German software engineering companies are overcoming a chronic shortage of new recruits by offering students a salary to study a degree course specially tailored to their needs.
Twelve students on the BSc in telecommunications at Nurnberg Fachhochschule are being paid trainee salaries of up to E1,150 (Pounds 750) per month, for the duration of their full-time two- and-a-half-year course.
In return, they have signed a training contract with their companies obliging them to do practical training during semester breaks and to work for them for at least two years on graduation.
Norbert Lechner, head of personnel for Ericsson Eurolab in Nurnberg, said: "If they dropped out of the course or wanted to switch employers earlier they would have to pay a penalty for breaking the contract."
His company and two other Nurnberg-based firms, Lucent Technologies and Sohard, joined the Fachhochschule, a form of technical university or polytechnic, to develop a BSc that follows a general engineering degree for the first two semesters before more specific training, some of which is carried out by the companies' staff.
The companies selected the trainees at interviews and, as long as they met the basic state requirement for entry to a Fachhochschule, they were then automatically accepted on the BSc.
Mr Lechner said: "In Germany there is a big shortage of engineers, especially software engineers, so we looked for a way to solve the problem."
Herbert Eichele, rector of the Fachhochschule, said he did not believe the arrangement could make them too dependent on the companies.
"We are not offering a course for Lucent Technologies here. We have simply found out in advance the needs and demands of the companies," he said.
Nor is he worried that the companies wanted their employees to take over some of the teaching. Under their regulations, German Fachhochschulen are obliged to take 10 per cent of their teaching staff from practitioners of professions anyway.
The companies favoured a BSc degree course rather than a traditional German engineering degree because the former can be completed in two-and-a-half years rather than in four to five years.
The Fachhochschule believes it is the first in Germany to develop a customised degree course for industry. But there are signs others will follow suit.