German houses split over reform

June 26, 1998

Germany's ruling coalition has forced higher education reforms through the federal parliament in the face of Social Democrats' opposition in the upper house.

The SPD will now fight the Higher Education Framework Law in the constitutional court in the run-up to September's federal elections in which tuition fees are expected to be a big issue.

First it will be up to federal president Roman Herzog to check whether the law can be enacted before the elections.

The opposition claims that state governments must first approve the law, given their constitutional autonomy in cultural affairs.

The law will give higher education institutions greater autonomy. It allows them to select students in subjects with admissions restrictions and to offer more student guidance services.

The SPD at first supported the Christian and Liberal Democrat coalition's draft legislation. But following widespread student protests against tuition fees last autumn, it switched and is now calling for a fees ban.

Federal education minister Jurgen Ruttgers also rejects fees, but his party, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats, rejected a ban so as to allow Baden-Wurttemberg to start charging a special fee to students who have exceeded legally stipulated study time.

Mr Ruttgers is adamant that reform should not be jeopardised and wants to see the new law put into practice as soon as possible.

However, MPs Edelgard Buhlmann (SPD) and Matthias Berninger (Greens) say that by overriding the upper house he has strained relations between the federal and state governments. The new law does not address the serious problem of rigid staff structures in higher education, they say.

Unions claim that the Baden-Wurttemberg plan to charge long-stay students DM1,000 (Pounds 333) a semester is "unconstitutional".

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