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2 December 1999

Baden-Württemberg's New Higher Education Law in Force as of 1 January 2000

Heidelberg Rector Prof. Dr. Jürgen Siebke and 200 professors had urged amendments – University of Heidelberg sees its autonomy menaced – Protest against new hierarchies in higher education and curtailment of self-administration

In late November the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg passed science minister Klaus von Trotha's controversial new Higher Education Law. The Social Democrats and Greens voted against it. This was the final hurdle for a law that its initiators allege will make Baden-Württemberg's institutions of higher education more competitive and more autonomous as of 1 January 2000. To the very last, strong resistance was put up by the University of Heidelberg, which despite the political rhetoric coming from Stuttgart sees the new law as actually menacing rather than reinforcing its autonomy.

In mid November, 200 Heidelberg professors signed a petition in support of Rector Professor Jürgen Siebke, who had publicly voiced his opposition to significant aspects of the new law on a number of occasions. In their appeal to the members of the state parliament the Heidelberg professors had insisted that the Law on Higher Education should "pay heed to the legitimate concern of the University for its autonomy." Above all they criticised the danger of the establishment of a hierarchic principle in higher education which they feel to be written into the law and the curtailment of self-administration at the hands of University Councils with decision-making powers.

Immediately before the passing of the new law, the letter of protest signed by the "professors of Germany's oldest university" called on the members of the state parliament to be "mindful of your responsibility for the universities in Baden-Württemberg and not to agree to the new law in its present form". They went on to say that all groups of the University had "with the support of the press put forward their misgivings and proposals for improvement without the state government showing any response whatsoever". Now it was up to the members of the state parliament to preserve the organic democratic structure of the University rather than sacrificing it to the principles of an authoritarian style of leadership.

"There is no truth in the much-repeated assertion that the University of Heidelberg has been obstructive when it comes to modernisation," the 200 professors insisted. In a number of disciplines the University of Heidelberg has succeeded in substantially reducing average study times. The decentralised resource management system introduced with the help of the Volkswagen Foundation shows clearly that modern management and efficiency principles have established themselves in Heidelberg. "We want to point out explicitly that the University of Heidelberg is ready and willing to face up to competition between universities." But in order to do that it must have much greater latitude in the creation of its own leadership structures.

The professors, headed by Reinhard Mussgnug, Eike Wolgast and Heinz-Dietrich Löwe, appealed to the state parliament "to prevent the pernicious fallacy that a seat of learning of Heidelberg's quality and international standing could be run like an industrial company from doing irreparable damage to the University."

As the reaction of the state parliament shows, the majority of its members were impervious to the arguments from Heidelberg. Subsequently, harsh criticism on the decision was voiced in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In his article "Prescribed Autonomy", Kurt Reumann accused the state government of being disingenuous in asserting that imposed uniformity and genuine self-administration were compatible entities.

Michael Schwarz

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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