Overtaxed students hit back

February 19, 1999

Hamburg

A German university professor has claimed that half of all students are not intelligent enough to be at university.

Jutta Rall-Niu, head of the Hamburg branch of DHV, the association of university professors, told the Hamburger Morgenpost that many students were "overtaxed by their studies".

"In my experience half of all students do not belong at university. It was a big mistake opening up access to universities and to offer higher education free of charge," Professor Rall-Niu, a specialist in Chinese language and culture, told the newspaper.

"It is not exactly motivating for a university lecturer when their students turn up late to a lecture and then eat their breakfast," she continued.

Her outburst was met with derision from many of Hamburg's 63,700 students.

"It is the other way round. Many professors do not belong at universities," said one 22-year-old sociology student. "They show no interest in their students or in their teaching. The professors should put their own house in order before they go making students responsible for the universities' problems."

A 32-year-old business studies student added: "Many professors are not exactly up to the minute in their research. They are often out of touch with reality, for example with the business world."

Students complain of lectures and tutorials cancelled at short notice and exam work left unmarked for months. They say many professors abuse their positions as Beamte - public sector workers with tenure, high salaries and privileges.

They quoted a 1995 investigation of Hamburg University Hospital which found that medical professors grossly neglected their five-hours-a-week teaching obligations - the chief surgeon only fulfilled 10 per cent of this requirement, it found.

The mud-slinging in Hamburg illustrates how the battle lines are drawing up in the reform battle. Like many senior academics, Professor Rall-Niu wants university entrance requirements to be tighter, but she opposes performance related pay "because it is impossible to measure academic achievement".

Students, who work an average of 12 hours a week to help finance their studies, oppose plans for student fees and intermediate examinations to check on their progress.

Edelgard Bulmahn, Germany's new Social Democrat education minister, appears to be on the students' side. She has repeatedly rejected the possibility of student fees - even though many Social Democrat states are already introducing them. She has also promised a reform to make a part of professors' salaries dependent on their teaching and research achievements.

The government is considering dropping Beamtenstatus for new professors.

The Times HigherJfebruary 19 1999international news 17 Company matters: students are learning how to manage art, such as the bronze horses from the Basilica, Venice venice picture library

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