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Universities bracing for flood of students

The Local · 11 Aug 2011, 17:25

Published: 11 Aug 2011 17:25 GMT+02:00

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Ulrich Stadtmüller, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Ulm in Baden-Württemberg, is concerned about overcrowded lecture halls and overwhelmed professors.

Instead of the typical 700 to 800 new students starting their studies this autumn, he’s expecting about 1,300.

“It’s many more students than we’ve had in the past,” he told The Local recently. “We have a lot of challenges, from space in the cafeteria to finding places for them to live.”

The University of Ulm, with about 8,000 students, is far from alone. Across Germany, public universities are bracing for a never-before-seen onslaught of students for this semester.

Not only is interest in higher education is at an all-time high, but changes in the country’s secondary education system mean an unusual number of people are graduating with the Abitur, Germany’s university-track high school diploma, this year. To make matters worse, the abolishment of mandatory military conscription is sending a glut of young men into universities, when in previous years they would have been busy doing army drills or an alternative community service.

This autumn roughly 500,000 new students are expected to register at German universities – a 60,000-person increase over the same period last year, according to CHE Consult, which studies higher education trends.

The expected influx is sending universities scrambling to hire new professors and improve facilities, although the consultancy estimates 50,000 prospective students may still be unable to find spots this year.

Christopher Berthold, a CHE Consult managing partner, said Germany’s problems have been magnified by inadequate funding and planning. The government has underestimated the number of students who will enter higher education in the next few years by hundreds of thousands, meaning too little money has been funnelled to the university system, he added.

And because universities are simultaneously unsure about future funding while still having to find a way to educate students, they’re being forced to hire temporary professors and lecturers, something that could hurt quality standards, he said.

“This is something we’ve never seen before,” he said. “This next semester is going to be a very challenging one for both universities and students.”

Private unis profit?

But at least one group is happy about the higher educational system’s problems: private institutions.

Wolfram Hahn, the secretary general of the German Association of Private Colleges (VPH), told The Local he expects more students to begin studying at the roughly 50 private schools that make up VPH.

“We can truly profit from this situation,” he said, explaining that only about 100,000 Germans currently study at private universities and colleges. “The system has major problems but we can help fill the gap.”

That’s of little comfort to Stadtmüller. Although he says the university has planned carefully for the influx, there are still many unknowns.

This year roughly 7,000 people applied for about 423 spots in the university’s most competitive fields – disciplines like psychology or economics.

Some fields have seen an increase in applications of some 40 percent from just last year. But Stadtmüller suspects some students are applying at up to 20 universities because they know spots are at a particular premium this year.

So how to know who really wants to go to Ulm? There’s really no way, he said.

“Last year we managed enrolments accurately, but this year we’re really not quite sure,” he said.

Story continues below…

At the University of Duisburg-Essen, administrators struggle with similar problems, while trying to look on the bright side.

“We’re happy that a lot more people want to study. It’s just that there’s fear when we don’t have enough funding,” said spokeswoman Ulrike Bohnsack.

Moises Mendoza



The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

20:25 August 11, 2011 by vonSchwerin
"The expected influx is sending universities scrambling to hire new professors and improve facilities"

Really? Are German universities going to hire more "Professoren" or more "wissenschaftliche Assistenten" and "Privatdozenten"? Anyone who knows the German academic system can tell you that there is a shortage of tenure-track-equivalent faculty and way too many underemployed or underplaced scholars with the Dr.phil. or Ph.D. degrees.

And German universities will need to build a lot more lecture halls and seminar, which I doubt they will do. So expect 500 people in the introductory courses!

It's too bad that Germany's anti-elite fervor is such that German universities cannot require proper applications with essays and other evaluatory materials. That way, in theory, the best students would get study places first. And students who really want to be in Ulm can say so in their applications.
22:49 August 11, 2011 by yourholiness
So universities will be flooded with new students. I assume there will be enough jobs for the graduates? I'm sending my kid to a good university in the US where the standards are higher and the degrees mean something.
11:02 August 12, 2011 by freechoice
this is a good thing at least get them off the streets from throwing rocks and stones at Polizei like in UK. basic rules of departing from economic hell hole is by having a good education. german education systems produces solid workers that are exported to countries like the US and the rest of the world.
22:10 August 14, 2011 by MichMash115
@ yourholiness, I´m assuming, then, that you can afford to send your kids to Harvard? Stanford? Yale? Berkley? MIT? or some other Ivy League school? If not - are you kidding?
20:02 August 15, 2011 by IYWMTS
@ MichMash115:

Totally agree with you - sorry to say that, but except of the so called "elite universities" the American higher education system is just ridiculous.

Nevertheless, do you really think that an engineer who attended MIT is better than an engineer who attended RWTH Aachen, for instance? ...I doubt that - otherwise German products would not be embraced all over the world.

Furthermore never forget the German "Berufsausbildungs-" and "Berufsforbildungssystem", i.e. the ones who do an apprenticeship - that's what a lot of countries don't seem to understand and therefore they will keep on struggling...
00:38 August 16, 2011 by swingCrew
will I ever get the nerve again; am already too close to 20 years; I wonder what that spells; even if its bad; its ok, from beginning to end; wait what am I talking about; I got to hurry.
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