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22 April 2004

Rector of the University of Heidelberg: Mass Universities a Dead End

Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "The misguided laws on student admission capacities dating from the 1960s and 1970s have made Germany's higher-education institutions into faceless mass universities" — Appeal to Baden-Württemberg's higher-education minister: "Ditch the standardised admissions system!" — Better teacher-student ratio required — Students' fees would improving teaching quality

At a panel discussion in Heidelberg, the Rector of the University, Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff, called in no uncertain terms for a turn away from the idea of the "mass university". He accused the misguided laws on student admission capacities dating from the 1960s and 1970s of having transformed Germany's higher-education institutions into faceless mass universities. Turning to Baden-Württemberg's higher-education minister, Prof. Dr. Peter Frankenberg, Hommelhoff exhorted him to "ditch the standardised admissions system", insisting that this system cements the poor teacher-student ratio in Germany. At the same time, Hommelhoff called both for general students' fees to improve the quality of teaching and more money from the state. Students' fees should not however be seen as a way of relieving pressure on the state budget. "We should not free the state of its responsibilities," he said.

Teaching must pay (again)

The panel discussion on the topic "Teaching must pay (again)" at the University Orthopaedic Hospital in Heidelberg took its bearings from an article by the Tübingen historian and Leibniz Prize laureate Prof. Dr. Dieter Langewiesche published in the German weekly Die Zeit. Langewiesche was also present in Heidelberg to underline his claim that teaching must pay again (without the parentheses). Also on the panel were state higher-education minister Frankenberg, Rector Hommelhoff, the Dean of the Heidelberg Medical Faculty, Prof. Dr. Hans-Günther Sonntag, medical study dean Prof. Dr. Franz Resch and medical student Carl Robert Blesius. The moderator was Prof. Dr. Marcus Schiltenwolf. Given this constellation, it was only to be expected that Heidelberg Medical Faculty's new HEICUMED teaching concept would be aired at length in the interventions and the discussion.

Langewiesche: Universities must have a chance to sell their teaching

Professor Langewiesche saw it as an established fact that "at present we are going through the biggest changes to have affected German universities in the last 200 years." There were plans afoot, he said, to completely overhaul the university system, scrapping corporate structures and introducing hierarchic decision-making structures: "The academic manager will become the central figure." As one major difference over and against previous practice he identified the fact that the inclusion of new fields of scientific and scholarly endeavour invariably involved the jettisoning of existing fields in return. Outstanding research, he went on to say, reaped financial rewards, largely through external funding. Outstanding teaching on the other hand reaped no such rewards. This represented a major competitive disadvantage in comparison with the United States and Britain. "In Germany, the state-run universities must be given a chance to sell their teaching."

Hommelhoff: "Money is the central factor!"

In his remarks, Rector Hommelhoff insisted that "money is the central factor." He pointed out that the University of California in Berkeley receives 400 million dollars from the government for its 32,000 students and 170 million dollars in students' fees on top of that. In terms of government contributions alone, that worked out at 12,500 dollars per student. "The University of Heidelberg receives 160 million, not counting medicine. Divide that by the number of students we have — 25,000 — and you get 6,400 euros per head. Exactly half the amount." This, he said, called for a political solution.

Frankenberg: Students' fees not a substitute for losses in tax revenues

Replying to study dean Resch, minister Frankenberg emphasised the provisions in the imminent amended version of the State University Law: "Students' fees will benefit the universities. They are not designed to offset losses in tax revenues. This has to be put on a contractual basis." Prof. Sauerborn of the Tropical Hygiene and Public Health Department referred to the difficulties besetting postgraduate education and teaching in his subject. Minister Frankenberg replied: "German law stipulates that students' fees can only be used to cover costs, not to make a profit, as is the case with Anglo-American universities." He also expressed his conviction that private donations would increase after the introduction of students' fees.

Students no longer dead against students' fees

Remarks made by students in the course of the discussion indicated that today students are no longer dead set against the introduction of students' fees, provided they are used to improve teaching. All they insisted on was transparency with regard to the flow of resources.

Former Rector Sellin contended that teaching was already of a high standard and should not be denigrated. He went on to say that research and teaching defied adequate measurement and that the extent of external funding was not necessarily a criterion for good research.

Hommelhoff: Our teaching record is tremendously good

Rector Hommelhoff readily took up the point. "I agree with you wholeheartedly. Our teaching record is tremendously good." If people who know about these things tell us that German graduates are very welcome in America and cut an outstanding figure there, he said, "then it means that they have been extremely well trained." He himself had heard much praise in the United States for young academics from Germany.

Prof. Sauerborn advocated grants as a fillip for the post-doctoral phase. Hommelhoff: "The proposals from the ministry of higher education in connection with the new postgraduate research groups are nothing more than a sign of friendly encouragement as each university will only get the money for one such group." The University of Heidelberg did not intend setting up such a group, he said. "Our application is geared to the idea of top-flight universities. If we got 50 million euros a year, then grants would be part and parcel of the postgraduate research groups we would establish in that connection. With the new money (which we haven't got yet) we want to set things going that have never been done before."

Petra Eggensperger of the Centre for Student Counselling and Further Education (ZSW) reported on problems in connection with the recognition of university lecturers' teaching qualifications. Hommelhoff: "At the beginning of the winter semester there will be a Senate resolution to the effect that attendance of a ZSW course will in future be an indispensable precondition for an academic career at the University of Heidelberg. If the state refuses to foot the bill, the institution will shoulder the costs itself."

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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