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German varsities in a state of decline!

German universities, renowned throughout the world in the early part of the 20th century, now face "a chronic state of general under-financing".

india Updated: Nov 20, 2006 12:49 IST

German universities, renowned throughout the world in the early part of the 20th century, now face "a chronic state of general under-financing".

"German universities are in a state of decline," says Burda, a professor in the latest edition of Berlin Journal, a magazine published by the American Academy here.

"No statistics make this more evident than the low fraction of young Germans actually completing university-level degrees," he says.

Only 22 percent of German students between the age of 24-34 successfully complete their university studies, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"These reflect a qualitative development that should concern German politicians and policy-makers," he writes. "Germany seems very far from the golden age when Americans wrote scientific papers in German and dreamed of doing a doctorate here.

"In 2003, only 2,800 Americans enrolled in German universities whereas 9,000 Germans pursued studies in the US, despite the fact that higher education in the US costs a substantial amount of money, unlike in Germany."

One reason given for the decline is that Germany, according to the OECD, spends barely l.l percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on tertiary education, compared to 2.6 percent in the US and 2.5 percent in Canada.

"University education is a service, no different from that provided by a law firm, medical practice or beauty salon. It costs money, a great deal of money," said Burda.

"The deterioration in the quality of education that accompanies the rise in the number of students per teacher is certainly a central reason why so few Germans pursue university degrees here," he said.

Since the 1960s, more than 90 percent of German higher education has been publicly supported. Famous universities such as Heidelberg, Humboldt and the University of Munich remain public institutions, financed by federal and regional governments.

Private funding of universities is a rarity in Germany, due to the country's lack of philanthropic tradition and rules limiting the amount of tax-free donations. This has meant that German universities lack the resources of their American counterparts. But now there are signs that attitudes may be changing.

A university "excellence initiative" competition, a brainchild of former German education minister Edelgard Bulmahn, currently channels hundreds of millions of euros into "elite" universities.

Dieter Lenzen, president of Berlin's Free University, agrees more money has to be spent on higher education, but disputes Burda's claim that German universities are in decline.

"A decade or so ago that may have been the case, but that was a result of the upheavals within Germany at the time of reunification. Now, things have changed for the better."

First Published: Nov 20, 2006 12:10 IST