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German Press Review: An Elite University or a University for the Elite?

January 7, 2004

After Chancellor Schröder’s Social Democrats aired proposals to set up a small network of elite universities similar to ones in the United States and Britain, editorials across the country criticized the initiative.


Senior members of Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party ended a two-day strategy meeting in the eastern town of Weimar. The gathering of party leaders focused on new requirements in education and research as well as ways of encouraging innovation in the fields. Science and education minister Edelgard Bulmahn pushed for the founding of a small network of elite universities to be financed out of state coffers

Berlin’s leftist Neues Deutschland slamed the idea, pointing out that virtually all of the country’s universities are facing cuts in funding because allegedly no money is available. At the same time students take to the streets to protest closures at universities and overcrowding in lecture halls, poorly equipped libraries and laboratories, millions of euros are to be earmarked for a prestige project dubbed elite university, the paper criticized. "In other words, it continued, money will be spent where none is available," and to top it off, the funds will go towards a project that only benefits a few.

The Badisches Tagblatt suggested that the SPD is only testing the wind of public reaction. Should the idea be rejected, it will just disappear in the drawer again, the paper stated. And if nothing more comes out of it, at least the message will have been conveyed that the SPD stands for education.

The Heilbronner Stimme was less critical but at the same time stressed that elite universities like those in Britain or the United States can’t simply be "pulled out of a hat" even if a lot of money is available. The daily noted that such revered institutions are the result of decades or even centuries of extreme efforts in research and education. What Edelgard Bulmahn is proposing is at most a first step, it concluded.

Other editorials too focused their attention on the fate of Germany’s neo-liberal Free Democratic Party, FDP, which has been in opposition in Berlin for the past five and a half years after acting as junior coalition partner in virtually all federal governments since World War II. The Ostthüringer Zeitung projected rather dismal prospects for the party in 2004, a year in which an unusually high number of state elections are taking place. In all but one election, the party is in the opposition in the state assembly and in the remaining one it has failed as a coalition partner.

According to the Neue Westfälische newspaper, the FDP – as the smallest opposition party both at federal and state level – has a difficult time attracting attention and getting people to listen to it. But instead of fighting for recognition by offering reasonable and convincing alternatives to Chancellor Schröder’s policies, the Free Democrats with Guido Westerwelle at the helm simply concentrate their sights on the next headline. Westerwelle is still delighted, the paper commented, every time the spotlights are directed on him. The paper observed that the mumbling within the FDP that the party has nothing to offer where content is concerned is growing louder and louder and could turn towards Westerwelle himself.

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