Illusion of equal opportunities among universities
Germany needs the promotion of elite universities to be internationally competitive – and Germany needs a redistribution of income between Bund, Länder and Gemeinden to be prepared for the future, Professor Detlef Müller-Böling explains, Director of the renowned Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) in Gütersloh. MZ editor Ute Albersmann interviewed the higher education expert.
Ten German higher education institutions have the chance as elite universities to receive high subsidies from Bund and the Länder. There is ,however, not one among them from the New Länder. Does this prove the shortcomings of the New Länder?
Müller-Böling: This is not a conflict of the Eastern and Western part of Germany. The entire North of Germany missed out on this: Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Lower Saxony. There is, however, one preferred region: the South. This is the result both of intelligent higher education politics and very good higher education funding in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, where seven of the winning ten higher education institutions are situated.
So the rich have won?
Müller-Böling: This has naturally something to do with money, but not exclusively. Bremen has managed in 15 years to work its way to the top. And Bremen is really far from being rich.
Were you surprised by the nominations?
Müller-Böling: Not at all. Top performers are well known. But it means the end of the public illusion that there is actually something like equal opportunities among higher education institutions. It’s comparable to what happens in sports: there is an elite which in turn would never exist without a broad base.
How much “elite” does Germany have?
Müller-Böling: Not even ten - at best five higher education institutions can compete at a global scale. These institutions we must support. This is not to deny, however, that education is fairly good at the other universities and some of them even have partially brilliant research results.
…they, however, do not get anything.
Müller-Böling: This is the intention.
At the same time it is planned to skip shared funding of the university construction by Bund and Länder in the course of the reform of the federal system. Will the poorer Länder continue to fall behind?
Müller-Böling: These fears are by no means totally unfounded. Nevertheless, we must not panic. It is not yet clear what the German Constitution (Grundgesetz) will look like in the end.
What is your advice for the financially weak Saxony-Anhalt? From 2009 there will be less young people taking up studies from this region due to the dramatic drop in the birth-rate after 1989. Will universities have to shrink? Or will Saxony-Anhalt be able to attract more students from other regions?
Müller-Böling: The problem is more complex. While the numbers of pupils with secondary school-leaving exams qualifying for entry into higher education (Abitur) are decreasing in the East, they rise in the West – temporarily – by 30 percent. The East will have to train for the West, in a big way. And this is expensive.
Too expensive for Saxony-Anhalt?
Müller-Böling: We need a national balancing, some sort of financial adjustment between the Länder and the Federal Government for students. And we need it fairly quickly, from 2009 or 2010 on. It will be necessary for students to virtually bring his money with him. However, they shall still be free to decide where to study. I do not favour central steering.
Does your student-related financial adjustment scheme have any chance to get realised
Müller-Böling: The consequences of the demographic development are not yet thought-out properly. Here we are only at the beginning. We are facing a big national challenge - we must tackle it.
(The interview was published in Mitteldeutsche Zeitung)