The education system (including higher education) in Germany is maintained by the Bundesländer (states) with the federal government playing only a minor role. All children between the ages of three and six are offered optional nursery school education. Primary and secondary education is then compulsory from the age of six through eighteen, however this varies throughout Germany depending upon the policies of each state.
From grades 1 through 4 children attend elementary school (Grundschule), where the subjects taught are the same for all. Then after the 4th grade students are separated according to academic ability and their family’s preference, and attend one of three different kinds of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium. Regardless of the school attended students must complete at least nine years of education. Students then have the option of pursuing higher education providing they can prove they are suitably qualified through examinations. Many higher education institutions charge little or no tuition fees.
In the academic year 2008/9 1,996,062 students were enrolled in higher education.
The entire German education system, including higher education institutions, is available to children of expatriates; however classes are taught in German.