GERMANY: Dropouts pledge secures university funding

The 37 public higher education institutions in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have signed an agreement with the state government that secures funding up to 2015 in return for a commitment to reduce dropouts, improve access and raise teaching standards.

Institutions in the country's western-most federal state are now in a better position to face the future.

The Hochschulvereinbarung NRW 2015 agreement, signed by Minister-President Hannelore Kraft, Higher Education Minister Svenja Schulze and Minister of Finance Norbert Walter-Borjans, guarantees higher education institutions and university clinics planning security as well as basic funding of at least EUR4.5 billion (US$6.4 billion) a year up to 2015.

This is the level of 2010, when tuition fees were scrapped in the state. There will be extra funding for additional first-year student intake.

A further key element in the agreement is that institutions will be excluded from any across-the-board reductions of expenditure and freezes on spending.

The institutions commit themselves to taking suitable measures to reduce the number of dropouts. This also includes greater efforts to address the increasing heterogeneity of first year students. In addition, institutions pledge to provide more access for those wishing to study for vocational qualifications and to extend further education programmes.

Schulze said that the Social Democrat-Green coalition government in NRW "has kept its promise not to cut education funding.

"And this is the first time that an agreement between a federal state and its higher education institutions is making financial planning security conditional on improvements in teaching and studying quality standards."

Walter-Borjans said that "higher education and research secure progress in our state - culturally, but also economically and financially".

The universities are clearly in favour of the agreement, according to Ursula Gather, who heads the NRW Conference of University Rectors. "The planning security that has now been established is indispensable for the universities," she said.

"This is especially the case at a time when the demand for studying is on the increase, and with universities facing a double cohort of higher secondary school-leavers in 2013."

Beate Rennen-Allhoff, who chairs the NRW Rectors' Conference of Fachhochschulen (universities of applied sciences), said: "With austerity plans being discussed in many of the federal states, the Fachhochschulen of NRW are relieved that the government is offering a certain level of planning security and institutions are being spared more severe cuts."

Reiner Schuhenn, who heads the Conference of Art and Music Institutions of Higher Education in NRW, says that for his structurally comparatively small institutions in particular, sound funding on a sustainable basis is vital.

"This is the only way that the excellent standards of these institutions, all of which have earned a worldwide reputation, can be maintained," he said.