University elite seize chance to select

Getting on to your first-choice degree course used to be a formality. Not any more. Yojana Sharma reports

STUDENTS who pass the school-leavers' exam will no longer get automatic entry into the university of their choice The move to give universities freedom to select students means Germany looks set to develop a British-style hierarchy of institutions, as popular degree courses raise the entry hurdle.

Universities have traditionally not even conducted interviews - a computerised central system simp-ly matched applicants to available places countrywide.

Students with a lower average mark - for the four or five subjects taken in the school-leaving Abitur exam - were put on to a waiting list but automatically entered their first preference institution within a year.

Now popular universities will set minimum marks for popular courses above the nationwide average mark that was the threshold for courses such as medicine, architecture and law. Several universities say they will even hold entrance tests.

Bavaria's top three universities, will test applicants' aptitude for 13 courses. Tests will include questions on motivation, and ability in logical and abstract thinking. One, Munich Technical University, has said it will interview applicants.

For the first time in the post-war era some universities will attract and select the brightest. Munich University vice-president Arndt Bode said entrance tests will help reduce the number of drop-outs, particularly high in maths, information technology and chemistry.

Countrywide, one in four students - 70,000 a year - drops out of university without a qualification and the numbers are rising.

However, Dr Bode admitted there were fears that entrance exams could "devalue" the Abitur.

The Abitur remains the main passport to higher education even though employers and universities complain it is not a good indicator of skills or of who will last the course.

Despite an evident mismatch between some students and courses, universities say they do not have the resources to hold interviews and exams. Since 2000, universities have been able to directly admit a fifth of their students. However, only 15 per cent are admitted this way.

From this year, most universities will behave like their Brirish peers and directly control admissions in popular subjects.

Technical universities in particular are likely to bring in minimum grades to avoid having to run admissions tests and interviews.

Berlin's Humboldt University says it expects 900 applicants for 280 places and has received no extra funds to help assess applications. However, Brunhilde Liebner of Humboldt's administration office said the new freedom means "an opportunity to recruit students who really want to come to us".

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