Reunified students divided

May 14, 1999

Nearly a decade after German reunification, students from the east and west are still divided, according to a large-scale academic survey funded by the German government.

Only 10 per cent of students in the survey of more than 8,000 students by Konstanz University's Working Group on Higher Education had crossed the former inner-German border to go to university. Most went unwillingly as they could not find study places at the university of their choice.

The antipathy between those from former East Germany and the West appears to be growing: 80 per cent of easterners and 55 per cent of westerners have made contacts and exchanges with colleagues across the divide, but more than half said they would not continue such links in future.

Tino Bargel, who led the study, warned: "Fusion will not happen overnight. It needs to be fostered."

The survey reflects the prejudices eastern and western Germans still have, with Ossis accusing Wessis of being know-alls and Wessis calling their neighbours moaning minnies. The problems have been fuelled by the high economic cost of reunification.

But Mr Bargel warned against over-dramatising the results. The survey also found that eastern and western students had increasingly convergent social and political goals, career aims and expectations of university, he said.

There are also practical reasons why Ossis and Wessis do not mix. Students' choice of university is influenced more by a city's reputation than study conditions. Many cities in western Germany are too expensive for easterners.

Yet the unfashionable status of eastern German cities means their universities now offer superior teaching conditions to traditionally popular mass universities in the west such as Hamburg and Frankfurt. The student:professor ratio in the east is just 9:1 compared with 26:1 in the west, and students are able to complete degrees far more quickly than the west.

The gulf between the quality of teaching is now so marked that the latest league table by news magazine Der Spiegel, which emphasised student satisfaction, rated many east German universities among the country's best.

The 4,700 western professors now working in eastern Germany describe conditions as paradise compared with the west. But the survey found western German students are still ill-informed about the study conditions and possibilities offered by the east.

The Konstanz Working Group on Higher Education publishes surveys of student trends in three-yearly cycles. An English-language version of the latest study is to be published in summer.

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