German politicians and academics have launched a joint campaign for universities to set their own student selection procedures. It would recreate an elite higher education system by making universities compete with each other for the best students.
The reform proposal was presented to a conference in Leipzig by Saxony's higher education minister Hans Joachim Meyer and the head of the Centre for Higher Education Development, Detlef Muller-Boling, and won support from delegates. The so-called "Leipzig declaration" proposes that candidates apply directly to three universities and undergo aptitude tests and interviews. Only if they failed at this stage would they apply for a university place through the computerised central admissions system.
The declaration also calls for a strengthening of the Abitur - Germany's general certificate of secondary education which entitles students to a university place - to compulsorily include German, maths, history, a foreign language and a science subject. "Entry to higher education urgently needs to be reformed in Germany with the introduction of competition so that our graduates can compete with those from European Union countries. It must come down to universities competing for students," the Leipzig declaration says.
The Abitur has been the passport to university in Germany for 200 years. But it has gradually become easier to pass by avoiding more difficult subjects. Each state sets its own exam and some are considerably easier to pass than others. University lecturers complain that many of the 30 per cent of school-leavers who enter higher education each year are simply not university material.
Some want to restrict entry to higher education, but Professor Meyer told the conference that was not the Leipzig declaration's aim. Many academics are not convinced that the planned Abitur reform currently being drawn up by the conference of education ministers will solve the universities' problems. Konrad Schily, president of Germany's only state-recognised private university, claims the continued use of the Abitur as an entry ticket to university does not solve any of the problems of overcrowding and diminishing funding. His university, Witten-Herdecke, already operates its own selection procedures. The result is a negligible drop-out rate compared with the 31 per cent rate in state universities, said Dr Schily, who wants to scrap the central admissions system altogether.
However, Bavarian education minister Hans Zehetmair rejected the Leipzig declaration, claiming that extra selection procedures would just put more burden on young people. It was much more important to strengthen the Abitur and make it a nationally uniform exam, he said.