GERMANY: Rectors defend their Bologna stance

A meeting of German university heads in Leipzig attracted further angry student protests. Around 4,000 students joined a demonstration in the East German city to emphasise their frustration over the Bologna reforms.

Meanwhile, it appears that the recent student campaigns have at least scored a partial success, with the Education Ministry announcing it would go ahead with raising financial support for students.

Student anger over the implementation of the Bologna reforms is aimed at crammed lecture halls and students having to learn too much in too short a time. More generally, students complain that institutions are underfunded, resulting also in a shortage of teachers.

The Rectors' Conference, HRK, conceded that "mistakes have been made" in introducing the new bachelors and masters degrees which now account for around 80% of all subjects.

But higher education institutions are passing the buck to the state governments regarding problems with the Bologna process, claiming states are responsible for the underfunding of the new courses and their being too rigid.

A further issue university heads stress is that the state governments have failed to provide adequate legislation for students and institutions in the new framework.

HRK President Margret Wintermantel said the student protests were unjustified. "Industry is increasingly accepting the bachelor degrees, studying takes less time and students are generally more satisfied with studying," she said in Leipzig.

But some students were obviously not quite so satisfied with the present state of affairs and forced their way into the conference room, demanding more funding to improve learning conditions.

"What do you expect us to do," Wintermantel responded. "Rob a bank?" The HRK had long demanded more funding for higher education and Wintermantel sympathised with calls for more teaching staff. She also remarked that "problems do exist in some courses, where contents are too compressed and the exams strain is too great".

Speaking at Humboldt University in Berlin last weekend, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel also mentioned overcrowding and understaffing at institutions. And Federal Education Minister Annette Schavan has announced that federal support for students will be raised from October 2010.