Germany’s higher education system was heading for its biggest shake up in decades late last month after the country’s high court overturned a ban on tuition fees.
The court in Karlsruhe ruled that individual German federal states can now introduce fees at university, effectively ending the principle of free education in Germany that had survived since the 1960s.
Student groups immediately denounced the ruling and promised a series of demonstrations across the country. Three states ruled by Germany’s opposition conservatives – Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and Hamburg – immediately indicated that they will introduce fees as quickly as possible.
Other states, run by the Social Democrats who lead the federal government, said they have no plans to introduce fees. Opponents of tuition fees in Germany argue that they will deter students from poor backgrounds from attending university and force existing students to abandon their studies.
But supporters argue that fees will bring much-needed revenue into Germany’s notoriously overcrowded and under-funded higher education sector, and might prompt students to work harder.
Until the court decision, Germany was one of the last countries in Europe to adhere to the fading principle of free university education. Britain introduced tuition fees in 1998. The Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Italy and Portugal have since followed suit. Scandinavian countries such as Sweden are currently alone in not charging fees. – Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005