[Paleopsych] CHE: German High Court Overturns National Ban on Tuition

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Mon Jan 31 15:43:40 UTC 2005

German High Court Overturns National Ban on Tuition
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.2.4

[Important article for followers of states' rights issues.]

    Germany's highest court ruled last week that a ban on tuition, imposed
    by the federal government in 2002, was unconstitutional.
    The eight-judge panel of the Federal Constitutional Court, in
    Karlsruhe, decided in favor of the six states that had sued to
    overturn the ban, saying it violated Germany's postwar Constitution,
    which makes education the preserve of the 16 states, or Länder, rather
    than the federal government.
    Germany's universities, once world renowned, have suffered under the
    current system, as cash-strapped state governments have cut back on
    financing for higher education.
    University classrooms are notoriously overcrowded, and facilities are
    often ill equipped and poorly maintained. Many universities have
    eliminated entire departments to save money, and those that remain are
    often understaffed.
    A recent ranking by The Times Higher Education Supplement of the
    world's leading universities placed only one German institution -- the
    University of Heidelberg -- in the top 50.
    German university students pay no tuition and tend to take far longer
    to graduate than their counterparts in other European countries. The
    southern state of Baden-Württemberg, where the University of
    Heidelberg is located, became the first to impose tuition on long-term
    students in 1998, when it began charging undergraduates who had been
    pursuing their degrees for more than six years about $550 per
    semester. That practice was stopped by the federal government's 2002
    "We were also the first to promote and to plan general tuition fees,
    although Bavaria will be the first to actually have them, since they
    now hope to install them as soon as later this year," said Gunter
    Schanz, the spokesman for Baden-Württemberg's education ministry. Such
    fees will apply to all university students, not just to those who take
    more than a set number of years to complete their degrees.
    No Fees Until 2007
    Baden-Württemberg does not expect to begin imposing fees, which will
    probably be around 500 euros a semester, or about $660, until 2007,
    said Mr. Schanz. The state's 9 research universities, 22 universities
    of applied science, and 6 universities of education cost about
    $2.9-billion a year to run. The additional revenue generated by
    tuition, about $182-million, will go entirely to those institutions
    and will be spent primarily on teaching, said Mr. Schanz.
    Christoph Parchmann, deputy spokesman of Bavaria's education ministry,
    confirmed that fees of no more than 500 euros a semester are likely to
    be collected there by the end of the year. "We want to change the
    system as quickly as possible," he said. Specifics have yet to be
    decided, and Mr. Parchmann said that everybody, including students,
    the universities, parliament, the unions, and other state officials,
    will be consulted.
    "What we will not do," he vowed, "is to tell the people how the system
    is hoping to be and to ask them afterward what they think."
    Like the other states that challenged the federal government's tuition
    ban, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are governed by parties on the
    right, while the federal government is run by a coalition of
    Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's left-leaning Social Democrats and the
    Green Party. Now that the court ruling leaves the matter of whether to
    impose tuition up to the states, their decisions are likely to be
    based on political alliances.
    "The Social Democrat states are not willing to introduce fees because
    they think it is not good socially and that it will be prohibitive for
    students," said Florian Frank, a spokesman for the federal education
    Last week's ruling was welcomed by university administrators. "We are
    pleased that there is now room for the introduction of tuition fees,
    and we're hoping that the Länder will put new legislation into place
    to allow universities to raise fees," said Christiane Ebel-Gabriel,
    secretary general of the German Rectors' Conference, which represents
    the heads of most of Germany's institutions of higher education.
    Legislation Needed
    States that choose to allow fees will first have to pass enabling
    legislation, and Ms. Ebel-Gabriel said that the universities' main
    concern now is to monitor that process. She and her colleagues believe
    that universities should be permitted to decide how to exercise their
    new right.
    "Universities should be able to decide to what extent they want to
    raise fees, and they should be able to decide not to raise fees for
    certain programs," said Ms. Ebel-Gabriel. "There are some programs
    that are very attractive to students, such as M.B.A. programs and
    other programs that attract large numbers, that the universities
    should be able to charge more for."
    Under Ms. Ebel-Gabriel's preferred system, a university should be
    allowed to charge more to students in a popular business program, up
    to a maximum cap, and less to students in an undersubscribed research
    program. The university should also be allowed to decide how to spend
    the money it collects, she said.
    "The other possibility is that the Länder will define the level of
    fees universally within each state, for all universities and all
    programs identically," said Ms. Ebel-Gabriel. "We feel that this takes
    freedom and initiative and autonomy away from the universities."
    Mr. Schanz, of the education ministry in Baden-Württemberg, said that
    "different fees for different studies and different disciplines" was a
    long-term possibility in that state.
    None of the states are considering charges of more than 500 euros a
    semester, but even that amount strikes many students as exorbitant.
    German student groups reacted angrily to the ruling.
    "Tuition fees will affect living conditions for people throughout the
    country, not just in states that have the fee," predicted Christine
    Scholz, who is studying for a master's degree in art history at the
    Free University of Berlin and is on the executive board of Germany's
    main student union, which represents 1.1 million of the country's 2
    million university students.
    Students in states that impose fees will be forced to relocate to
    states with lower fees or no fees in order to complete their studies,
    Ms. Scholz said, citing a recent online poll by Der Spiegel. The
    magazine's poll found that most Germans oppose tuition.
    She and her colleagues hope to tap into that sentiment in
    demonstrations planned for February 3 in five cities -- Essen,
    Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, and Mannheim -- to protest the ruling.

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