• Germany's news in English
 
jobs_header_v3

Solidarity for German students is a two-way street

Marc Young · 17 Jun 2009, 17:13

Published: 17 Jun 2009 17:13 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Walking back from lunch today I came face-to-face with Germany's very own JFK moment.

I'm talking about what the country can do for the tens of thousands of angry and entitled students that are taking to the streets this week to demonstrate against the miserable state of the country's educational system.

They're understandably not happy about Germany's overcrowded and mediocre universities, the threat of tuition fees, and the jarring shift to internationally recognised bachelor's and master's degrees in recent years.

So there I was, digesting my artichoke and mustard sandwich on my way back to the office, as a rowdy protest march snaked its way through central Berlin demanding educational justice for Germany's irked youth. Aside from the leftist squatters getting in on the fun by launching fireworks from a nearby rooftop, one banner in particular caught my eye.

Showing a huge clenched fist it read: “You Gotta Fight for Free Education and Solidarity.”

Unlike a lot of the slogans being held aloft by passionate students at the demonstration, those were sentiments I could wholeheartedly agree with – if in a completely different way from how the protestors meant them.

Click here for photo gallery of the student protests in Berlin.

That's because the concept of “solidarity” gets tossed around a lot in Germany, sadly making it rather trite. Everyone demands it, but few seem to realise it's a two-way street.

The students want German society to back tuition-free university education, which is a legitimate, if in my mind, totally self-defeating position once you look at the dismal state of higher-education funding in this country.

There has been an outcry over the decision of some German states to impose modest tuition fees in recent years, with opponents claiming that soon only the rich will be able to go to university. But it's ridiculous and patronising to assume most German students couldn't afford to pay back €500 per semester once they've graduated.

Now, as someone who had to pay back $60,000 in student loans for a measly two-year master's programme, I'm the last person to argue Germany needs to move towards US-style tuition fees.

However, every couple of years I like to trot out my plan to save the German higher-education system – while modernising the country's armed forces in the process.

A civil solution

Germany stubbornly holds on to its outdated military conscription despite the overwhelming evidence that a smaller professional army could better serve its needs than one bloated with reluctant short-term soldiers. Besides, fewer German men bother to head to Bundeswehr boot camp than ever before – preferring instead to do alternative Zivildienst, or civilian service.

While Germany's compulsory military service may be unfair and dysfunctional at best, many social organisations have come to depend on Zivis, as men avoiding Wehrdienst are called. I've known Germans who have worked as medics in ambulances, some who have cared for the severely disabled, and yet others who've played ping-pong with teens at youth centres.

But no matter how diverse their public service was, they all believed their Zivildienst stints did as much for them as it did for the community. Certainly, that must be what most Germans mean when they talk of solidarity.

So what exactly do I propose? Well, I'm glad you asked.

If prospective university students want German society's solidarity for a free education, they should be willing to commit to one year of a new form of Zivildienst.

Decoupled from military conscription, both men and women would be allowed to study tuition-free – all the way to a master's if they wanted – if they cared for the elderly or worked with troubled schoolchildren as 21st-century Zivis.

This would have the added benefit of widening the pool for Zivildienst at a time when Germany's population is aging rapidly and state budgets for both education and other public services continue to shrink.

Public service or student loans

If students preferred to take out loans to pay modest university tuition fees – we're only talking around €4,000 for a four-year degree here – in order to forgo a year of public service that would be their choice.

At the same time, Germany's higher-education system, flush with extra cash, would have to become less elitist and more open to a larger proportion of the population. That's part of what the admittedly flubbed Bologna reforms have attempted but failed to do.

Many German students currently fear they will be unemployable if they stop at a bachelor's degree. That too has to change.

Not everyone in this status-fascinated country needs a master's degree or a doctorate. For most, a bachelor's combined with a year of practically oriented public service would be far better than spending a decade at university engaging in never-ending academic soul-searching.

So perhaps German students need not ask what their education can do for them, but what they can do for their education.

Related links:

Marc Young (marc.young@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit


Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Nazi POW leaves estate to 'kind' Scottish village
The former German soldier stayed on to work in the Perthshire village for a time after the war. Photo: Andy Buchanan / AFP file picture

A former Nazi prisoner of war has left his entire estate in his will to a small village in Scotland to show his appreciation for the kindness he received there during his captivity.

US tries to block Chinese purchase of Aixtron
Photo: Oliver Berg / DPA / AFP

US President Barack Obama on Friday moved to block a Chinese company's purchase of German semiconductor equipment maker Aixtron by rejecting the inclusion of Aixtron's US business in the deal.

Merkel to chart 2017 election battle at party congress
Photo: Tobias Schwarz / AFP

After Donald Trump's shock victory, Francois Hollande's decision not to seek re-election and populism on the rise, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is next up on the campaign podium to set out her strategy for winning in 2017 polls.

Berlin vs Munich: whose newborn polar bear is cuter?
Berlin's (left) and Munich's (right) newborn bears. Photos: Tierpark Berlin / DPA

Both city zoos welcomed baby polar bears into the world in November, with Berlin zoo its releasing first photos on Friday. But which one is more adorable?

Learn how to speak German like a silver screen icon
Dirty Harry. Photo: DPA

We all agree that there is no other option than to learn irregular German verbs by rote. But when you want a bit of downtime, why not learn from your big screen heroes?

Stolen Dachau 'Work will set you free' gate found: police
The entrance to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Photo: DPA

An iron gate from the former Nazi concentration camp in Germany's Dachau with the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work will set you free") has been found two years after it was stolen, police said Friday.

Mystery flight path artist draws new message in sky
Photo: DPA

A pilot who likes to draw patterns in the sky using his flight path has returned with his greatest artwork yet.

Berlin 'abusing power' to stop Snowden coming to Germany
Edward Snowden. Photo: DPA

Opposition parties have accused the coalition government of overstepping its authority in its attempt to block American whistleblower Edward Snowden's trip to Germany.

Germany gains record number of Michelin-star restaurants
Head of the Michelin Guide, Michael Ellis (centre) with Michelin-star chefs at a presentation in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

Germany had a slew of newly minted Michelin-star restaurants this year, and its top-rated establishments held onto their prestigious three stars.

At last: Germany passes major disabled rights reform
People in wheelchairs watch as the German parliament deliberates on the new disability rights reform. Photo: DPA.

For years people with disabilities in Germany have called for legislation to provide them with better benefits and opportunities in life and work. On Thursday the German parliament passed such a reform - but is it enough?

Lifestyle
10 German Christmas cookies you have to bake this winter
Sponsored Article
The key to launching your international career
Lifestyle
Our 10-step guide for doing Christmas just like a German
National
Here's why so many Germans vote for the far-right AfD
National
7 events in Germany that'll make December unforgettable
Lifestyle
7 frosty German sayings to make you a winter wordsmith
National
This is how unequal German society has become
National
Six things you should know about the Lufthansa strike
National
9 ways living in Germany will make you a better person
National
These 10 German Christmas markets cannot be missed
Features
8 German words that unlock amazing secrets in English
Culture
10 German words with simply hilarious literal translations
Lifestyle
7 things Germans do that make foreigners feel awkward
International
Why Donald Trump's grandad was booted out of Germany
National
This is what is really inside your Döner kebab
National
Rejoice! Christmas markets start opening across Germany
Education
These German universities are best at landing you a job
Travel
Why Heidelberg is Germany's most inspiring city
Lifestyle
This soppy German Christmas ad will bring you to tears
National
Here's where Germans speak the best (and worst) English
Culture
10 German books you have to read before you die
Culture
U-Bahn train found filled with autumn foliage in Berlin
Features
Seven German words that unlock amazing secrets about English
Travel
Germany's ten most beautiful towns you've never visited
6,619
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd