Country Listing

Germany Table of Contents


Current Education Issues and Outlook for the Future

Germany's system of education faces a number of challenges, among them a surplus of teachers in a period of declining birth rates. A chief problem is reconciling the tradition of Land responsibility for education, which has resulted in a variety of school types, programs, and standards, with the need for a uniform national system. This is the central problem concerning whether or how to integrate the education systems of the new Länder with those of the old Länder . Such an integration will entail deciding whether to increase the number of years of schooling by one year for eastern Germans or to reduce the thirteen years of schooling for western Germans to twelve. It will also mean deciding on whether to introduce a postsecondary vocational qualifying examination (Fachabitur ) in the new Länder to mirror the one that has existed in the former FRG since the 1970s. Other unresolved issues relate to such questions as educational standards, qualifications, and the mutual recognition of qualifying examinations and diplomas. The diversity resulting from a reluctance to impose the same standard norms and diplomas in all Länder , in contrast to France and many other European countries, is so extreme that some observers think it may hinder the mobility of students and teachers within Germany and the larger Europe.

Unification has also thrown into sharp focus the ongoing debate about the weaknesses of the university system in the former FRG. Many West German universities are overcrowded, understaffed, underequipped, and underfinanced. Frequently criticized are the length and structure of degree courses, the excessive length of studies, the high number of long-term students, and the disturbingly high number of dropouts who leave higher education without graduating. Some of these problems result from Germany's success in expanding access to secondary education. About 34 percent of all students graduated with the Abitur in 1990, compared with only 11 percent in 1970.

Critics charge that many students who fail to complete their university studies may not have been well educated. A 1994 study cast serious doubt on the assumption that passing the Abitur is adequate preparation for study at a university. It found that almost one-third of those who had passed the examination failed to complete their coursework at institutions of higher education and that the number of dropouts had quadrupled from 14,000 in the mid-1970s to 60,000 two decades later. The study also found that on average, dropouts left the university after three years, or six semesters, that women had a higher dropout rate than men, and that the highest dropout rate was in liberal arts, formerly the core of university studies.

Students cited a lack of correlation between curriculum content and career goals as one reason for breaking off their studies. One out of three students also reported feeling unprepared for higher education. Other reasons listed were the limited opportunities in the labor market, overcrowding, anonymity (impersonality), a lack of mentors, and the poor quality of teaching. Financial reasons also were mentioned more often than they had been in the mid-1970s.

As remedies, some advocate establishing a better balance between pure and applied research and teaching, making a distinction between first-degree courses offering training for a profession and research-oriented postgraduate courses, and substituting well-defined curricula for the existing uncoordinated requirements. Delegating a larger share of teaching to a new breed of middle-rank lecturers has also been recommended.

*          *          *

The best and most comprehensive historical and comparative account of German social policy, although published in 1988, is a nearly book-length chapter by Jens Alber in Growth to Limits (Vol. 2), edited by Peter Flora. Peter J. Katzenstein also provides a good introduction to German social policy in Policy and Politics in West Germany . Stephan Leibfried is the author of valuable articles on various aspects of German social policy, as is Arnold J. Heidenheimer. Alfred J. Kahn and Sheila B. Kamerman have written on family and child care policies.

Analyses in English of recent developments regarding specific programs after unification are regrettably rare. An exception is "Social Policy: One State, Two-Tier Welfare" by Steen Mangen. A new British periodical, Journal of European Social Policy , publishes research findings in English and is beginning to fill the gap in this area. Examples of the journal's articles include Winifried Schmähl's article on the 1992 reform of public pensions; Wolfgang Voges and Götz Rohwer's very useful article on social assistance; Kirsten Scheiwe's report on poverty risks of mothers in Belgium, Germany, and Britain; and Rudolph Bauer's analysis of voluntary welfare associations in Germany and the United States.

The literature on the German health care system in English is extensive. Written for readers in the United States and dating from 1993, Richard A. Knox's Germany: One Nation with Health Care for All is an excellent discussion of the system's components. A more recent publication is Ullrich K. Hoffmeyer's long article "The Health Care System in Germany." It includes a discussion of the Health Care Structural Reform Act of 1993. Other useful sources are John K. Iglehart's articles in the New England Journal of Medicine , Deborah A. Stone's article "German Unification: East Meets West in the Doctor's Office," and "Global Budgeting in Germany: Lessons for the United States" by Klaus-Dirk Henke, Margaret A. Murray, and Claudia Ade.

There is no recent one-volume comprehensive survey of the German education system. Christoph Führ's Schools and Institutions of Higher Education in the Federal Republic of Germany , dating from 1989, is still quite useful, however, as is his more recent book, On the Education System in the Five New Laender of the Federal Republic of Germany . Also valuable is Peter J. Katzenstein's discussion of university reform in his book Policy and Politics in West Germany . Val D. Rust and Diane Rust examine the difficulties of integrating the two German education systems in The Unification of German Education .

The Press and Information Office of the Federal Republic of Germany publishes brief accounts in English and German on a variety of topics, including social programs. These can be obtained through the German Information Center in New York. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of August 1995

Country Listing

Germany Table of Contents