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Germany: First-year university student numbers soar + new money for widening access

The population of first-year students enrolled into German universities by the start of the winter semester is 15% larger compared to last year. Overall, 500 000 students, representing one fourth of Germany’s total student population, are expected by the German Rector’s Conference to start their studies in 2011. The abolition of military conscription and the historically high number of school leavers this year are cited amongst the main reasons for this increase in student enrolments, which has been particularly remarkable in universities in the western part of the country.

Preparations for this expected increase in student admissions have been underway at all levels for several years. The federal and state governments agreed on the Higher Education Pact in 2007, which provides almost EUR 5 billion in extra funding for 335 000 additional places for the period 2010-2015. Specifically, EUR 600 million will be provided to the states for the creation of additional student places in 2011, with EUR 1.1 billion designated for this purpose in 2012. The student inflow creates additional pressure on university infrastructure, student facilities and teaching and other staff. The universities face a challenge of expanding their capacities and maintaining quality teaching and mentoring for students.

In parallel, efforts are being made in Germany to increase access to higher education for people who have dropped out of university or somehow missed out on higher education or vocational training. EUR 400 million will be allocated from German national and EU structural funds to several German universities and colleges under the programme Aufstieg durch Bildung: offene Hochschulen (Advancement through education: Open higher education institutions). This programme was designed in 2008, and the results of the newest competitive round were unveiled in October. Inspired by principles of lifelong learning, 26 projects have been selected by international expert panels to offer tailor-made programmes supporting student dropouts, professional and academic re-qualification of individuals, as well as learning among people with family and other obligations. The findings of the newest EUROSTUDENT IV report (see the related article in this edition of the ACA Newsletter) point to a relative flexibility of the higher education system in Germany. Meanwhile, the latest study, Three years after the education summit: Taking stock of progress, published by the Confederation of German Trade Unions, comes up with a mixed record on the achievement of the country’s 2008 educational targets. While the objective of 40% of young people enrolled in higher education was more than achieved in 2010, the hoped-for improvement in the share of young people without a high school diploma and/or any professional qualification has not been obtained – performance in this area remains practically unchanged.

Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), student enrollments (in German) Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Aufstieg durch Bildung (in German) Confederation of German Trade Unions (in German)