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Few know that Germany’s federal government plays only a secondary role in higher education. The country’s public universities and colleges are run by the states (Bundesländer), which also provide the lion’s share of the funding. This is enshrined in article 91b of the Grundgesetz, Germany’s constitution. This article boils down to a ban on any systematic and long-term federal co-funding of higher education institutions. It only allows a federal engagement in “projects” of limited reach and duration (such as the ‘excellence initiative’), as well as the funding of extra-university research institutes. Following onto years of discussion about the unfortunate arrangement, on 1 June Ms. Merkel’s cabinet introduced a bill with the aim of extending the federal government‘s possibilities to institutional funding.
The proposal produced mixed reactions. In substance, everybody is in favour of putting an end to the odd ban. But the opposition of Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party objected to the fact that it would be limited to higher education and exclude schools. They accused Ms. Schavan, the federal education minister, of going for the ‘sexy bits’ only – research and elite universities. Horst Hippler, the president of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), welcomed the initiative. The HRK had been amongst the strongest voices for the abolition of the ban for a long time already.
It will not be easy to put an end to the absurd arrangement. Changes to Germany’s constitution require a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament. The federal government has a majority in the Bundestag, but this falls short of a two thirds majority. In the Bundesrat, the opposition Social Democrats and Greens dominate. Ms. Schavan therefore needs to seek compromises both with the federal opposition and the states (Länder). She still hopes to see the bill debated in the Bundesrat in September and introduced for the first reading in the Bundestag in October of this year, resulting in the constitutional change in 2013. If all goes well….
HIS (in German)