German university woes
If you think that budgetary and regulatory concerns are unique to higher education institutions in these islands, you may perhaps find some comfort in the anguish now being expressed by universities in Germany. As in Ireland and the UK, student demand for university places has increased dramatically in Germany, and as in these islands also funding has decreased. In fact the rate of increase in applications is dramatic: currently Germany’s higher education institutions educate 2.2 million students, but it is believed that by 2013 this will have increased by a further million. But even now the provision of facilities has not kept pace, and one university has been reduced to using a local church as a lecture theatre to cater for the increased numbers.
The German university rectors’ association (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz) has indicated that an additional €2 billion is needed in funding to allow the institutions to provide acceptable quality teaching for the student intake. But they also know that this funding will not be delivered, and so they are now threatening to cap the intake, thereby undermining government policy.
Germany, therefore, is also part of the global trend to throw open higher education to ever increasing numbers while reducing the financial support for their education. The country is sometimes credited with developing the modern model of the university from the time of Humboldt; like other countries it is now calling this model into question. As elsewhere, universities in Germany are desperately trying to maintain the existing system in the face of these challenges; it is arguable that there, as here, that may no longer be realistic. If the money is no longer there, we need to think again about the structures of higher education.