Exam bonus lost in the mists of accounts

April 10, 1998

It was an idea Robin Hood would have been proud of: German university professors should give up the bonus payments they receive for each exam they supervise and the money saved would be ploughed back into cash-starved universities.

But Peter Naeve, professor of statistics at Bielefeld University, soon found he had shot an arrow into his own foot.

The state of North-Rhine Westphalia did indeed abolish the bonus exam payments, saving a total of DM7.1 million (Pounds 2.36 million) a year.

But rather than spending the money on library books or teaching posts in the overstretched university system, the finance ministry kept the cash.

"The money is simply no longer available in the higher education budget," said a spokesman for North-Rhine Westphalia's education ministry.

Professors in state universities now face salary cuts averaging an estimated DM10,000 a year - the equivalent of a month's salary - because of the new regulations that came into force this month.

Professor Naeve said: "I wanted to see the money used for better purposes but it has simply disappeared.

"The ministry could have used the money for computers or other equipment but they have just wasted the opportunity. I think it is very sad."

When German students decide to register for an exam they have to find a professor to agree to examine them.

Few people were aware of the system operating in nearly all German states under which professors receive bonus payments for every undergraduate and postgraduate exam they agree to supervise - from DM10 for every oral exam to DM120 for a dissertation.

Popular professors, or those known to be generous markers, could make more than Pounds 3,300 a year from the system, Professor Naeve believes.

At Bielefeld University alone the exam payments bill totalled the equivalent of Pounds 85,000 a year.

But thanks to Professor Naeve's campaign, officials now realise that the job of examining is included as part of the professorial contract.

Professor Naeve admitted his campaign had not made him popular with his colleagues. And he now fears that many professors will be unwilling to put students through exams.

Professors at the Technical University of Aachen even sent an open letter of protest to Anke Brunn, North-Rhine Westphalia's education minister. They claim that they receive no pay for overtime and could hardly grow rich on the bonus payments.

Now academics in other parts of Germany are fearing for their exam bonuses.

The states of Schleswig-Holstein and Baden-Wurtemberg are already considering cutting the payments.

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