01 - Germany - Historical overview

The tradition of higher education in Germany is marked by a number of basic principles that date back to the university reform of the early 19th century, particularly to the efforts of Wilhelm von Humboldt. These principles include the internal autonomy of institutions of higher education despite their being maintained by the state, freedom of teaching and research, and the unity of teaching and research. These principles were abrogated during the National Socialist era, but reinstated during the reconstruction of higher education in the Federal Republic of Germany founded in 1949.

According to the principle of cultural sovereignty ( Kulturhoheit), the reconstruction of the higher education system was a matter for the Länder. Their policy on higher education was coordinated by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, whereas the Federal Government initially exerted no influence whatsoever on the development.

University enrolment first began to rise appreciably in the mid50s, a trend that continued in the 1960s against the background of public concern about an imminent shortage of graduates and the call for the reduction of social and regional inequalities. The political response was to expand existing universities and establish new ones in structurally weak regions. Key impetus was provided by the Science Council ( Wissenschaftsrat), set up in 1957, on which the Federal Government and the Länder worked together for the first time and which served to institutionalise the cooperation of the academic and government sectors.

The expansion of higher education made national planning more and more imperative; concomitantly, financial requirements began growing beyond the means of the individual Länder. As a result, the Federal Government became increasingly involved in matters of higher education. In 1969 the constitution or Basic Law ( Grundgesetz) of the Federal Republic of Germany was amended to take this development into account. Under Articles 91a and 91b of the Basic Law, the expansion and construction of higher education institutions including university clinics, as well as educational planning and the promotion of research activities were now among the so-called joint tasksof the Federal Government and Länder. By the amendment of the Basic Law in 1969, the Federal Government was also empowered to enact framework legislation concerning the general principles of higher education. This led to the passing of the Hochschulrahmengesetz(HRG), or Framework Act for Higher Education, in 1976.

Apart from rising enrolment figures and the increased involvement of the Federal Government, one widespread debate over reform had a particularly formative influence on the development of higher education in the 1960s and 1970s. Among other things, it concerned the organisation of university studies (structure of the basic and advanced sections of studies, intermediate examinations, limits on the duration of studies, practical orientation and the like), the constitutions of higher education institutions (above all, the participation of students and research assistants along with professors in self-administration), university entrance and admission to courses of studies with limited capacity. The Framework Act for Higher Education of 1976 initially put an end to much of the public debate about reform. For the first time, a uniform nationwide legal framework had been created for higher education, which the Länder subsequently fleshed out with their own legislation (even as late as the 1960s, many had no legal provisions, only institutional statutes).

Since the 1970s there has been persistently keen demand for places at institutions of higher education in the Federal Republic of Germany. The number of students rose in Western Germany from 510,000 in 1970 to 1.7 million in 2005. In Eastern Germany, the number of students increased from 133,600 in 1990 to more than 285,000 in 2005. This development with which university funding and staffing could not keep pace, given the tight budget situation, resulted in difficult teaching and learning conditions.

Since 1974, Berufsakademien, which are to be found in nine Länder (Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Hamburg, Hessen, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland, Thüringen) have provided an alternative to studying at an institution of higher education. By means of these professional academies, the principle of the dual system for vocational training has also been implemented in the tertiary sector. In 2003, the Berufsakademie Berlinwas integrated into the Fachhochschule für Wirtschaftas proper faculty. Since the nineties, the final qualifications awarded by the Berufsakademienin Baden-Württemberg, Berlin and Sachsen have been recognised by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs as tertiary sector qualifications that fall within the scope of the EU directive on a general system for the recognition of higher-education diplomas. In October 2004, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) resolved that certificates obtained in accredited Bachelor’s courses at Berufsakademienare to be treated equivalently to Bachelor’s degrees obtained at higher education institutions. The Berufsakademienhave contributed to a greater number of courses available and a more differentiated structure of the tertiary sector.

Regionalisation of higher education

On the whole, the range of regional opportunities for higher education studies has increased considerably over the past 30 years. The establishment of Fachhochschulenfrom 1970 onwards as a separate type of institution of higher education, whether by transforming existing institutions or forming new ones, represented a major development in higher education, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. Other new types of higher education institutions ( Gesamthochschulen, Fernuniversität, higher education institutions of the Federal Armed Forces), in contrast, remained numerically insignificant. There is now a dense network of universities and Fachhochschulenin the west of Germany along the Münster/Bochum/Frankfurt/Stuttgart line, and in eastern Germany along the Magdeburg/Halle/Leipzig/Dresden line. These lines connect regions with high population densities. Another concentration of institutions of higher education is to be found in the major conurbations of Hamburg, Berlin and München. In addition, there are large areas in the north of Germany with little higher education provision, in keeping with the low population densities in those areas.

As well as the primary task of expanding the capacity of higher education in Germany, regional policy aims were also bound up with the foundation of new institutions of higher education and the expansion of the higher education sector as a whole. The regionalisationof higher education is viewed as an aspect in the guaranteeing of fair opportunities for access to study. Accordingly, since 1960 a range of new universities have been set up in the formerly sparsely populated fringes of the Länder in western Germany, which used to be short on institutions of higher education. Konstanz, Trier, Passau, Bamberg and Bayreuth are typical examples of such peripherally-situated new institutions of higher education.

It was an avowed aim of the process of reorganising the higher education landscape in the Länder in eastern Germany from 1990 onwards was to relieve the concentration of higher education institutions in a few places and to attain a regionally balanced range; the newly established Fachhochschulenin the Länder in eastern Germany are making a particular contribution to this objective. Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in particular needed to catch up on higher education provision.

Higher education in the GDR

Higher education in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) evolved under completely different conditions. It was based on a unitary and centrally controlled concept in the service of Marxist-Leninist party ideology and committed to serving the ends of a planned economy (supplying cadres). Higher education there did not see unchecked expansion: the enrolment figures peaked in 1972 after the universities had been opened expressly for the sons and daughters of workers and peasantsin the first years after the war and distance learning courses had been introduced to reach many working people.

In 1989, following the peaceful revolution in the GDR, a number of reforms in higher education were launched there even before its unification with West Germany: viz. higher education came within the remit of the newly established Länder, the autonomy of institutions of higher education was restored along with freedom of research and teaching, ideologically encumbered faculties were overhauled, and wider access to institutions of higher education was introduced. Under the Unification Treaty (Einigungsvertrag), the Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) was given a mandate to examine the state of non-university research and draw up recommendations for a reorganisation of higher education. As part of this reorganisation, some institutions of higher education were closed or integrated into universities, new faculties were set up in the fields of law, economics and business and social sciences, Fachhochschulenwere established as a new type of institution there. As part of a staff renewal plan, new teachers were appointed and programmes were initiated to promote up-and-coming academics; concurrently, however, about a third of the posts in higher education were shed.


Ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister der Länder in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (KMK)
Lennéstraße 6 53113 Bonn Berliner Büro: Markgrafenstr. 37 10117 Berlin
Website: http://www.kmk.org

Brohler Str. 11 50968 Köln
Website: http://www.wissenschaftsrat.de

Eurydice - the information network on education in Europe

Date: 2009
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