Established in 1968, the Fachhochschulen offer a limited alternative to the traditional university pattern. Their professors, primarily teachers with industrial experience, pursue research of an applied nature, geared towards the needs of industry and commerce. Fachhochschulen, catering predominantly for engineering and business studies, have a skills-based and vocational orientation and fill an important gap in German higher education. They provide their students with a highly structured four-year study course and an internationally recognized qualification with a drop-out rate of about 10 per cent. (Comparable figures for universities indicate approximately six years of study and a drop-out rate of nearly 30 per cent. 66) Fachhochschulen enjoy great popularity, apparently justifying their funding by measurable results. However, such a conclusion fails to recognize that their applied research relies on basic and theoretical research carried out at universities. Moreover, the pursuit of knowledge is not a matter of simple conversion into immediate success and the still manageable size of Fachhochschulen facilitates an efficient delivery of their objectives.
The various recent debates illustrate a degree of unanimity, though reforms are unlikely to prove excessive: 67 university fees are enjoying little popularity, but greater competition among universities is seen as positive, provided this involves enhanced financial freedom. Increased choice on the part of students and universities in application procedures is welcome, although entrance examinations to replace the Abitur seem less desirable. The separation of research and teaching is unlikely, even if some teaching at the lower level falls to staff with little research experience. The greatest problem is the indifference of a society in which a serious irrational distrust exists towards the image of universities as instruments of progress. This is an international problem, particularly acute in Western Europe, where progress is often considered less important than issues which impinge on daily life or on vocal minority interests. Universities have lost some of their prestige in the eyes of the general public. This is not necessarily to be deplored; a less elevated, more flexible university, better integrated into society, may well sit more easily within a modern, pluralist and industrialized Germany and lead it towards a greater understanding of democracy.