Student leaders say AfD is a threat to science and HE

The far-right 'Alternative für Deutschland' or AfD party’s entry into the German federal parliament has sent shockwaves through the political establishment and prompted the student union, FZS, to warn of a rollback to hierarchical and undemocratic governance structures in higher education.

The late September German elections saw landslide losses for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats or CDU and, above all, their junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats or SPD, who scored their worst results since World War II.

With centre-right parties holding a clear majority, the most likely outcome in terms of a new government will be a coalition government headed again by Merkel with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union or CSU, the Free Democrats or FDP, and the Greens, although agreement would have to be reached on a large number of crucial issues.

The FDP, after having failed to make it to parliament in the previous elections, re-entered with the fourth-largest share of votes, followed by 'die Linke' or Left Party and the Greens. Counting the CDU and the CSU as one party in effect, the AfD came up third in the elections. The AfD parliamentary party is to be headed by Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel.

Former CDU member Gauland, 76, a lawyer and journalist by profession, recently caused an uproar when he remarked that Germans could be proud of what their soldiers had achieved in the two World Wars.

Weidel, 38, formerly a Goldman Sachs analyst, wrote her doctoral thesis on the future of the Chinese pension system. Her studies were supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service. Most of the AfD parliamentary party’s members are academics, in stark contrast to the AfD’s pronounced appeal to and focus on the lower social strata in Germany.

Eva Gruse, board member of the national union of students, FZS, perceives a threat of hostility to science and a return to the hierarchical university structure of the days before the student revolt.

“Debates could again focus on universities controlled by tenured faculty and parity for non-professorial teaching staff and other institution members done away with,” Gruse warns.

“And we also fear that efforts to promote greater gender equality at universities could now be called into question. Clear anti-feminist contents opposing enlightened sex education are returning to everyday political debate. Agitation against research in gender studies at universities has to be seen as a massive intrusion into academic freedom.”

'Hostility to science'

The FZS has called on students throughout Germany to organise protests against the party.

Tobias Aisch, another FZS board member, added: “There has been a clear swing to the right in parliament. In the past, the AfD has presented itself as a party with views showing contempt for humanity and hostility to science.”

Konstantin Korn, also an FZS board member, complains that education and research policies hardly played a role in the election campaigns. “We will press for a critical review of the growing focus on economising and competition in higher education,” Korn says. “The next government must address the issue of funding.”

Nevertheless, the FZS has little faith in the other parties’ ability to address pressing higher education problems. “Neither with regard to higher education funding nor to an urgently required increase in student grant levels do we see much potential for improvements with this election result,” says Natalie Schäfer, another board member.

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