Germany plans to abolish university fees

15th July 2011 at 01:00
While UK students face the prospect of increases in tuition fees - unless they are Scots attending home universities - the situation across the channel is different

Germany is moving in the opposite direction to the UK when it comes to university tuition fees. Less than five years after seven of the country's 16 regions introduced tuition fees for undergraduate degrees, all but two have announced plans to abolish them again, or have done so already.

Higher education used to be free under German national law. Only those studying for second degrees and, in some areas of the country, those who took significantly longer than the suggested time to finish their course, paid fees and continue to do so.

All students in Germany pay a semester fee every term, which covers an administration fee, a contribution to the "Studentenwerk" (student support) and often a semester pass for local public transport. The amount paid varies greatly, from less than EUR100 in some areas to more than EUR200 in others.

In 2005, seven regions won a challenge to the law preventing them from charging for tuition, saying it infringed the ability of each region to legislate on education matters independently, one of the bedrocks of German politics.

Their court action was successful and, in the following months, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Wurttemberg, Hamburg and Saarland introduced tuition fees of up to EUR500 per semester for undergraduates starting courses at their universities, despite thousands of students protesting.

The funds raised would be used to improve teaching, politicians promised. However, in the years to come, doubts have been raised over the effectiveness of the changes, and universities were criticised over the use of their fee-related income.

Press coverage of universities using the funds to pay for pool tables or dragonboats, to set up call centres, or create savings of millions of Euros, added to the student discontent. Three-quarters of students, research showed, were against the fees. Local elections, which saw changes in government in a number of regions, were the final straw.

In Saarland and Hesse, fees have been scrapped, while Baden-Wurttemberg, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia are in the process of doing so, amid protests by students that the policy change has taken too long.

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