7 January 2004
WEIMAR – Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), committed to equality for over a century, has declared support for the creation of elite universities to cater to the brightest minds.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said excellence and innovation would revive the German economy.
“The social security system in Germany has to be made future-proof,” he explained after a two-day meeting of the party’s 45 most senior figures in the eastern German city of Weimar.
The party adopted a set of education policies to expand the chancellor’s “Agenda 2010” reform plans, with more money to be raised from business and from state governments to finance science.
Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn said the party hoped about 10 top-flight universities would emerge once professors are allowed to head-hunt the brightest students.
Modern Germany has no universities comparable to Oxford and Cambridge in England, or to Harvard and Berkeley in the United States.
Instead, a federal agency distributes the students so that every university has a similar mixture of talents. Popular universities, such as Heidelberg or Freiburg are favoured by professors and students mainly because of the atmosphere and scenery.
Bulmahn said the leading universities of tomorrow would not be set up from scratch, but would emerge in competition among existing universities.
The change in policy is part of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s efforts to abandon traditional egalitarian dogma and create a more dynamic German economy with incentives to excel.
Other German political parties have been critical of the proposal, complaining that benefits will fall to an elite rather than to ordinary people. They say new funding should be spread equally.
Ongoing demonstrations by students protesting shabby conditions in under-funded universities have added urgency to the debate.
However there is opposition within the university system. “One top university or even 10 will not fix the problems that students are complaining about”, said Hartmut Schiedermair, head of the Association of Universities, in a German radio interview.
Subject: German news