Parties present higher education strategies for election

The German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz or HRK) has asked the parties represented in the German federal parliament to state their policies on higher education as Germany prepares to go to the polls on 26 September.

The HRK, comprising heads of German universities, suggested that the parties present their views on funding, digitalisation, research, academic careers and also regarding professions in the health sector, student grants, knowledge transfer and the European Research Area.

All of the factions represented in outgoing Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and three of the opposition parties responded, with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Germany’s largest opposition party, not commenting so far.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, which together form the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction, have pledged to continue focusing on improvements in university teaching, including innovative formats and experience gained with them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, they seek to promote more excellence clusters in research, building on the ‘Excellence Initiative’, which was originally launched in 2007 to boost teaching and research, and they want to have at least one German university among the world’s top 20.

The CDU/CSU emphasise making academic careers more compatible with having a family and supporting a greater share of women in academia. They say the federal grants and loans scheme, Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz or BAFöG, ought to be made more flexible, with eligibility raised beyond the age of 35 to account for lifelong learning. ‘Technology Biotopes’ are to attract the best brains and most innovative enterprises to boost technological progress.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government, proposes more funding to support studying and teaching, as well as a fundamental reform of the BAFöG system, bringing it back step by step to its original full grant version. The Social Democrats also call for across-the-board funding support for digitalisation where, they say, best practice in the pandemic could be built upon.

Regarding professions in the health sector itself, the SPD refers to the results of a working group appointed by the Conference of State Health Ministers which outlines a concept for academic degrees for certain health professions. The working group proposes that responsibility for the academisation of health professions and a corresponding legal framework have to be discussed by the federal government with the 16 federal states. The SPD wants to see these proposals addressed by any future government.

To enhance knowledge transfer between science, society and industry, the Social Democrats suggest the setting up of a ‘German Transfer Society’ which would support projects at the interfaces of industry, science and civil society and address ventures concerning technical issues and methods as well as social innovation.

The SPD stresses that this would also benefit Germany’s universities of applied sciences. In Switzerland, a similar federal institution has been providing central support to promote knowledge transfer for decades.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP), Germany’s second largest opposition party, would like to see funding of institutions based more on quality criteria. They want to launch a national strategy for cybersecurity in science and create a Federal Centre for Digitalisation which would above all address the digital transformation of education. The Free Democrats stress the significance of pure research as the basis of innovation, but they also support the notion of a German Transfer Society.

Germany’s left-wing Die Linke calls for a reversal of what it sees as a continuing growth of third-party science and research funding and an increasing focus on research results which are easy to commercialise. It demands better funding for pure research, but also wants to see applied research strengthened by giving universities of applied sciences the right to award doctorates.

Regarding the European Union’s Horizon Europe, civil society ought to have a greater say in planning and implementing the Research Framework Programme, they say.

Officially known as Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Germany’s Green party calls for better conditions for both pure and applied research. Government and industry should invest at least 3.5% of economic performance in research and development up to 2025 and seek to further raise this share.

At all levels of the higher education and research system, the proportion of women ought to be increased to at least 40% via binding ratios. Access to research and education data should be simplified based on the FAIR data principle of findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability, the Greens say.

To contact Michael Gardner, e-mail