Hamburg. Germany's notorious eternal students, in extreme cases enrolled at university for up to 20 years, could face expensive bills for study fees in future if politicians in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg have their way.
Leaders of the south-western state are considering legislation which would force long-term students to pay DM1,000 per semester (about Pounds 400) study fees if they exceed the minimum study period by more than four semesters.
Education minister Klaus von Trotha said students could no longer expect their education to be financed by tax-payers for an indefinite amount of time. Under a new education reform bill students would therefore receive a "generous allocation" of education vouchers, usually for 13 semesters, but after that they would have to pay.
The system would mean education would continue to be free for keen and able students, but they should never lose sight of finishing their degrees, Mr von Trotha said. Some 230,000 students are enrolled in Baden-Wurttemberg, where institutions include the prestigious Heidelberg, Tubingen and Freiburg universities. The new rules would affect 37,000 students - 25 per cent of those enrolled at universties, 10 per cent of teacher training students and 2 per cent of those in the technically-oriented Fachhochschulen. Fees raised would be ploughed back into the state's higher education budget.
The reform plan comes just a few weeks after Germany's Conference of University Rectors (HRK) rejected plans to introduce fees of DM1,000 a semester for all students. Mr von Trotha said Baden-Wurttemburg could "no longer wait for the other federal states" to reform higher education. His bill, which will be voted on at the end of this year, also envisages giving universities more powers to select their own students based on "suitability and motivation".
In the face of increasing overcrowding, many German universities are looking for ways to urge eternal students to leave for the real world. Two years ago the Free University of Berlin introduced compulsory advisory discussions for long-timers. Long-term students were summoned to talks with professors - resulting in some 7,000 people coming off the university register. Many other universities have now followed suit with similar systems.
Theoretically many German university degrees can be completed in eight or nine semesters. But the average is 13, and a quarter of those called in for a talk in Berlin had stayed over 20 semesters.
Students' passage through higher education is hindered by low student support payments forcing many of them into time-consuming part-time jobs, difficult final examination systems, and high graduate unemployment encouraging students to remain enrolled in order to keep low health insurance payments.
But many ex-students abuse the system by remaining enrolled long after starting a career, mainly to take advantage of student benefits.