Higher Education in Germany: Fragmented Change amid Paradigm Shifts
Welsh, Helga A., German Politics and Society
After the two German states unified in 1990, the tendency to transplant West German practices to the former East Germany was particularly pronounced in areas where systemic differences and perceived inefficiency met ideological reservations. The higher education system was among them. Comprehensive institutional, policy, and personnel transfer from West to East ensued. Starting in the mid 1990s after many failed initiatives, however, new policies were launched in the unified Germany. Reinforced by feedback from institutional and policy transfer to the East, factors such as Europeanization and globalization empowered newly formed advocacy coalitions to advance a reform agenda. Competition and performance seeded other ideas, prominent among them diversification, internationalization, autonomy, and accountability. Existing institutions and firmly rooted traditions still condition and limit change, and reforming the reforms has become commonplace. Differentiation among Lander and higher education institutions has become more pronounced, adding to the variety of outcomes. In ways unforeseen in 1990, some areas of the German higher education system have seen paradigmatic change, while others have survived relatively unscathed. The recalibration of the system continues, and reform pressure persists.
Federal Republic of Germany (FRG); higher education; higher education reform; Bologna Process, internationalization: performance.
Unification of the two German states in October 1990 initiated comprehensive institutional, policy, and personnel transfer from West to East. The political, economic, and social transformation of East Germany was fashioned after West Germany, yet, by the middle of the decade, the need for an overhaul of many cherished aspects of the West German model became palpable. Although most attention focused on restructuring social and labor policies, other areas that came under scrutiny included education in general and higher education in particular, the focus of this article. After a long period of inertia, starting in the mid 1990s, myriad reform initiatives transformed the higher education system in unified Germany.
The term paradigm shift, borrowed from Thomas Kuhn's theory of scientific progress to signify a profound, radical change in understanding, has a firm place in the policy discourse of many countries. Germany is no exception. (2) Paradigms are frameworks that include ideas, goals, and instruments by which experts in the field seek solutions--when they shift, a new system replaces the old one. The concept is applied with amazing regularity to highlight breaks with tradition in Germany's higher education system. Prominent among them are the curricular restructuring associated with the Bologna Declaration to introduce tiered study programs; diversification trends within the two main categories of higher education institutions in Germany--the research-oriented universities, which can grant doctoral degrees, and universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen); (3) and the implementation of steering and funding mechanisms to modify state/university partnerships. Much of the discourse has focused on the key terms "competition" and "performance" to pave the way for reform. (4) They are the seeds around which other ideas coalesce, including diversification, internationalization, autonomy, and accountability.
While paradigm shifts originally alluded to radical breaks with past practices, recent studies emphasize more evolutionary change and the coexistence of paradigms. Looking at economic policy in the United Kingdom, Michael J. Oliver and Hugh Pemberton speak of paradigm evolution rather than revolution, arguing that "one can envisage a subset of the new ideas being incorporated into the prevailing policy paradigm and being used in further experimentation with new instruments and settings." (5) Such a long-term perspective, with its emphasis on gradual development, corresponds to German reform of higher education: old paradigms have staying power, and the elaboration of new ones can be lengthy. …