GERMANY: More funds pledged at Bologna conference

Education Minister Annette Schavan has pledged extra funding of EUR2 billion (US$2.5 billion) for teaching in higher education. She announced the measure at a Bologna conference attended by professors, students and politicians in Berlin last month. Representatives of industry and trade unions were also present.

Schavan said the EUR2 billion would be provided over a period of 10 years. Professors would apply for money at a new foundation, the Academy of Teaching, to develop special teaching concepts.

There would be support for mentoring and tutoring but also for advisory and supervisory services for students. In addition, around EUR90 million would be provided to promote student mobility, for example through stays abroad and language courses.

But Schavan's proposal was not new and it met with scepticism at the meeting. For one thing, the minister was unable to give any guarantee the money would actually be available. The Christian Democrat/Liberal coalition government is still grappling with a huge budget deficit.

One of the staunchest advocates of cuts in education, Hessian Chief Minister Roland Koch, recently declared he would soon be withdrawing from politics. But this will hardly solve the coalition's root problem of cash shortages.

Also, the EUR2 billion would not be provided entirely by the government. Schavan expects universities to raise 10% of the money themselves. This aspect was sharply rejected by Magret Wintermantel, President of the Rectors' Conference or HRK, who stressed that universities simply did not have that money to spend.

The Bologna conference was seen by many as a disappointment. Among the opposition party representatives, Social Democrat Deputy Chair Hannelore Kraft called it an "education entertainment show", while education spokesman for the Greens Kai Gehring noted Schavan had "staged a conference theatre instead of putting heart and soul to solutions to underfunding, social discrepancies among students and poor study conditions".

Industrial representatives reiterated their calls for better qualified graduates while trade unionists insisted on courses being properly reviewed instead of old contents being crammed into new, shorter timeframes. And the universities once again asked for more funding.

Meanwhile, student organisations have announced further 'education strikes' are being organised for the summer, similar to the campaigns they held during the winter semester.

As for progress made in the Bologna process itself, the HRK said just over 80% of all study courses had been adapted to the new masters and bachelors concepts by the winter semester of 2009-10. With three-quarters of all first-year students having enrolled for bachelors and masters studies, 43% of Germany's student population were now attending the new courses.