Tuition fees ban turns into an election issue

September 4, 1998

GERMANY's Social Democrats have promised a nationwide ban on student fees if they win the general election on September .

A new Social Democrat government would alter the framework law on higher education, enacted last month, as an "urgent task" to exclude the possibility of universities charging fees, said Edelgard Buhlmann, education spokesman in SPD chancellor candidate Gerhard Schroder's election team.

German president Roman Herzog last month signed the reform although it had been rejected by the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament representing the Lander (states).

The main political parties agree on most of the reforms, which give universities more freedom to control their own affairs, foster competition in higher education and introduce the option of more streamlined and internationally recognised qualifications such as bachelors and masters degrees.

But the SPD and the Greens had blocked the legislation because they wanted it expressly to contain a nationwide ban on student fees. The new law does not rule this out.

The Social Democrats spelled out their intentions on fees after the education and science trade union GEW criticised the party for not taking a stronger stand.

GEW leaders were concerned that a ban on student fees did not appear in the SPD's action plan for the first 100 days.

The Greens, who also want a nationwide ban on fees, have said they will support a reintroduction of the higher education framework reform law, including a vote on fees, if the general election results in an SPD-Green coalition.

The SPD and Greens expressly reject fees in their election programmes. The Christian Democrats avoid the issue, which is controversial in their ranks. The liberal Free Democrats, currently junior coalition partners in Helmut Kohl's CDU government, wanted to postpone the fees debate until after the reform of the framework law was passed. But in the "medium term" it is calling for a refinancing of higher education similar to the Australian model.

The controversy over fees has dominated discussion over higher education reform for two years.

But now that the law has come into force, education minister Jurgen Ruttgers is pressing ahead with reform plans.

If he remains education minister next year, he has promised to tie DM200 million (Pounds 67.75 million) of state education funding to performance.

The funds, representing 4 per cent of his total education budget of DM4.63 billion next year, will be distributed on the basis of quality of teaching and research.

Ruttgers plans to use performance-related funds to support the development of multimedia projects in universities, international undergraduate courses and programmes encouraging graduates going into self-employment.

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