I am happy to see that some of the preceding comments have come up
with more reasons why a Fachhochschule can rightfully be called a university.
(Let me point out on this occasion that I have studied at a German Universitaet
and work at a British university at the top of the league tables. So I have
no personal reasons to defend Fachhochschulen; I just want to make sure that
the German academic system is put into the international context properly.)
Some more aspects, partly in response to some of the comments above.
1. It has been argued that an institution can only be called "university" if it covers a broad range of academic fields (from natural sciences to social sciences and arts and literature).
This is not a good criterion. First of all, the British universities in the lower half of the league tables do not cover many academic fields either and often only cover the applied "parts" of academic disciplies.
Moreover, from an international perspective, quite a few of the world's finest academic institutions are specialist instutions, and yet they are included (as universities) at the top of university rankings. In the US, Caltech and MIT (the latter one albeit less so) have a strong focus on the natural sciences and do not represent the full range of academic disciplines. Similarly, in the UK, the London School of Economics and Political Science (with a focus on the social sciences) and Imperial College (with a focus on the natural sciences) are clearly regarded as being among the world's best universities.
So, breadth is certainly not a reasonable requirement for being a university; there are many specialist institutions in the world, which are rightfully regarded as universities.
2. A good point has been made by Ex Studi in #98: university partnerships. No university can afford to have research and student exchange programmes with a trade school (or whatever some people prefer to think of Fachhochschulen).
Just to give some examples.
a) The Fachhochschule Hamburg has research and student exchange partnerships with
California State University, Long Beach
· Cooper Union School of Engineering, New York
· Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore
· University of Minnesota
· University of Rhode Island
· San Diego State University
· Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
· UBC Okanagan, Kanada
b) The Hochschule fuer Wirtschaft Berlin (a Fachhochschule) has research and student
exchange partnerships with the following US institutions:
* University of Baltimore
* Canisius College, Wehle School of Business, NY
* California State University/ Craig School of Business
* Hawaii Pacific University
* University of Montana
* University of Delaware
* University of New Orleans
* Mount Holyoke College, MA
* Drexel University, PA
* University of Pittsburgh, PA
3. Regarding the US case, to bring in dictionary definitions here is not a good idea. Dictionaries normally address a general audience. Comparing the academic systems in different countries, however, requires specialist knowledge that dictionaries cannot provide. For the US such a specialist knowledge is provided by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.http://en.wikipedia.org
This list distinguishes between six categories of higher education in the US. The "highest" category comprises "doctorate-granting universities", which roughly correspond to German Universitaeten. The "second highest" category is called "Master’s Colleges and Universities", which roughly corresponds to German Fachhochschulen (see link for details). [Which also shows that it is not a necessary that an institution offer PhD programmes for being rightfully called "university".]
All in all, there is enough evidence in this thread to make the point that it is entirely justified to call Fachhochschulen "universities" in the British context (and, similarly, in the Australian and Canadian context because these two countries have basically adopted the British system).
Regarding the US, Fachhochschulen might also be called universities as both the Carnegie classification and the research and exchange partnerships of Fachhochschulen suggest. However, as the term college can also be used to refer to universities in the US (see CM2DD, #103), in particular for those institutions who do not offer PhD programmes, "college" is a fine AE term for Fachhochschulen, too.