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HE funding, tuition fees pushed in federal elections

Despite falling behind Chancellor Angela Merkel in recent polls, Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats or SPD still believes he has a chance of winning the federal elections in September. Meanwhile, the small Free Democratic Party or FDP has made education its prime topic in a bid to gain a junior role in what is likely to become a coalition government.

In their election manifesto, Merkel’s Christian Democrats or CDU stress the importance of research and innovation for economic growth and prosperity and pledge to raise research and development spending from its present 3% of GDP level to 3.5% by 2025.

Areas of research the CDU would like to promote in particular include quantum technology, robotics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. Universities are to be supported in making progress in digital innovation and in achieving better teaching standards.

Excellent teaching and research standards are also high on the SPD election agenda, alongside better links between higher education, research, culture, industry and society in general and acceptable working conditions at institutions. The SPD wants to see more federal government involvement in university funding, which is generally up to Germany’s state governments, especially in core funding.

Further SPD issues include curbing the proliferation of study programmes, which the SPD believes is a major factor contributing to numbers of dropouts, improving study counselling and creating more housing for students in collaboration with the German Student Welfare Service, DSW. The SPD rejects fees and pledges to improve federal government grant support for students.

Die Linke, a socialist party, is critical of funding pressure causing universities to turn into ‘entrepreneurial’ institutions committed to the goal of making knowledge, education and research profitable.

Chronic underfunding, it maintains, has left hardly any leeway for independent research, with academics having to rely mostly on third-party support in their activities, while students are similarly subjected to enormous pressure to perform. Universities should focus less on business interests and more on issues affecting society as a whole.

Die Linke rejects tuition fees and wants to provide better access to higher education for refugee students. Core funding is to be provided for teaching according to the number of students and the costs of the respective programmes they are in.

The Free Democratic Party or FDP, the liberal party, also wants to see university funding tied to student intake. The FDP did not make it into parliament in the 2013 federal elections, but now appears to be picking up. It has opted for education as its prime election campaign topic, and the issue of higher education funding figures high in its manifesto.

“If institutions receive funding corresponding to what a course costs them for each individual student, they will take in as many students as their capacities allow, and if successful, will also extend these capacities,” the party argues, maintaining that universities “will only achieve sufficient numbers of applications to choose suitable students if the quality of their programmes is good”.

The FDP also stresses that the quality of studying should not depend on the financial resources provided by the state in which a university is located. It proposes a federal-wide fund that each state would pay into according to its tax revenue intake and number of inhabitants. Universities would then be paid for every enrolled student out of this fund. The FDP argues that this would create a level playing field and ensure fair competition between institutions.

As a further source of income for universities, the FDP proposes tuition fees that would be paid after graduating, based on income levels.

So far, the only federal state to have reintroduced tuition fees is Baden-Württemberg, under a Green Party-led government. As of the coming winter semester, non-European Union international students will generally be required to pay fees. Yet in their election manifesto, the Greens explicitly reject tuition fees.

Further proposals made by the party include greater co-operation between federal and state governments so that the quality of studying and research is ensured at all institutions, and not just among a select few.

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland or AfD claims that the Bologna Process aimed at harmonising degree courses in the European Union has failed, and calls for a replacement of the masters and bachelor degrees with the old German Diplom and Magister degrees.

The AfD also wants universities to be able to choose applicants for study courses via entry exams. And it stresses that German should be retained as the language of teaching and science.

Michael Gardner Email: michael.gardner@uw-news.com
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