In the news

December 4, 1998

Roman Herzog may be Germany's president but this has not stopped him being rude about Germans, or at least about their education system. The former law professor has called for a thorough reform of his country's higher education sector, which he calls bureaucratic and provincial.

Last year, impressed by the progress of the Asian tiger economies - before their recent collapse - he delivered a strong speech condemning Germany for "an ossification, a failure to modernise" and warned that "the best heads" from Asia and elsewhere would no longer choose to study there.

Bluff and straight-talking, Herzog was educated at the University of Munich, the Free University of Berlin and the Hochschule fur Verwaltungswissenshaft (business school) in Speyer, where he is an honorary professor, before going into politics. He was minister for culture and sport and for the interior in Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic government, but he made his name as head of the constitutional court, which he left to become president in 1994.

He supported last year's radical higher education reform bill, saying it allowed universities room to experiment and has urged them to become more competititive and less uniform. He favours a combination of German academic standards and Anglo-Saxon flexibility of study, with more professional experience for students at an earlier age.

Now 64 and the owner of a home in Dachau to retire to, Herzog has been praised for using every opportunity to refer to Nazi atrocities to ensure they are not forgotten. He has been awarded the Leo Baeck Prize by Germany's Jewish community for efforts to build understanding among Germans, Jews and other groups.

On his state visit to Britain this week he received from the Queen a golden Orb and Cross, which will top the Frauenkirche in Dresden, destroyed by Allied bombers in 1945 and due to be restored by 2004.

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