Court battle over postgrads

March 29, 2002

Germany will have to defend restrictions imposed by some of its regions on foreign postgraduate exchange students before the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission said the German federal government failed to respond positively to a final warning, which claims that rules imposed by some Länder on the right of students to use their academic titles break European Union treaty commitments on the mutual recognition of European qualifications. The restrictions concern titles gained under exchange agreements between universities in different member states.

It said some Länder required:

  • That the university or college concerned be comparable to a German institution
  • That the title result from three years' study, at least one of which was carried out in the awarding institution
  • That an MBA awarded by Britain or Ireland must involve four years' full-time study in one of those states.

The commission said these rules broke a 1993 judgment that established that "the sole purpose of an authorisation procedure for the use of a post-graduate academic title obtained in another member state should be to establish whether it was rightfully awarded by a competent higher education establishment".

The commission said Germany seemed to be undermining the mutual authority of all legally constituted universities in the EU to award postgraduate qualifications that are accepted across the member states.

By refusing to force its Länder into line, Berlin was allowing "an infringement of the free movement of persons and could have the effect of dissuading students from enrolling for certain university courses", the commission said.

The case comes as the commission proposed a formalisation of European rules on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications within a comprehensive directive that covers all "regulated professions", which would include academics.

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