GERMANY: Student protests continue

Students are continuing their education strike campaign against implementation of the Bologna reforms, introduction of tuition fees and insufficient financial support. Lecture halls have been occupied at 80 universities throughout the country. In some cases the student demands have been backed by university heads while in Bonn the City Council has demonstrated its sympathy with the campaigns.

Student protest is above all levelled at the implementation of the Bologna process.

Critics claim the new bachelor and master's programmes, now introduced in the majority of subjects, have resulted in courses being too rigid, excessive examination pressure, severe overcrowding of lecture halls and seminar rooms, and mobility across faculties being restricted rather than facilitated. They say old curricula have not undergone a thorough reform but have been randomly streamlined and squeezed into a six and eight-semester timeframe without giving the contents due consideration. Students also want to have more say in the reform process.

On the topic of federal student grants, Education Minister Annette Schavan announced that increases would be introduced but tuition fees are quite another matter. With state governments responsible in this area, left-wing governments have tended to reject them although new centre-right administrations have also voiced doubts about them.

But now, with a financial squeeze looming because of the ruling federal Conservative-Liberal Coalition intending to introduce tax cuts, sentiments could change. The Conference of Cultural Affairs Ministers, representing education policy at state level, is to meet in Bonn to discuss the issues.

Around 80 students stormed a meeting of Bonn's City Council to voice their protest. While they were denied the right to speak, Lord Mayor Jürgen Nimptsch agreed to have education put on the meeting's agenda. A motion tabled by the left-wing Die Linke party to support the student demands gained a majority, which was welcomed with loud cheers by the students.

The council called on the rectors to do away with social disadvantaging in education and demanded that tuition fees be scrapped and the new study courses reformed. Bonn University's 'Rektorat' or vice-chancellor's office was told to refrain from any repressive measures against the protesting students.

Undaunted by these developments, Rector Jürgen Fohrmann called the police to drive students out of a lecture hall that they had turned into a Bildungsstreik camp with an information stand and coffee bar. The hall has since been reoccupied.

Fohrmann, however, refused to negotiate with the students. "We will be continuing with our present activities at least up to the KMK meeting," Bildungsstreik representative Anna Brüggemann said. "Then we will form a permanent group to deal with the strike issues."