OECD 2: Germany receives poor report

Only 38% of German school leavers qualify for entry to higher education compared with an OECD average of 49%, the organisation’s latest study shows.

In a generally poor set of comparative results, the OECD report places Germany 22nd out of 28 comparable developed countries in terms of the proportion of the adult population with a degree. It notes that since 1995, higher education enrolments in Germany have increased by 5% compared with an OECD average of 41%.

Expenditure on education is also well below the OECD average, with Germany spending less than 10% on its public higher education institutions in 2004 compared with more than 13% for the organisation’s member countries as a whole.

The OECD report met with a mixed response among Germany’s politicians and higher education organisations.

The Teaching and Science Union, GEW, mocked the results and described Germany as the “world champion of social selection”, while opposition politicians referred to the findings as a “resounding slap in the face” for the government’s education policy. Minister of Education Annette Schavan, however, appeared undaunted by the report’s stark warnings.

Commenting on Germany’s low share of expenditure on higher education Professor Margret Wintermantel, president of the organisation of higher education heads, said the comparison with other industrialised countries showed Germany had to invest significantly more in education, especially in higher education.

“Higher education institutions can only fulfil their mission of providing qualifications if there are sufficient funds for the Bologna reform process and more staff are recruited,” Wintermantel said.

Social Democrat general-secretary Hubertus Heil called for more investment in higher education while also making access easier for young people from a poorer social background. The Greens demanded more study places and the abolition of early selection of school students.

The GEW union grouping stressed the strong role of family background in education, a factor emphasised by the OECD. But the union also pointed to worrying developments in certain fields of higher education, such as engineering.

Germany’s industry constantly calls for more engineers, yet graduation rates lag behind demand. Indeed, higher education graduation numbers appear to fall short of the replacement rate for school teachers, compared with the average for the OECD.

The government, however, saw no cause for alarm and referred to a ‘higher education pact’ last year between the states and federal government to provide funding for an extra 90,000 students. Under the pact, some €565 million (US$803 million) will be spent between 2007 and 2010 on creating more university places.

The GEW’s Schavan said that, together with additional support measures for students, this was a substantial contribution to Germany attaining its goal of a 40% participation rate in higher education.