In such application-oriented, empirical research on the higher education and science sectors, the DZHW focuses especially on analysing a) students' educational careers and their transitions from qualification phases into the labour market; b) scientific careers; c) governance and financing in higher education; and d) evaluation processes, and key dynamics, in the science sector.
In these work areas, the DZHW draws on the expertise and experience of the HIS Institute for Higher Education Research (HIS-Institut für Hochschulforschung – HIS-HF), which originated within the HIS Hochschul-Informations-System eG (at the time: HIS Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH). On 1 January 2016, the DZHW expanded its portfolio by integrating the Institute for Research Information and Quality Assurance (iFQ).
The DZHW has four specialised departments:
- Educational careers and graduate employment
- Research system and science dynamics
- Governance in higher education and science
- Research infrastructure and methods
It maintains close links with Leibniz Universität Hannover. In the framework of this cooperation, the DZHW collaborates with the Leibniz Center for Science and Society (LCSS). The DZHW also cooperates with Leibniz Universität Hannover in the framework of that university's "Science and Society" master's degree programme, and it cooperates with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU Berlin) in the framework of a joint professorship and a study programme. The DZHW also maintains links to the International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER) at the University of Kassel, to the Research Group on Higher Education (AG Hochschulforschung) at the University of Konstanz, and to the Bavarian State Institute for Higher Education Research and Planning (IHF) in Munich. Along with its headquarters in Hannover, the DZHW maintains branch offices at Leipzig University and in Berlin.