Theses on Status Quo and Future Challenges of the German System of Higher Education

By Erichsen, Hans-Uwe | German Policy Studies, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Theses on Status Quo and Future Challenges of the German System of Higher Education


Erichsen, Hans-Uwe, German Policy Studies


I. Talking about the status quo and future challenges of German higher education is not possible without considering the developments in Europe. Both the programmes of the EU and the so-called Bologna-process are leading to a loss of national sovereignty in the field of higher education. From a historical perspective, this is not a new development. However, it underlines the eroding position of national states.

II. It is common knowledge that along with the Catholic Church, the university is one of the oldest institutions in the world. The ideas, which shape and feature the university, have been laid down in the "magna charta universitatum" which has been signed by rectors of the European universities on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Bologna. The declaration "The European Higher Education area", which is very important for the recent and future development of the higher education sector and which was signed by the ministers of 29 European Countries on 19 June 1999 in Bologna, refers to the "magna charta universitatum".

III. In Germany, universities and similar institutions fulfil a constitutional task. Universities not only contribute to the qualifications and personal development of people, but also their work is essential for the maintenance and stabilisation of democracy and its fundamental values regarding the promotion of culture. Universities fulfil this task by researching, teaching and studying.

IV. It is taken for granted that independence of research and teaching is an essential part of universities identity, and it has to be protected against interference by state or society. Therefore, an independent organisation and independent procedures of decision making are necessary. Today, there is a general consensus saying that the unity of research and teaching can only be partly realized by individuals. This concept only works for institutions as a whole.

A university is an institution where research and teaching is performed by scientists. At German universities, academics partly work on their own and partly work in an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary network. In any case, it is important that there is a link between research and teaching. This is the precondition that mutual stimulation and scrutiny of results and contents take place.

V. What is essential to academic life, which is institutionalised at universities, is a highly qualified but also critical staff, who see themselves as and behave as members of a corporation. This should be reflected in the way of creating decision-making bodies. When it comes to making decisions about academic affairs, the corporative organisation should be capable of considering plurality and of securing quality standards.

VI. It is a university's duty, and its aim to contribute to the solution of social problems. Thus, universities analyse social developments and deal critically but also constructively with these problems. It is the university's task to act as a driving force and to give new impetus for social developments. It goes without saying that a university should deal with social needs, put questions on a scientific level and contribute to their solution. However, it has to be stated that in Germany, there is a lack of communication and interaction between the fields of politics, society and science. This led to a kind of distrust between the different actors, which should be reduced by their contributions.

VII. In the current discussions on the future of universities, politicians and representatives of the economy consistently suggest the adoption of economic principles for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of universities. However, quarterly financial statements can not be an adequate way of measuring the performance of universities. It is important that universities stand by their own culture and maintain it.

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