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Germany: concern over coalition plans for higher education

The new German federal government of Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU) has taken office, with Annette Schavan as the new minister for education and research. The coalition treaty has come under heavy criticism, for it foresees that most of the competences in the field of higher education will become the competence of the Länder. Only admissions and degrees would remain a federal competence, leaving the federal government with little to decide over. The Rectors’ Conference (HRK) urged to reconsider any further transfer of competences at this critical point in time. With an expected additional 500,000 students in the coming 15 years in a system that is already overstrained, the HRK’s is worried about how higher education can be decently funded in the future, especially with regard to infrastructure and equipment. In the current system, the federal government co-finances the construction of university buildings with a 50% share, and it contributes to special programmes (Bund-Länder Programme), for example in the area of internationalisation. German university leaders fear that the financially-weak federal states will not make up for these losses. The HRK also warns that further transfers of competences to the individual states would be incompatible with a strong, uniform identity for German higher education, which is deemed necessary given strong worldwide competition. The worries of the HRK were aggravated by the unexpected resignation of its President. Professor Gaehtgens, who stepped down during the last plenary meeting of HRK. According to sources, the President’s relationship with the HRK board (made up of Vice-Presidents), which complained over a lack of involvement in major decisions, had seriously suffered. HRK Communication in English