The distribution of power in Germany is such that university funding is the responsibility of states, not of the government. As a result of different political preferences; and a dispersion of political power, any attempt to change the system can be difficult. Consequently, just two years after being introduced in most states, tuition fees are being scrapped so that they remain in just three of Germany’s sixteen states.
Like the UK, the number of students entering the system each year is not only at an all time high but growing – 200,000 students have enrolled at universities in the past three years.
This is a result of three things: a change in the school leaving age leading to two academic years entering the system at the same time; the suspension of compulsory military service; and the uncertainty in tuition fee costs.
The lack of continuity between states has left universities unable to cope with the boom in demand. The University of Bamberg was so oversubscribed that only those students lucky enough to have been selected by a random ballot were allowed to attend lectures.
Students are often forced to sit on the floor and on stairs in lecture rooms. In one case, at the University of Technology, Dortmund, a lecture had to be delayed while the professor asked those students who were sitting on the floor and steps to leave. The students refused and the lecture was cancelled. The outraged students subsequently protested and stormed the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
The massive wave of new students has also affected student accommodation. Unlike first-year York students, German students are expected to find private accommodation on their own before arriving. Due to the already flooded private sector letting market, many students find themselves living in appalling conditions. In Jena, central Germany, some students have been forced to live in caravans.
In the protest against the accommodation situation, students at the University of Frankfurt occupied vacated properties, refusing to leave until being forced out by police who arrested 73 students.
University funding is a necessity. Both German and British students are feeling the effects of a squeeze on funds. The future financing of both higher education systems is very uncertain and both will dominate policy debates for years to come.