Reforms still possible in Germany

March 6, 1998

GERMAN state representatives could still block higher education reforms approved by parliament because of the ruling Christian Democrat/Liberal Democrat coalition's refusal to enshrine in law a ban on tuition fees.

The government, however, has said that it does not need the approval of the federal council, controlled by Social Democrats from the Lander, or states, to push through amendments to the reforms.

The amendments had the backing of rectors' conference leader Klaus Landfried and the Centrum fur Hochschulentwicklung, a higher education think tank based in Gutersloh.

Detlef Muller-Bolling, the think tank's director, said a fees ban was premature and would muzzle debate on higher education funding. He was speaking at the centre's exhibition of reform projects at Bonn's Science Centre just three days after the proposals got parliamentary approval.

Professor Muller-Bolling said Germany should adopt a tuition-fee system resembling Australia's HECS scheme.

The think tank was set up by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Foundation for the Promotion of the Rectors' Conference to support Germany's higher education institutions and strengthen their ability to develop.

The reform amendments would introduce performance-related funding, evaluations, a credit-point system and graded and bachelor degrees.

Professor Landfried said institutions had already managed to initiate reform on their own. For example, from 1991 to 1997, average study time had been reduced by up to four semesters, he said. But some of the reforms required new legal regulations.

Jurgen Luthje, president of the University of Hamburg, said that the reform process started at his institution as early as 1992, focusing on teaching practice and incorporating external appraisals by other university heads.

In 1996 a Benchmarking Club of Technical Universities was set up by the universities of Aachen, Dortmund, Kaiserslautern and Magdeburg and the technical universities of Berlin, Darmstadt and Hamburg-Harburg following a rectors' conference suggestion to try out benchmarking to aid self-control in institutions and boost their self-improvement capacity.

The first benchmarking cycle, which was completed last autumn, focused on internal means of allocation in research and teaching and a comparison of structural data between various disciplines.

The rectors are about to launch their own national teachingquality campaign focusing on setting common standards for assessing and improving teaching quality using international comparators. It will also create an information network.

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