NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 10, 2006

Much of the blame for Germany's poor higher education system stems from the country's egalitarian federalism which promotes equal funding irrespective of quality, says the Wall Street Journal. 

Academic mediocrity and low enrollment have been the predictable result:

  • According to the Times of London's Higher Education Supplement, no German university makes the world's top 50 in annual rankings.
  • Just 20.6 percent of Germans of typical graduation age have completed a higher education, compared with an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 35 percent.

But the education problem doesn't end there, says the Journal, Germany's high schools are also in disarray:

  • A tracking system decides which 10-year-olds are smart enough to attend a Gymnasium and thus go on to university, which discourages late bloomers.
  • In addition, the number of unfilled teaching positions has risen to 16,000 this year from 10,000 in 2005.

However, Germans are beginning to realize that they need to focus its limited resources on the best universities:

  • Last month a scientific committee identified three universities as "excellent." They will receive an extra €20 million (about U.S. $25.7 million) over each of the next five years.
  • Several states are even ready to introduce tuition fees, a major taboo until now.
  • There are also plans to shorten graduate programs and make them more comparable to international standards.
  • The civil-servant status of professors, which makes it impossible to fire even sub-par academics, is increasingly being questioned.

The reforms are a start, but it's far from enough, says the Journal.  If they want to play in the big leagues, universities must learn to raise more private money.  Germany's status as a modern, technology-based economy depends on its educational base.  By upgrading its universities, it is making an investment in its future.

Source: Editorial, "Educating Germans," Wall Street Journal, November 10, 2006.

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