German students rate east the best

April 23, 1999


Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, students rate universities in the former communist east among the best in reunified Germany, according to a league table compiled by the news magazine Der Spiegel.

Three small east German universities were among the top five - the Technical University of Chemnitz and Greifswald University tied for second place while Magdeburg University came fourth. Potsdam and Rostock universities were also in the top ten.

But they were all beaten to first place by Eichstatt University, a small Catholic institution in Bavaria with just 4,000 students.

Hans-Dieter Daniel, director of the Centre for Professional and Higher Education Research at Kassel University, who led the project, said the results show that students prefer small universities to large ones. "What is important to students, above all, is good contact with lecturers and an effective learning climate," he said.

Traditionally popular mass universities in western Germany, such as Cologne (with 63,000 students), Hamburg (41,000), and Frankfurt am Main (37,000), were all rated poor in the league table, which emphasised teaching quality and student satisfaction rather than the research reputation and output of academics.

Eastern universities, which were strongholds of the German Democratic Republic system to the bitter end and continued teaching historical materialism, Marx, Engels and Lenin, have been transformed into "small manageable units" with a "climate of spontaneity and a new, founding spirit", the article said.

"Amid the unemployment, GDR nostalgia and right-wing radicalism (prevalent in eastern Germany today), they have become islands of university progress," the authors concluded.

It is the first time eastern universities have competed on a level playing field with their western counterparts in the Spiegel league tables, which incorporate the views of 12,000 students at 81 universities on teaching quality, equipment, contact with academic staff, staff-student ratios and the time it takes to complete degrees.

Their success is partly a legacy of the old GDR university tradition of smaller study groups and close ties between professors and students.

But it is also the result of a radical renewal of staff and the Pounds 21 billion investment that has been pumped into them since reunification in October 1990.

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