Germans focus on research

May 5, 1995

Germany's Fachhochschule teachers are demanding more involvement in research and development activities but critics warn this could damage an advantage they have over the universities - shorter study time.

The Hochschullehrerbund, which represents Fachhochschulen teachers at federal level, wants to see research clearly referred to as a part of their professional assignment.

Representatives of higher education, government and industry stressed the importance of applied research as an integral part of the Fachhochschule concept at a recent meeting in Zwickau, east Germany.

Research at Fachhochschulen is closely linked with teaching, which in turn is strongly oriented on practical and professional aspects. And it relates closely to regional development issues.

Generally, the Fachhochschulen, which were founded in the early 1970s, have been a big success story. Constraints and slow progress in reforming courses at universities have made studying a long and drawn out affair that appears to many as out of touch with professional life.

Fachhochschulen, with their comparatively short study time and emphasis on vocational and practical issues, have become increasingly popular, and they now account for around a third of Germany's students.

While many of their research assignments come from industry, substantial funds are also provided by the federal ministry of education, science, research and technology. The ministry has pledged it will make DM30 million (Pounds 17 million) available for research from 1996 - a sixfold increase compared with 1993. However, according to a survey recently conducted by the Hanover-based Hochschul-Informations-System Ltd, there are marked discrepancies in the distribution of research assignments.

Seventy per cent of all full-time research work at Fachhochschulen is carried out in just four of Germany's federal states: Northrhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Baden-Wurttemberg and Lower Saxony. And a third of all full-time research is concentrated at just six of these institutions.

State government regulations on the role of research at Fachhochschulen differ considerably. Bremen, Northrhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg explicitly refer to research and development as part of the mission while Hessian law states lecturers may only engage in research if it is beneficial to the educational mission of an institution and does not imply restrictions on teaching.

Critics claim too much involvement in research could prove detrimental to one of the big assets the Fachhochschulen currently have - shorter study time. Although lecturers enjoy the same legal status as university counterparts, their teaching load is much greater. Heidrun Jahn of the Berlin-Karlshorst higher education policy research project says more research requires better staffing and equipment. The teaching load would have to be reduced, and lecturers would have to be supported by additional academic assistant staff.

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