Germany lacks competitive edge

June 2, 1995

Germany's foreign secretary Klaus Kinkel has called for a fundamental adjustment of the country's higher education system, and wants industry and the federal and state governments to set up a joint committee to investigate this.

Mr Kinkel believes that it is vital that Germany's competitiveness in foreign trade be boosted by a more co-ordinated higher education and grant policy.

In a recent Handelsblatt article, the minister warned that studying in Germany was losing its attractiveness. Referring to the country's share of foreign students of just 6 per cent - half of whom had in fact graduated from German schools - he said the country's performance in this respect was mediocre.

Mr Kinkel concludes that enrolling for study courses in Germany "is obviously not the first choice that the best throughout the world make". He blames the increasing dominance of the English language, overcrowding at Germany's higher education institutions, and the length of German courses.

According to recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics, on average member countries spend 6.1 per cent of their gross domestic product on education. With a spend of just 5 per cent, Germany is bottom of the league in this respect.

Insufficient funds and support restrict the effort of higher education institutions to cater intensively for foreign students, Mr Kinkel argues. But he also stresses that Germany's Aliens Law and discrimination against foreigners have made recruitment of overseas students difficult.

The incompatibility of degrees and credits is another serious disadvantage. "Non-recognition or only partial recognition of foreign degrees is hardly an incentive for gifted foreigners to continue their studies here or for Germans to go abroad," he says. "Study time is often prolonged unnecessarily. Non-Europeans who have graduated from a German university are older than returnees from universities in other countries who are also applying for jobs, and the degrees they produce need explaining," he said.

Mr Kinkel is demanding that the higher education and grants system become an integral part of the ongoing debate on Germany's future as an industrial nation.

Study courses and degrees must be made more compatible with those abroad. Grant organisations need more support. And structural reforms in higher education need to be implemented, enabling study time to be shortened, enhancing competition among higher education institutions and awarding them more self-responsibility.

Mr Kinkel also thinks that institutions should be given the right to pick their own students. He calls for better links between research and industry. in order to apply results more swiftly.

He also believes the education system should be made more efficient.

If Germany is to become more competitive at international level, Mr Kinkel concludes, there is a "need for a strategic alliance between the German export trade, foreign trade policy and foreign cultural affairs policy".

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