Super-ministry links research and industry

November 25, 1994

A "super-ministry" of education and research has been created by the incoming German conservative-liberal coalition government -- part of a drive for closer co-operation between academic research and industry.

The influential Christian Democrat Juergen Ruettgers will lead the ministry for tomorrow (Zukunftsministerium), which will take over the role of two former ministries of research and education.

Former education minister Karl-Hans Laermann, a liberal democrat, has been dropped from the coalition cabinet. He was a casualty of the FDP's poor showing in last month's general election.

The government also announced it will create a German Academy of Sciences to boost research and innovation. A Christian Democratic Union spokesman said it will be concerned with fundamental research issues such as ethical questions arising from biotechnology. It will invite dialogue from leading scientists and intellectuals.

Commentators have criticised it as reminiscent of the soviet-style academies of sciences, and have claimed that it would be open to political bias and therefore would not be universally recognised.

But Mr Ruettgers said in an interview with the German financial daily Handelsblatt that similar institutions already exist in the United States and Britain but have no equivalent contact in Germany. He said this was detrimental to Germany's economic ties with the world.

Mr Ruettgers, aged 43, is considered a rising star and an "absolute professional" by party colleagues. In 1987, soon after entering the Bundestag, he chaired a commission to gauge the impact of technology.

Since 1991, he has been CDU parliamentary manager in the Bundestag, a position that made him right-hand man of CDU parliamentary leader Wolfgang Schaeuble.

In his new post he will want to bind higher education research far more closely with industry. He wants to encourage people with good vocational skills into university even if they lack the usual academic requirements. He believes vocational and academic education should have equal standing.

The ministry for tomorrow plans to increase education spending by 2.7 per cent to DM 9.47 billion per year (Pounds 4 billion), although this will only compensate for cuts already agreed earlier this year.

It will encourage more industry-oriented courses, and will discuss with the federal states and German employers aims to make vocational education more attractive again.

And it wants to shorten the time students spend in the higher education system. Germany's 1.8 million students spend an average six years completing a degree, partly because of chronic overcrowding in universities.

But left-wingers lambasted the new ministry, saying it would be dictated by market forces which would restrict rather than widen future choice. The left-wing Tageszeitung called the ministry for tomorrow "Orwellian newspeak". It is "laughably anachronistic", it said.

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