Non-state higher education institutions in the innovation system context: Knowledge transfer contributions depending on type and regional environment (nsh-inno)

Over the past two decades, the formerly quite small group of non-state higher education institutions has become an increasingly important play in the German higher education and innovation system. Not only rising student numbers change the higher education landscape. In addition, higher education institutions in general are increasingly expected to make active contributions to societal development that go beyond pure teaching and research activities or the mere production and provision of scientific knowledge. These expectations implicate a stronger engagement in knowledge transfer and exchange relationships with various societal actors. Therefore, the project pursues a broad analysis of knowledge transfer of non-state higher education institutions in Germany and their role for the innovation system. To this end, Fraunhofer ISI is cooperating with the CHE Gemeinnütziges Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung GmbH.

The research project addresses the question of which knowledge transfer activities with societal actors non-state higher education institutes maintain, taking into account central structural characteristics such as profile, funding structures, size, range of education etc. The project will also investigate the potential of these organisations with regard to their contribution to regional innovation systems and industry-specific innovation networks of their sponsors. In detail, the following research questions will be addressed

  • What is the structure of the group of non-state higher education institutions in Germany if, in addition to all available structural indicators of public statistics, further information on sponsorship and business models are taken into account? Which types can be identified and characterized?
  • Which activities and which target groups are at the center of the transfer and exchange activities of non-state higher education institutions in Germany, especially in distinction to public higher education institutions? What role do personal transfer and low-threshold cooperation with the non-scientific environment play in particular?
  • What influence do regional conditions have on the transfer activities on non-state higher education institutions and their target group orientation?
  • In which regional environments are certain types of non-state higher education institutions in Germany mainly located? Which environmental factors promote their location and regional embedding, and for what reason, and which tend to hinder them?


  • Literature and secondary data analysis
  • Cluster analysis for quantitative grouping of non-state higher education institutions in Germany
  • SWOT analysis
  • Web scraping
  • Online survey
  • In-depth interviews
  • Network analysis
  • Case studies


In due course, we will refer to project results at this point.





Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)


Gemeinnütziges Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung GmbH (CHE)