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Europe

German Press Review: Does Berlin Need Its Own Oxford?

Many German papers weighed in on calls at a Social Democratic Party (SPD) conference for the creation of Germany’s own elite universities. But many remain skeptical, noting the SPD has cut existing universities funds.

The Cologne paper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger wrote that it viewed the call for an elite German university as a remarkable shift in political thinking and a defining break with the country’s deeply rooted tradition of educational egalitarianism. Of course there are universities in Germany that are renowned for excellence in particular fields, the paper wrote, but the general tendency is towards simply maintaining a good average or, as critics would say, towards mediocrity. But the paper reminded readers that there’s no tradition in Germany of foundations and endowments such as those that fund American elite universities.

The editors of the Neue Westfälische Zeitung in Bielefeld also wondered how such a project would be financed. The American universities the SPD is using as a model are also those with the highest fees, they wrote, adding that the only thing that will help make Germany fit to face the future is lasting improvements to the existing university system.

Pouring money and energy into establishing one elite university is easier than raising the overall standard of scientific teaching and research, commented the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The paper went on to criticize the German education ministry for cutting research grants, starving universities and forbidding them to impose tuition as well as driving young scientists elsewhere through lack of incentive. "Germany does need a scientific elite," the paper wrote, "but not a single elite university but rather many internationally competitive universities with top-quality faculty."

Berlin’s Die Welt commented that talented German students are, increasingly, going abroad to study, and that those who want to get a good degree in Germany go to one of the new private universities -- one that doesn’t take everybody, but selects its students. The lesson the SPD should learn from this, according to Die Welt, is to accept that education is competitive, and that, in a competitive world, not everyone can be a winner.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung in Essen weighed in on the latest in a series of letter bombs addressed to European Union officials, describing them as "puzzling and unpredictable." Until now, the commentary stated, "the European Union and its representatives have lacked the popularity and the symbolic power that generally attracts fanatics." That, the paper added, is another reason why these mysterious attacks are so disturbing. Until now they’ve apparently been somewhat unprofessional, but nonetheless they must be taken seriously, the paper wrote.

The fact that no serious damage has been done so far is purely a matter of luck, commented the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in Halle. The eastern German paper was also puzzled by the fact that no one has claimed responsibility. Other than the fact that all the devices were posted in Bologna, there are no concrete leads or indications of the motive behind the attacks. So what can be the reason? You can be for or against Europe, the paper’s editors commented, but economic and political realities can only be shaped through politics, not with bombs.