from developing countries and Eastern Europe a programme of seminars on development cooperation. The KAAD also organizes meditations and religious events.
The Catholic corporations KV, CV, UV, TCV, RKDB and academic unions (e.g. Katholischer Akademikerverband, Bund katholischer deutscher Akademikerinnen, Christopherus-Vereinigung, Bonifatius-Einigung, Hochschulkreis der Ackermann-Gemeinde etc.) have total memberships of 57,000 students and academics.
All of them offer educational programmes ranging from theological to professional seminars as well as general social and university activities. Usually the associations call upon the services of education experts who work in an honorary capacity.
The programmes and initiatives of the associations are coordinated by central organizations. The "Arbeitsgemeinschaft der katholischen Studentenverbände (AGV)" represents seven Catholic student associations with almost 10,000 members. The academic staff associations, professional groups and the Katholische Akademikerverband with its local groups are represented in the „Katholische Akademikerarbeit Deutschlands (KAD) to realize their common tasks in the field of education.