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Universities short of cash as student numbers soar

Germany’s higher education institutions are €7 billion short because increasing numbers of students are entering university, the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has warned.

The Hochschulpakt, a funding pot to help universities cope with increased student numbers, needs a significant top-up by 2015 to guarantee high-quality degrees for all students entering university in the next three years, government calculations show. German universities need more staff, more room and more teaching materials to cope with the rise, the HRK urged.

Germany’s federal states have lately shortened the educational path for A-levels from 13 to 12 years, resulting in a double cohort of students entering university in the autumn term last year. Since the introduction of the bachelor’s/master’s degree system, more students are entering university in general, especially at universities of applied science.

The Hochschulpakt was introduced by the government to prop up university funding in the Länder, which are responsible for funding higher education institutions. The present pact, the second of its kind, is worth €6.4bn, which is shared between the government and the Länder. The HRK said the €7bn shortfall should be added to the fund to make sure universities can offer the best possible courses.

“We mustn’t fob off the next generation of academics, whose performance will mean so much for this country, with emergency solutions and temporary arrangements,” Margret Wintermantel, the HRK’s president, said in Berlin on 10 February. “The Hochschulpakt must be strengthened and expanded to meet the real demand on the ground.”

The calculations have been handed to education ministers, who said they are revising the rules. But the HRK urged the government and the Länder ministers to hurry, as the situation at many universities was already dire.

One solution under discussion is extending the pact from its 2015 deadline to 2020 and beyond. The issue of adding more money to the pact, or redistributing existing higher education funding, is also on the table.

However, the HRK said that overall it was excited about the increase in student numbers.

“More and more people are qualified for university, and more are choosing to get a degree,” said Wintermantel. “This is very good news. But consequences must be drawn now. The calculations show that this is a long-term trend.”