Axe over Berlin's historic institutes

May 26, 2000

Berlin's eight universities and Fachhochschulen should undergo sweeping reforms and some academic institutes should be closed, according to a damning report from the Science Council, Germany's independent higher education advisory body.

The three universities - Humboldt in the former communist section and the Free and Technical universities in the west - must strengthen their profiles and improve cooperation in teaching and research, it concluded.

"We cannot understand why in some areas of Berlin the level of staffing is double the usual in other states," said council president Winfried Schulze.

The research was conducted for the Berlin government. It was the first statewide examination of higher education and its recommendations could become a blueprint for reforms in other states.

The report says that humanities at the universities should cooperate more closely to avoid duplicating on degree offers and that smaller subjects such as Egyptology should be concentrated in one university department.

It says that in future the Technical University should concentrate on engineering and technical subjects rather than trying to offer the whole academic spectrum.

The report also recommends the closure of a number of regional studies institutes. The Eastern Europe Institute at the Free University is not interdisciplinary enough and did not react adequately to the break-up of the Eastern bloc, it says.

The France Centre at the Technical University and the Great Britain Centre at Humboldt University should also close. The latter has not contributed enough to English language and literature teaching, the council concluded.

The report says the level of 85,000 student places at Berlin must be maintained.

Any further reduction in numbers would damage the universities, it says.

"The Berlin senate must provide the means needed to maintain this level," said Professor Schulze. But study places in Berlin's four Fachhochschulen should be increased from the current 22 per cent of total student places to 40 per cent.

The council also recommends the establishment of a permanent university council for Berlin to improve coordination. This should promote reform and financially reward cooperation between the universities.

The three universities, four Fachhochschulen, which offer technically oriented degrees, and the Berlin Art School should set up university councils to speed up reforms. "The cooperatively run university has difficulty agreeing on pioneering issues, usually resulting in minimum solutions," said Professor Schulze.

The experts also criticised the way decisions have been made in Berlin higher education and said that previous reform recommendations had been ignored.

Berlin has the largest proportion of students in Germany, but experts say it does not offer the best research and teaching.

The Berlin senate is short of E61 million (Pounds 40 million) for its 2001 budget. If it cannot cut study places, it will probably have to save on higher education capital spending.

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