A league table for the sensitive

May 22, 1998

Professors in Germany would advise their own children to study economics and business studies at the University of Mannheim, and chemistry at the Technical University of Munich, according to a university league table just published.

Stiftung Warentest, the German equivalent of Which? magazine, conducted the survey in conjunction with the Centre for Higher Education.

Unlike other news magazine league tables it has not ranked universities from best to worst. Instead, it attempts to guide students through the jungle of differing university missions, study options and conditions to help them find the course they want.

This more sensitive approach to evaluation has won support from the universities.

Klaus Landfried, president of the conference of university rectors, called it an important step towards more transparency and competition in higher education. "History will penalise anyone who tries to ignore this development," he said.

The magazine concentrated only on economics, business studies, chemistry and biochemistry. The next edition, to be published next year, will test law, physics, information technology and mathematics.

The guide used a vast array of information gleaned from university departments, academics, students and student unions. It analysed the number and value of research publications, quality of libraries and equipment, and even tested the universities' own information systems.

One surprising result was the gulf of opinion between professors and students. Professors made the TU Munich, and the universities of Marburg and Munster their top three choices for studying chemistry; but the students' top three were Jena University, the TU Clausthal and the Ulm University.

The guide also provided a victory for the private university of Witten/Herdecke: students voted it the best place in Germany to study biochemistry.

The league table fever dominating German higher education indicates that the country is rejecting the 1970s anti-elitist ideal that all higher education is of equal quality. The commercial study guides are filling the information gap that the state institutions such as the Wissenschaftsrat (Science Council) and the Conference of Education Ministers have refused to fill.

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