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In yet another wave of fury and disappointment, thousands of German students have taken to the streets in the last two weeks of November, voicing their concern over several issues, chief among them the deplorable implementation of the Bologna reforms, the introduction of tuition fees and unequal access to education in the country. The strikes were initiated by the national action committee "Bildungstreik 2009“, which had organised similar protests earlier this year (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, June 2009 edition). While the Cultural Affairs Ministers, the German Rectors’ Conference and the German Ministry for Education alike showed sympathy for most of the concerns, all of them are the targets of the protests at the same time. Education Minister Annette Schavan conceded that "technical mistakes" had been made in implementing the Bologna reforms and said that the government was considering to raise the level of state grants.
A little further south, in Austria, there is not much more consensus among students, universities and government bodies about similar issues either. Students have been blocking universities to express their disagreement with how decisions in education matters are being taken – or, in fact, not taken. One is tempted to conclude that the respective groups should join forces with their neighbours. But this remains highly unlikely, as the Austrian government is discussing quotas or compensation payments for foreign students that enroll in Austrian universities - the largest group of foreign students in Austria being Germans (we reported in the ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, November 2008 edition).
While protests are a sign of a healthy democracy, it remains to be seen whether they will yield the desired results in Germany and Austria. The numerous issues and targets of protests, as well as the problem of free riders using the uproar to bring in further interests, might make it hard to stay focused.