Germany: Elite Universities




Mihai Nadin writes:In Germany, facing a fast decline of higher education (despite the very high amounts of money spent in order to keep the "machine" working on the Bismark inspired model), the government launched the idea of elite universities. This means, some will be selected and be funded in order to become the Harvards and Stanfords of Germany. Huge outcry (Why do we need elite universities?), but the project is very much alive. One component: bring the elite back from the USA. Some professors have  indeed returned (since the funding committed is really very elitist!).

 Germanist Jim Tent writes: Mihai Nadin's comments on new efforts in German government circles to halt the decline in standards in higher education parallel my experiences with academic colleagues and emeriti in Berlin who are trying to save the Free University from oblivion. Faced with drastic cuts in local budgets, the Free University (FU), along with Humboldt and the Technical University, has been trying desperately in the last decade to find ways to replace lost state support by finding alternative approaches to funding and support. First, they have cut back drastically on the sheer number of students enrolled (no tuition from them) and have eliminated "Karteileichen" (literally card-catalogue corpses, i.e. students who are enrolled but who are in reality inactive). Like Heidelberg University, they too, are trying to invigorate alumni associations on the American model. For example, the FU has a highly active "Ernst Reuter Gesellschaft" that encourages alumni participation and support. The FU is actively seeking American students to study there, including intensive start-up language training for students who have had no German language instruction. The FU has long had strong connections to Stanford University, and its efforts to mobilize FU alumni gratefully borrow from the Stanford model. Finally, some faculties, such as the Medical Faculty of the FU, are actively seeking to forge closer ties with leading American universities such as Harvard and Stanford. Since Berlin's purse-string holding politicians (and German politicians in general) seem inclined to be ever more stingy about support for higher education, we can only wish the innovators of initiatives like those listed above well.


RH: This is extremely important.  All around the world universities are used as a base by youths who are students only in name.  They organize other students willing to back them politically, and they use the campus as a refuge which the proclaim is not to be violated by the forces of order. Free tuition makes these activities possible.  The solution would seem to be the American system of charging heavy tuition, with ample scholarships for the most deserving students.

Germanist Jim Tent writes: Mihai Nadin's comments on new efforts in German government circles to halt the decline in standards in higher education parallel my experiences with academic colleagues and emeriti in Berlin who are trying to save the Free University from oblivion. Faced with drastic cuts in local budgets, the Free University (FU), along with Humboldt and the Technical University, has been trying desperately in the last decade to find ways to replace lost state support by finding alternative approaches to funding and support. First, they have cut back drastically on the sheer number of students enrolled (no tuition from them) and have eliminated "Karteileichen" (literally card-catalogue corpses, i.e. students who are enrolled but who are in reality inactive). Like Heidelberg University, they too, are trying to invigorate alumni associations on the American model. For example, the FU has a highly active "Ernst Reuter Gesellschaft" that encourages alumni participation and support. The FU is actively seeking American students to study there, including intensive start-up language training for students who have had no German language instruction. The FU has long had strong connections to Stanford University, and its efforts to mobilize FU alumni gratefully borrow from the Stanford model. Finally, some faculties, such as the Medical Faculty of the FU, are actively seeking to forge closer ties with leading American universities such as Harvard and Stanford. Since Berlin's purse-string holding politicians (and German politicians in general) seem inclined to be ever more stingy about support for higher education, we can only wish the innovators of initiatives like those listed above well.


RH: This is extremely important.  All around the world universities are used as a base by youths who are students only in name.  They organize other students willing to back them politically, and they use the campus as a refuge which the proclaim is not to be violated by the forces of order. Free tuition makes these activities possible.  The solution would seem to be the American system of charging heavy tuition, with ample scholarships for the most deserving students.


Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: January 16, 2005