Amendment expected to improve government cooperation

Germany’s Upper House has approved a constitutional amendment allowing for more cooperation between the country’s federal and state governments in higher education and research matters, including more federal funding of research facilities.

The German constitution guarantees far-reaching autonomy in cultural affairs to the country’s 16 states.

So far, legislation has only contained general provisions for the federal and state governments to jointly support non-university research institutions, whereas funding and other measures to promote higher education by the federal government have been restricted to specially-defined thematic areas over certain periods.

The amendment enables additional federal long-term funding of higher education institutions, institutes and networks of institutes. In addition, it will be much easier for the federal and state governments to provide joint funding for university and non-university institutions.

The amendment does not affect the basic federative structure of higher education, and the individual states continue to hold responsibility in this area.

According to the previous regulations, the federal and state governments may only cooperate on the basis of agreements in cases of national importance relating to funding institutions and projects in science and research outside universities, scientific and research projects at universities and constructional measures at universities including large-scale apparatus.

The new paragraph in Germany’s Basic Law states that the federal and state governments “may cooperate in cases of national importance in funding science, research and teaching. Agreements focusing on higher education institutions require the approval of all states. This does not apply to agreements concerning the construction of research facilities, including research apparatus.”

Federal Education Minister Johanna Wanka says that the amendment represents a modernisation of Germany’s federative education structure and believes that it will improve the country’s prospects in higher education and research by removing existing barriers.

Wanka emphasises the importance of long-term and institutional cooperation between the federal and state governments. “This makes working together even less complicated, more reliable and more strategic,” she says.

“We are achieving a win-win situation for the federal and state governments, universities and students.”

In the past, the federal and state higher education structure has frequently proved to be an obstacle to reforms in the higher education structure. But collaboration between the two levels of government has proved to be highly beneficial, if not essential, in a number of cases.

Programmes like the federal and state funding programme for higher education funding in the nineties have helped cope with overcrowding at universities, while the Excellence Initiative to promote university research is also based on a joint federal and state effort.

* Michael Gardner Email: