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Free tertiary education returns to Germany

Medical students at the University of Leipzig

Germany has a rich and innovative tradition in the field of education, with such highlights as the implementation of the first public and compulsory education system in the 18th century under Prussian rule, to the first modern university embodied by the Humboldt University of Berlin, which served as a model for universities all across Europe.

Until recently, their tertiary education systems were free to the public, with no tuition fees. That changed in 2005, when the German constitutional court ruled that they had the right to charge tuition fees. Of the 16 German states, 7 choose to implement fees. These were light in comparison to other countries, however, and tertiary education in these states was still largely subsidized by the government. But, things have changed again and German universities are returning to their free statuses. Only Bavaria and Lower Saxony plan on continuing implementing any kind of tuition system whatsoever. It’s becoming apparent that tuition is only a temporary fad and will shortly die out completely. Germany’s 2 million university students have the Social Democratic Party to thank for leading the charge in not only Hamburg, but, in Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia as well.

One of the pro-tuition arguments has been the relatively high student-professor rate in German institutions, that being about 53 students per 1 professor. However, the number of professors employed in German universities has increased rapidly in recent years, rendering this point moot. To be specific, according to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, by as much as 8%. Another argument playing to potential budgetary issues has been that longer library hours should be secured. However, this again is another point rendered moot, this time by modern technology. Many institutions now offer their students online versions of their libraries in pdf form, which actually goes to decreasing future library costs. All in all, while there are some legitimate concerns about budgeting in the German university system, such as securing research funding to expand German sciences, these problems can be met just as easily with additional public subsidies. The German government is very cost effective in providing the entire country with a free tertiary education system, getting good results for only €36 billion. Perhaps, a little more investment wouldn’t hurt, as cash strapped students won’t be of much help in this regard, without taking out loans, which was part of the credit bubble that hurt other countries’ economies.

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