German chancellor Gerhard
Schroder has announced plans for a E51 million (Pounds 30 million) programme to modernise informatics courses at universities and Fachhochschulen to help the country overcome its huge shortage in communication technology specialists.
The government will contribute half the money for the five-year programme if the states, which have sovereignty in higher education, finance the rest, Mr
Schroder told the annual meeting of the Conference of University Rectors (HRK).
The aim would be to develop new, shorter degrees, especially internationally compatible bachelor and masters qualifications, but also to modernise existing courses, Mr Schroder said. "I envisage a competition in which universities develop concepts for improving numbers, efficiency and standards on these courses. A jury would choose the best for sponsorship."
Klaus Landfried, president of the HRK, said this would be "an important step in the right direction" towards solving the crisis in the sector. He said Germany will need at least 40,000 new informatics students a year to meet the needs of industry - double the current number enrolling.
But Hans Zehetmair, Bavaria's Christian Social Union education minister, said the programme would simply be "a drop in the ocean".
Informatics degrees enjoyed an early boom when the subject was founded in Germany in the 1970s, but suffered a dramatic drop in the late 1980s and early 1990s when companies cut back on graduate intakes. Now, thanks to the rapidly growing telecommunications, new media and biotechnolgy industries, German companies are predicting a shortfall of 75,000 specialists in coming years.
The government is also working out a controversial plan to offer work permits to foreign computer specialists from non-European Union countries. It would override Germany's immigration rules to issue five-year work permits for up to 20,000 young computer specialists. They are thought most likely to come from India's booming computer industry.
Former education minister Jurgen Ruttgers has criticised the plan, saying it is letting down young Germans. But Mr
Schroder defended the scheme, saying that "German society could well do with this push towards internationalism".