“The glass is one quarter full”
It is a fact that there will be 30 per cent more secondary school leavers over the coming years. At the CHE symposium entitled “record student numbers … university collapse?”, which took place on 12 and 13 February 2007 in Berlin, Germany, politicians and higher education experts discussed ways of tackling the problem of how to make them university graduates. Bund, Länder and higher education institutions have to act now.
Politicians and higher education experts agree that the increasing number of school leavers qualified for higher education entrance who are expected in the next 15 years is a unique opportunity for Germany. At the CHE symposium “record student numbers … university collapse?” which took place on 12 and 13 February 2007 in Berlin, Germany, three approaches were discussed to tackle this challenge: (1) mobility throughout Germany – go east; (2) flexibility in the higher education system – go flexible; and (3) studying world-wide – go abroad. Prof. Dr. Helga Meyer, head of the CHE project “Demographic Change and the Higher Education System”, makes clear that “we must use this chance and with good ideas transform the large number of school leavers into a large number of students. This way we will get the highly qualified graduates Germany will need so urgently in the future.“
Saxony’s Minister President Milbradt pointed to the established higher education institutions in Germany’s New Länder, which will soon have free capacity because demographic change is already having an effect there today. ”Economic thinking means making use of the study places that have been well equipped over the last few years. But a situation of division of labour has to be avoided to develop between East and West: universities for teaching here and those for research there. In addition, “the ‘exporting Länder’ must accept financial responsibility,” Milbradt says. According to a CHE calculation, 3.3 billion euros could be saved by 2020 if Germany manages to use the study programme capacities in the German New Länder. The record student number will then cost only 3.9 billion euros instead of 7.2 billion euros.
Press conference (left to right): Detlef Müller-Böling, Georg Milbradt, E. Jürgen Zöllner and Margret Wintermantel. (photo: D. Ausserhofer)
Margret Wintermantel, president of the German Rectors’ Conference, reminded delegates that higher education institutions were promised additional money for the transfer to two-cycle study programmes, money which has not yet arrived. Higher education institutions are already under enormous reform pressure but at the same time only have limited budgets. The higher education institutions are prepared to share the responsibility for sensible solutions concerning the doubled number of secondary school leavers (resulting from the decision to merge years 12 and 13 in secondary schools), but they only have limited scope for action.
E. Jürgen Zöllner, Senator for Education, Science and Research for the Land Berlin and President of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany called for a second Higher Education Covenant, which takes into account a balanced spectrum of disciplines. The existing Higher Education Covenant is an important step, but it is obvious for all science ministers of the Länder that additional financial resources are also required after 2010. “We need a vibrant education system, which is financed according to demand. It must be flexible to be able to react to a changing demand for study programmes.”
More flexibility, not only to the outside but also internally, was also favoured by Prof. Dr. Peter Frankenberg, Minister in Baden-Württemberg. “Teaching must have a new image. Teaching commitments are no punishment,” he said.
Even study place capacities from abroad can be used. Aldrik in `t Hout from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science emphasised in his speech that Germany – just like the Netherlands – depends on the international experience of its well-educated academics. Thus, the financial support of students on semesters abroad has two advantages. The exporting countries have to set incentives for students. Michael Thielen, Permanent State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany (BMBF), announced a cabinet decision making it possible for students receiving Bafög bank loan funding to take it with them from the first semester, if they choose to study within the European Union or in Switzerland.
In his closing remarks, CHE head Müller-Böling says: ”The glass is one quarter full. The solutions found so far are a beginning. Within this symposium, more good ideas have been developed about how to respond quickly to the challenges facing the German higher education system. This is absolutely necessary because school leavers are knocking on university doors. We better let them in. Actions must now follow ideas as quickly as possible.