In the news

October 23, 1998

Edelgard Bulmahn, Germany's new education minister, has shown it pays to heed maternal advice. "Make something of yourself and marry late," her mother advised the girl growing up in a village in Lower Saxony.

Bulmahn, now aged 47, took it to heart. Daughter of a bargeman father and hairdresser mother, she studied politics and English at Hanover University and became a teacher before her swift political rise to become one of five women in Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's cabinet.

She was first elected to the Bundestag in 1987, to the Social Democratic Party executive in 1993, and has been SDP education spokesman since 1996.

Although fond of red jackets, Bulmahn is no "Schroder sweetie", the German version of a Blair babe. More left-wing than him, she was once considered a Schroder sceptic.

But she shares with Schroder a modest family background that perhaps sharpened her strong sense of social justice. She is resolute on the issue of student finance, saying: "A clear no to student fees." She would also like a quick reform of the student maintenance system. And when a journalist asked about Germany's mushrooming elite universities, she sniped: "What is 'elite', actually?" As education minister, Bulmahn has the difficult task of implementing the SDP's election promise to double spending on education and research over the next five years. Rated by colleagues and opponents alike, she is also in a position to carry through a key demand for quicker lines of communication between researchers and industry.

Although she supports reform of Germany's overcrowded and bureaucratic higher education system, she does not want radical change, arguing: "What we have already is not that bad."

She also heeded her mother's other piece of advice and took her time before marrying a professor at Hanover University.

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