Observations on the Changing Dynamics of German Higher Education, Ellen Hazelkorn

 

A reflection on the status of German higher education by  Ellen Hazelkorn who undertook interviews in early 2008 for the IMHE project on the Impact of Rankings on Higher Education with HE leaders, their students and staff, and with policymakers, business organisations and trade unions in Germany.

 

The Excellence Initiative and competition between universities – which had previously been considered equal in status and quality – were the big talking points among German HE leaders, academics and students when I interviewed them about the impact of rankings as part of an Institute of Higher Education Policy-Lumina funded study.

 

Whether spurred by national rankings, such as those by CHE/Die Zeit or the German Research Foundation (DFG) ‘funding ranking’ , by worldwide rankings, particularly Shanghai’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, or by the global reputation race, the main topic was how the government’s 5-year €1.9b investment in Centres of Excellence and graduate schools has achieved ‘so much for relatively little’.

 

The ‘relatively little’ refers to claims that a single ‘world class’ university is a $1b – $1.5b annual operation, plus $500m with a medical school, or compared with other national investment strategies, e.g. China’s $20b ‘211 Project’, Korea’s $1.2b ‘Brain 21’ programme or Ireland which has increased its R&D spend by 65% from €475m in 2001 to €784m in 2006.

 

The ‘so much’ refers to the way the universities – because Fachhochschulen/Universities of Applied Sciences were excluded – have begun changing the way they think about the quality of teaching and research, illustrating that financial incentives are a powerful policy instrument.

 

Not surprisingly, the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ take different lessons from this experience, although a common concern expressed was the emergence of institutional hierarchies and the creation of an ‘elite’. For some, this terminology has resurrected images from Germany’s recent history, while many others – students included – were certain of the benefits: enhanced competition is vital to attract international researchers and students and for Germany’s economic success.

 

Are university leaders equipped to deal with these new challenges? There is recognition for greater professionalization of university management, not only at the top but also at middle management levels, including appropriate career training and succession planning.

One thing is clear – the future is less certain.