GERMANY: Baden-Württemberg set to scrap fees

Following a Green-Social Democrat victory in elections to the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg, fees will probably be scrapped as early as the next winter semester, leaving two of Germany's 16 federal states, Bavaria and Lower Saxony, with fees. University leaders are looking to the state government to make up the shortfall.

Baden-Württemberg, one of Germany wealthiest states, has traditionally been a conservative stronghold, but is now experiencing its first real change of governing parties for 58 years during which the Christian Democrats have been either solely in power or, latterly, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

For the first time, not only for Baden-Württemberg but for Germany as a whole, a Green Party member, Winfried Kretschmann, will lead a coalition with the Social Democrats. The Fukushima factor undoubtedly played a major role in the outcome of the elections.

University heads are worried about the implications of the election for higher education funding, for the abolition of fees has been high on the agenda of both parties. Baden-Württemberg introduced fees in 2007, the level being a uniform EUR500 (US$717) at all 38 publicly funded institutions.

As in the other federal states with a fee regime, income was intended solely for the improvement of teaching, with money going into areas such as tutorials, appointment of lecturers, computer facilities and better library services. However, like in other federal states, some of the money ended up being used for what could hardly be called 'improvements'.

In 2009, the Baden-Württemberg government announced that it would be scrapping a EUR6 million heating subsidy. At some institutions, tuition money was then channeled into keeping students warm enough during the winter semester. Special regulations for students from larger families represented a further blow.

In line with many other states, students in Baden-Württemberg who are specially gifted, physically handicapped or bringing up children, have been exempted from fees, along with doctoral students. Peculiar to Baden-Württemberg, though, students with brothers and sisters do not have to pay, either. When this latter regulation came into force in 2009, at Freiburg University alone, income from fees dropped from EUR15.5 million to around EUR10 million.

Also in 2009, Professor Hans-Peter Liebig, rector of the University of Hohenheim, announced that EUR1.2 million out of the institution's EUR5 million fee income would have to be used to fill funding gaps. Additional expenses had also arisen from introducing new bachelor and masters programmes.

Against this background, students throughout Baden-Württemberg claimed that the fees were in fact not being used to improve teaching but to make up for cuts imposed by the state government.

Latterly, income from tuition fees has amounted to around EUR65 million. Professor Ulrich Rüdiger, rector of the University of Konstanz, said: "We expect the new government to make up for the loss of student fees." A spokesman for the SPD claims that higher education in Baden-Württemberg is to receive an additional EUR135 million.

By the autumn, Bavaria and Lower Saxony will probably be the last two states with tuition fees. Rhineland-Palatinate, which went to the polls on the same day as Baden-Württemberg, re-elected a Social Democrat government with substantial Green representation, and Saxony-Anhalt's Christian Democrat-Social Democrat coalition was reaffirmed a week earlier. Neither of these two states has tuition fees.