Students threaten 'angry autumn'

September 1, 1995

Germany's "minister for the future" has detailed his plans to shift education funds into research and technology - and unleashed a new storm of controversy about the future financing of higher education.

Jurgen Ruttgers, the "super-minister" for education, research and training, said his 1996 budget will plough an extra DM500 million into crucial research areas such as biotechnology, environmental and health research and information technology next year.

There will also be an extra DM80 million (Pounds 36 million) for university building and development.

But the Science Council, the independent higher education advisory body, criticised it as far too little. It had wanted at least DM200 million to pay for current building plans.

Dr Ruttgers' total budget for 1996 will be DM15,620 billion (Pounds 7,100 billion). This is an increase of only DM90 million, meaning that much of the extra funding for research will have to be at the expense of other areas. One plan is to charge 8 per cent interest on student loans which, if passed by parliament, would free up DM266 million next year and DM780 million in 1997.

But the issue has already won widespread condemnation from politicians, universities and independent political commentators because it puts the burden of increasing funding on to the backs of the poorest students.

Only 19 per cent of students receive loans. The umbrella student organisation FZS has threatened an "angry autumn" of protests if the minister does not abandon the plan, and the main teaching and lecturers' union GEW has promised its support "on a wider front".

The opposition Social Democrats have called for a broader debate on how education can be financed in future. They are working on a student finance model which would combine all state grants such as child benefit, educational allowances and student maintenance.

Student groups are calling for similar support grants combining child and educational allowances which would be paid to students themselves rather than to parents.

Some Christian Democrats favour educational vouchers which every young person would get to spend on vocational or higher education. Once the voucher was used up the owner would have to pay the difference to pay for courses.

Michael Daxner, president of the University of Oldenburg, has suggested an academic tax. Students would get a free education regardless of parental income but would have to repay it later in the form of a supplementary tax.

Whatever future funding system is agreed, commentators are saying it will have to come quickly. The 1980s baby boom means that 1.5 million more pupils filling Germany's classrooms will in a few years be demanding places in an already overcrowded higher education system.

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