GERMANY: A crisis in tertiary teaching

The Stifterverband, Germany's Donors' Association for Sciences and the Humanities, has called for marked improvements in university teaching and learning. Addressing his organisation's annual assembly in Essen, President Arend Oetker warned that higher education teaching was "slipping into a crisis". Oetker said the Stifterverband was focusing its efforts on teaching this year and, together with state ministers of cultural affairs, had launched a new initiative to boost standards.

"Every fifth student leaves the higher education system without a degree. The natural and engineering sciences even have dropout rates of 40%," Oetker told the meeting. "Given the acute shortage of skilled and specialist staff in Germany, improving study conditions has to be number one on the agenda."

The initiative started by the Stifterverband and the Conference of Ministers of Cultural Affairs (KMK) is based around a competition to find who has the best forward-looking strategies in teaching and studying.

The competition is supposed to support universities and 'Fachhochschulen' (practice-oriented, degree-awarding institutions) in giving a considerable boost to their international standing as places of learning. Concepts for the future of teaching are to be rewarded, centres addressing teaching methods in individual subjects will be promoted, and lecturers will be assisted in improving their knowledge of teaching methods.

Concepts may target individual departments at institutions, although measures must reflect their strategic importance for the development of the institution as a whole. Each institution may submit only one concept. To do justice to the different roles of universities and Fachhochschulen, each type of institution is assigned one selection commission.

The commissions comprise up to 12 experts, including two students per commission. Appointment of members is half by the Stifterverband and half by the KMK. The Stifterverband is supporting the measure with EUR5 million, with the same amount to be raised by the state governments.

"Our joint aim is to establish a culture of learning in the higher education system in the long run that will basically meet the same standards and is committed to similar development dynamics as those in research," Oetker said.