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Universities in Germany are among the best in Europe for providing students opportunities to join clubs and societies and to interact with people from different backgrounds.
That is one of the key findings from a question on “social engagement” included in Times Higher Education’s European Student Survey, which canvassed the views of thousands of students across the continent.
Students were asked the extent to which their university stimulated social engagement by, for example, making it possible to join clubs or societies, arranging campus events and creating opportunities to meet people on different courses and from other walks of life.
The 51 German institutions included in the final results of the survey achieved a median score of 8 out of 10, ahead of the Republic of Ireland (7.9), Austria (7.6) and the UK (7.5). Five German universities were among the 10 highest-scoring institutions on the question.
Sebastian Berger, a member of the executive committee of the European Students’ Union, said that social engagement was “an indispensable part of student life inside and outside higher education institutions. Interaction between students and their peers or students and staff enhance academic success and belonging as well as the motivation to study and obtain a degree.”
Noting that differing political cultures and education systems meant that social engagement could vary from country to country, he added that the ESU had also found that there could be “quite significant” divergence between universities within a nation.
“There are varied reasons for the lack of social engagement at plenty of European higher education institutions. Students willing to get active are facing massive obstacles regarding the provision of financial support as well as general bureaucratic hurdles that need to be overcome,” he said.
It was important, Mr Berger said, that in addition to public funding to help social engagement, universities needed to “create incentives for students who engage and take responsibility within their student body”.
“Looking at the overall situation of students’ unions in Europe regarding the question of engagement, there is one simple pattern to identify. Whenever higher education institutions provide students with proper funding and resources to build a democratic and self-governed representation structure, there will be engagement. Whenever higher education institutions see students as equal members of the scientific community who are allowed to take part in decision-making processes, there will be massive engagement.
“Students desperately want to participate and shape their education, as well as their environment in general. It is up to higher education institutions and policymakers to enable them.”
Among the institutions performing most strongly for social engagement in the survey was the University of Mannheim.
Its president, Ernst-Ludwig von Thadden, said that the priority it gave to students’ social experience was shown by the way that it incorporated activities such as community service directly into teaching and by its active support for student organisations.
“We believe that social commitment and a high quality of teaching are strongly correlated and that good teaching should always have a social dimension and social relevance,” he said, adding that Mannheim had “one of the biggest numbers of student organisations and initiatives in Germany, which are active in many areas of society and business”.