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.

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10 Comments on “German university woes”


  1. This is probably heresy, but any other business or organization, faced with increasing demand but reduced resources, doesn’t so much simply cut costs but improves productivity. Given MIT puts most of its lectures on line, should not universities consider revolutionizing how they actually teach, using hi tech TV studios to lecture, and focusing their actual hands-on-work on research and on small group interactions. I see no other way to meet demand while cutting costs except unacceptable fee increases.


    • In fairness, universities have improved productivity hugely since the 1980s. The changes you suggest are worthwhile, and progressive universities are investigating them already, but they will not cut costs.

  2. Anna Notaro Says:

    @’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. ‘
    We should be very careful at what is ‘called into question’ here, in fact it would be a mistake if by adjusting to new economic models we lose out the essence of a modern (in the Humboldt tradition) university: a university that achieves a unity of teaching and research and provides students with an all-round (humanist & scientific) education for the benefit of society.

  3. copernicus Says:

    When I read the academic posts here and elsewhere when they sit in their comfort zone of bygone era, I can only smile at their notoriety in all things changes mean, and the fear of born out of maintaining self preservation. By the way, I have yet to see some one with humanities background well rounded with scientific knowledge. My question in another thread about this is still not answered.

    My academic friends in TUB and Humboldt University of Berlin with whom our group had had research collaboration for years are no different, but they do not close their eyes, but see the looming sight of tuition fee, and they know the apparition will be real some days. I agree with Ferdinand that now at least they think the university places should be restricted, albeit they can see tuition fee introduction i the near future. Germany has bloated pension and welfare benefits, and I can understand their arguments.

  4. Private Hi Says:

    @creativeconflictwisdom
    One MIS online hour of teaxching needs one online teacher plus one tekky support, video editor and can take up to 4o hours prep, post-production and production. Plus training etc Most are pre-recorded with very few ‘live’ lectures. Efficiency?


  5. @Private Hi Well I guess if you want to make it wasteful you can do it that way. It is like Flip cameras and journalism: you can have a huge camera crew etc or the journalist can take a Flip camera and record the inwhich is good enough for on line podcasts. The MIT lectures I watch seem to be a simple point cameras at speaker and I go to similar seminars here with sound/slide available on line afterwards. And once you have a lecture in the can it is part of a library that can be used world wide. Why would every university independently create fundamentals of maths 101 or whatever.

    The clever part of education is teacher/student interaction and that is where the funding should focus. That and research, labs etc. Lecturing should not be a low tech hand crafted business.

    So yes efficiency possibly, if you focus on the real value add for learning. But of course I could be wrong.

    • Al Says:

      It would have its uses
      But as part of a greater programme.
      I would like to see an outline of one.

      The dangers would be an assumption of homogeneity of the student population, and also direction of study.
      It would be a lesser learning outcome if generic material was presented en masse to students.
      The trick would be in application of material.

      Here is a question for you.
      It may lower costs etc, does it also lower the currency of the qualification?
      Interesting though…


  6. @Al I guess textbooks are already fairly homogeneous and I can see the risk, but there is no reason there should not be a lot of diversity if all English or German or whatever speaking universities created a library of congress of their material and could all share, pick and mix whatever, just as they do with text and other books.

    As for the currency of the qualification, it seems that has already been devalued greatly if I listen to my colleagues who employ newly graduated students. I spend a lot of time with such people and they are as smart as ever, but the combination of their education and the attention deficit infotainment world they live in means they know a lot less.

    To quantify, one of my friends teaches Greek at undergraduate level in a top US school. She has small groups of top grade students who are as smart as 15 years ago, but she tells me that she can only get through about 60-65% of what she could cover 15 years ago because of the attention focus issue. Mild ADD is rampant because of the background noise.

    Teaching students to think deeply is becoming harder and harder and as a result they are not what society needs for we have huge problems needing deep thought.🙂

    • copernicus Says:

      In sciences, I see the students these days have better attention focus than us in my days. But then we do not want to accept we were bad , do we?


      • @ copernicus, that is great news, though it is certainly not my personal or my colleagues experience. I would be interested in whether you think your students are different or there is something different in the way you teach. In this time of pressure on costs, it would be great to have a best practices site to spread what works, what is cost effective, high quality education.


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