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Why tuition fees can increase inequality

German student Felix argues that the introduction of tuition fees would put an unbearable burden on poor students

  • Student finance
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Felix Simon

February 11 2016
Unbalanced scales


Germany could be considered a paradise for students as regards tuition fees. The reason is simple: there are none.

Germany, “the land of poets and thinkers”, is traditionally one of those countries where university education costs you nothing, with the exception of standard cost of living charges and a small semester fee. This fee normally ranges between 100 and 300 (£78-£235), depending on where you study; but students also get free public transport in their university city (and often in the whole state) and other amenities such as discounts or free entry to museums. As always, there are minor exceptions to the rule – some private universities and polytechnics charge tuition fees that in some cases easily exceed 10,000 for a single semester. However, the majority of Germany’s universities do not require you to pay for your tuition, which is, from my point of view, a good thing.

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Some German politicians have been flirting with the idea of introducing tuition fees for years, but fortunately, an attempt to introduce them at all German universities came to a halt in 2008. While it is understandable that universities often operate on a tight budget as research, particularly in the natural sciences, can be immensely costly, tuition fees should not be the means of financing these expenditures. For prospective students from low-income backgrounds, these fees can make the path to higher education an unnecessarily rocky road. Specifically, those who are the first in their family to study at university often do not have parents who can provide for expensive study materials, textbooks or the rent for their student accommodation. While students who are financially well-off can immerse themselves in their studies (or student life), these students must work parallel to university – otherwise they could not study at all. Seen from this angle, tuition fees are an extra burden on their backs.

And fees, once introduced, are by no means fixed. Despite repeated promises from tuition fee advocates, there is no guarantee that fees will not be raised from year to year. What started with € 1,000 might easily turn into 1,500 the following year and so on.

Nevertheless, someone eventually has to fund higher education and the costs of studying, which are in Germany the state’s (and therefore the taxpayers’) responsibility. Yet for a country whose most valuable resources are not oil and gas but rather the educated minds of its citizens, this should not be a price too high.

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