The first teaching day of my Erasmus Visit to the Transdisciplinary Gender Studies Institute at the Humboldt University in Berlin got off to a good start yesterday. The first session was held at Bebel Platz, opposite the main building of the University on the famous Unter den Linden. We met the students and picked up a megaphone and went to the Platz where we settled on the steps of the Church. Amused tourists passed by, literally walking over the students to get into the church. The point of all this?
The students in Germany (University and school) are on strke against the marketisation of higher education. They have a 20 point list of demands which include more funding, less government interference and more lecturers. In essence, students and staff oppose the division of the German degree which students used to be allowed to complete in as much time as they wanted into strict Bachelors and Masters degrees with prescribed time frames. It ap[pears that students have to take so many credits during this time that they are often unable to finish in time and fail their degrees, especially if they have to work to fund their studies at the same time.
In adapting to the Bologna Process, the German education system has begun modelling itself on the British and Dutch systems. However, it appears that the worst rather than the best is being taken from these systems. For example, lecturers applying for research funding (something German faculty didn’t have to do before) can only apply for money to pay research assistants rather than to buy themselves out of teaching. Hence, they end up having to manage a research team on top of doing their own teaching. Having said that, all German profesors and lecturers have their own secretaries which I found astounding!
Also, the new system means that the accreditation of news masters courses is outsourced to a semi-state body that the university has to pay to check if the credits have been calculated correctly and other such prosaic details that are easily done within the university itself. Chaos appears to reign.
However, the students finished a four hour plus demonstration which began at 11am. At 5 pm they were sitting on the lawn in the University central quad discussing their demands with the management. This is a valuable lesson for British universities to learn from. Rather than opposing the students and doing the government’s biddng, the University management was on their side, trying to find a common solution to the crisis that the government has flung the German education system into!