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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Germany abolishes tuition fees

There used to be a federal law in Germany that forbade charging tuition at German universities. The court decided in 2005 that it was okay to charge a moderate fee (€1,000). Gradually, over the next few years, 10 states introduced moderate tuition fees.

This proved so unpopular that parties supporting no tuition won elections in most of those states and next year the last state charging tuition (Lower Saxony) will stop. There will be no charge to students to attend university at every German university [Germany’s great tuition fees U-turn].

Germany is not alone. There are many European countries that provide a public university education at no charge to the student. (It's not "free"—the government pays and taxes cover the cost.)

Why can't we do this in Canada? Why can't they do it in the USA?


  1. Why can't we do this in Canada? Why can't they do it in the USA?

    Lack of vision.

    1. Right-wing ideology, which has a vision all right, but a bad one.

      When I went to university in the 1960s, the dream of free public higher education seemed almost within grasp. European countries mostly did not charge tuition in their public universities. Public universities in the U.S. charged maybe half what they do now.

      Our university's President visited one of our department meetings, in a get-acquainted visit. I asked him if, in view of the state support for our university having dropped by half, he was the last President of our university as a public university. He indicated that that had occurred several presidents ago, in effect. (Then he covered his tracks by saying how devoted he was to the role of our university as a public university).

      In the U.S. we've abandoned the idea of public universities, in effect. It's a desperate struggle now just to defend free public secondary schools.

    2. I was an undergraduate in the late 1980s-early 1990s (coincidently at the same university Joe went to -- the University of Wisconsin - Madison and even shared a professor in the late James F. Crow) and even then tuition really wasn't an issue -- I worked at the library 20 hours a week and easily paid my tuition with money to spare. Student loans were only for people who attended expensive private colleges. These days even public university students graduate with a debt.

    3. Right-wing ideology, which has a vision all right, but a bad one.

      A major factor for sure. Conservatives are always sharpening their red pencils when it comes to funding for education at all levels. This, in the pursuit of limited government and resistance to creeping "socialism". This resistance to the common good seemingly goes out the window when taxpayers' money can be spent on wars abroad, however.

      Additionally, there always seems to be varying levels of antipathy towards education in right wing/conservative circles. If I was cynical, I would suspect that conservative power structures view an educated and informed population a threat (as would the extreme left wing). In the US and elsewhere, political moderates and liberals are often too afraid of their own shadows to fight conservative memes and mantras.

  2. When I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, the tuition charge was a nominal $50/semester regardless of the number of credit hours taken. However, as the states reduced their contributions to the schools in the name of fiscal "responsibility", that number increased sharply over the years to the point where it is becoming hard to distinguish the tuition charge at UC Berkeley from Stanford. At that time, the university system in the US was the envy of the world, which today the politicians are pissing down the toilet. If current trends continue, the state schools in the US will become indistinguishable in terms of charges from private universities.

    It is my contention that, at least in the US, this is part of a conspiracy on the part of conservative ideologues to privatize public education.

    1. I don't think there was ever a time when the (undergraduate) university system in the US was the "envy of the world." Most of the people who say this are American. I attended university in Canada in the 1960s and I don't recall anyone saying, "Wow. Those Ametican universities are so much better than ours." Maybe they said that at Oxford and Cambridge in the UK or in Switzerland, Germany, and Australia.

    2. Not at Oxford they didn't. But perhaps they did at Cambridge, Switzerland, Germany and Australia. But I wouldn't bet much money on it. But anyway, you are right, it's mainly Americans who think the rest of the world envies the USA.

    3. So what's with all the foreign students showing up at US universities? Are they just the rejects that couldn't get into their local ones?

    4. Re Larry Moran

      I should have said that the public university system in the US was the envy of the world (e.g. schools like UC Berkeley which even today is still rated as one of the top schools in the world, although, given the current tuition charges I don't know that public really applies anymore). Back when I was an undergraduate, that was certainly true, especially in California. The private university system, other then perhaps the Ivy League and Stanford, not so much.

    5. @Jonathan Badger:
      According to the IEE, in 2011/2012 there were about 9000 German students in US institutions, while about 9000 students from the US were studying in Germany. 17,000 Americans studied in France, while 8,000 French students were enrolled in the US. 880 Belgians in the US, 1,300 Americans in Belgium. A total of 85,000 Europeans were studying in the US, while 150,000 Americans were studying in Europe.
      Add that Europe has a larger total population than the US and you find that a larger percentage of US students are studying in Europe than European students studying in the US...

    6. I'm not sure you can really count the entire population of Europe as a whole given that a large faction of current Europe is former communist countries which are probably not contributing much either way to the exchange of students. Certainly 9000 Germans is a significantly higher percentage of Germans than US students in Germany, likewise for the French and Belgian numbers.

    7. Well, 700 people from the Czech Republic study in the US, while 3,200 US students study in the Czech Republic... But Places like Russia have more students in the US (~4000) than the US has there (~1500). Germany where you have roughly equal numbers is an exception - most other western European countries take on substantially more US students than they send out. Arguably, you could just look at some western European countries with a total population roughly the same as the US. Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain combined have a population roughly equal to that of the US. US students in these countries combined: 117,000. Students from these countries in the US: 36,000.

    8. Jonathan Badger says,

      So what's with all the foreign students showing up at US universities? Are they just the rejects that couldn't get into their local ones?

      If you've got money, there's an enormous advantage to graduating from famous US private schools. You don't get a better education but you do benefit in many other ways.

      Conversely, US students have to pay to go to schools in other countries. They don't get the benefit of free tuition. Nevertheless, there are huge numbers of American students studying abroad.

    9. conago80 says,

      I should have said that the public university system in the US was the envy of the world ....

      Not in my world. Why do you think that the "world" envied the American university system over those in Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, and Australia?

      (e.g. schools like UC Berkeley which even today is still rated as one of the top schools in the world, ....

      We're talking about undergraduate education. I don't know of any data to suggest that UC Berkeley is one of the top schools in the world in terms of undergraduate education. Frankly, I doubt it very much. Do you have a reference?

      If you look at total scores, UC Berkeley is the top ranked pubic university in America at #27 [World University Rankings]. But many universities, including the University of Toronto, rank higher.

    10. a large faction of current Europe is former communist countries which are probably not contributing much either way to the exchange of students

      What ever makes you think so? I have just checked the recently published statistics of the ERASMUS programme for the academic year 2012-2013. Only under that scheme Poland sent 16.221 students to other European countries and received 10.772 foreign students from the EU. The respective numbers for Germany are 2-3 times higher, but then the population of Germany is twice that of Poland.

    11. Larry -- unless it has been recently sold off, the University of Michigan (at 23 in your list) is public. Although that QS list is a bit strange -- did you pick that one because of the high placement of Toronto? In other lists like Times Higher Education and CWUR, Toronto holds up nicely but not better than top public US universities. But of course the difference in rankings suggests that these rankings are not an exact science.

    12. P.S. The dots should be commas, in case anyone should suspect we exchange fragments of students.

    13. Re Larry Moran

      I was referring to the situation when I was an undergraduate, a million years ago. Back then, the number of foreigners in US institutions greatly exceeded the number of US nationals in foreign institutions. Obviously, the rest of the world has improved while the US has regressed, at least in terms of public institutions. However, I don't have a reference handy but in a survey I saw a few months ago, UC Berkeley was rated #7 in the world (including both undergraduate and graduate education and research activities). The California Institute of Technology was rated #1. I recall that Stanford was rated #6. Harvard and Yale were also in the top 10. I don't recall where the Un. of Toronto was. My recollection was that 7 or 8 of the institutions in the top 10 were US institutions, although Berkeley was the only public institution anywhere in the top 10 (if one wants to identify Berkeley as public, a somewhat optimistic identification these days).

  3. NO! its not fair !
    It isn't that there is no tuition paid BUR rather the public pays.
    Why should the public pay for kids education to get better jobs then the public generally?
    If these kids get the advantage of degrees and knowledge then why shouldn't they pay for same advantages they will have all their life.
    Its just the rich get richer. indeed the smarter kids tend to come from the richer people.
    The dumber don't prevail in the schools or go at all BUT pay for it as if they did but no rewards from it.
    if higher education brings a better life and salary and if this means a segregation due to marks then its unfair for the lower classes, or the lower intellectual classes, to foot the bill so the successful kids get ricjer quicker.
    in fact I think university kids should pay plenty for the advantages they are getting. the nation was built by the people but its not the people who get the best stuff. Its the university people out of proportion.
    There are more problems but this alone matters.
    germany never had a good sense of justice about who gets what in their society.
    In fact I'm sure tuition politics is successful there because its the upper classes who do better politics then the middle or lower.
    its not just or fair for us to pay for them to get the better things by getting the better education.
    Mr Moran. guarantee no child left behind in getting into UoT and then free tuttion.
    throw in a few , mandatory, creationist classes and its a deal!

    1. I live in Denmark.
      Here it's not just universities that are paid by the taxpayers, most education is.
      Daycare is heavily subsidized, Public school must be free of charge, and private school receive comparable compensation to public schools.
      High school is free of charge, Business school, Technical High School, Vocational High School is free of charge.

      If you choose a career as a smith, nurse, auto mechanic, painter, translator, hairdresser, ancient Greece scholar, doctor, assistant day crae worker, your education is either fully funded by the government, or fully or partly funded by your employer.
      You will as a rule receive a stipend for as much as 5 years, depending on the length of you education, and on top of that you can get government granted loans at good rates.

      So it is not just university students and "smart" people who reap the benefits. Everyone who takes an education beyond grade school gets the benefits.

      There are some privately controlled educations hich receive no support. Ariline pilots and Alternative medicine practitioners are just the two I can think of.

      But regardless of where your skills and interests are there is ample opportunity to get in on tax funded education.

    2. So that's why Carlsberg is 50% more expensive in its home country than here! ;)

    3. Robert, read skongstad's response carefully. His is the proper vision and not your jaded perspective that guarantees the dystopian outcome you seem to revile.
      As for mandatory creationist classes: by all means, we will call the course "World Religions", and it should be required given the tremendous influence religion has on people. Might even open a few eyes, though possibly not with the effect you hope for.

    4. My son is studying biology at Copenhagen Univerisity. As the main sponsor of his education I can't help loving the fact that there are no tuition fees in Denmark (though the extra benefits don't apply to non-residents). There are none at public universities in Poland, either.

  4. How does the German government decide how much funding to give each university? Do all universities get equal funding per student?

    It's a question of educational quality. If better university programs get rewarded with better funding, they might compete and improve quality. There are other ways to compete, of course, but there should be pretty good competition, for the sake of educational quality.

    1. Your capitalism is showing.

      I'm always amazed at people who think that you can only motivate people to act responsibly if you make them compete for money. That's probably why the USA will never provide universal health care to its citizens and it's probably why Americans will never believe that socialized medicine can provide excellent health care.

    2. It's quite a bit less sophisticated than that, Larry. In this case, Robert is good to have around, because he tells you in a sentence all you need to know:

      Why should the public pay for kids education to get better jobs then the public generally?

      This is how people in the US have been convinced to vote against their own children's best interests - simple envy.

      I saw a post on Facebook the other day that started out by discussing the first incidence of Ebola in the US, then quickly turned to objections to undocumented Central American kids flooding into the US bringing diseases like polio, etc. The second post in the Central American "offshoot" to the discussion was someone objecting to the use of his tax money for medical treatment for undocumented kids. Perhaps he'd prefer having himself and his kids exposed to Ebola, polio, whatever? (The point really not being a medical one - I doubt there is any particular medical danger represented by undocumented kids. The point is rather that people have been trained to have certain reflexive answers ready for nearly any discussion, and one of the primary answers is that "my" money should not go to the "undeserving," broadly defined as any public purpose whatever other than weapons and personnel to kill people around the world. 'Cause remember, God Is Love!)

    3. @John Moore: "How does the German government decide how much funding to give each university? Do all universities get equal funding per student?"

      Most of university funding is a states matter. The states have to comply with very rough federal guidelines, but how funding is allocated is not a federal matter - the law only notes that the states are responsible for providing basic funding for teaching and research. Generally a part of funding is determined by the number of students and professors, with rates for this varying from state to state. Another part of funding is based on the number of degrees earned in the previous years, with weighting between bachelor, master and doctorate degrees (as well as "Staatsexiamina", which exist for some professions, where a period of supervised practice has to supplement the academic degree - it's medical professions, teachers and jurists) as well as the amount of external funding the university got from research grants.

      Federal funding is available through grants and something called the "Exzellenzinitiative" (program for excellence), which was enabled by the states agreeing to a contract that would allow the federal government to give universities money. This is based on rather obscure criteria - I know that rumors on what they might be have caused universities to implement some big changes.


    4. Some things should be noted though:
      - Although tuition has been removed, students still pay a fee for attending. This covers things free public transportation in the region, funds for student councils and some social services.
      - Student debt in Germany is generally handled through BAföG. This depends on the income of parents, and is partly a loan and partly a subsidy. It is also capped at 10,000€ - any costs that exceed this cap are full subsidies. Interest rates on this loan are usually 0% and go up to 2% if the loan isn't paid back. Students that finish among the top of the class will have the total ammount reduced by a percentage based on performance. Even with tuition these caps meant that student debt would not get out of hand quickly.
      - The main issue with tuition was that the legal framework specifically noted that it could not replace the state funding, i.e. the state still had to provide adequate funds for research and teaching and the tuition money was to be used for optional improvements on teaching. The intent of this is rather clear: Hire a student aid to allow the institute library to stay open during the librarians lunch hour? Seems like a decent idea. But it quickly got state legislators looking at ways to reduce the basic funding. Surely heating is optional? How about seats in lecture halls? Could't students attend a lecture cold and standing? That kind of crazy got to students pretty directly, because under the german system students have representatives at all levels of the university and with the tuition money the law gave them additional power, so that improvements to teaching would be open to suggestions from the students. Do we need an extra copy of that textbook in the library because the student numbers have gone up and there's often 10 people reading these with an 11th one not getting to? I was doing this on an institute level and we looked for suggestions, had some good discussions with faculty members on what could be done and then would sit in meetings where the main topic was "the state has just deemed toilet paper optional, what do we cut?" or "the state has just decided that awarding degrees is not a part of teaching and research per se, so they want us to cover the cost of printing out diplomas".

      This kind of discussion happened in every institute on every campus in the state. And they would leak (in fact they weren't confidential in the fist place), so you'd get out of that meeting and tell people "this just in: toilet paper optional" and of course they'd tell their friends and family. If the tuition had actually been used in the way it was intended, I don't think it would have had that type of political effect. I don't even think it would have faced the opposition it eventually did.

  5. IIRC, Ronald Reagan admitted "out loud" that the reason the right wing had been pushing for less subsidized public education is that they realized (correctly) that students who graduate with a heavy burden of debt are less likely to press for social change. (To say nothing of the fact that cutting education funding by the state lets right-wingers claim to be budget-savvy while not making changes which are immediately visible to the average voter; the fact that cutting education is the societal equivalent of eating the seed corn doesn't matter to right-wingers, who are generally pretty sociopathic.)

  6. Germany is more egalitarian than the US and more committed to its citizens. If Robert might want to know about living in Germany versus living in fundamentalist circles is the S, the blog 'Broken daughters' would be informative. For instance,

  7. University education in France isn't free of charge, but it's so inexpensive that it might as well be free. The price varies with the subject, but we're talking about hundreds of euros at most.

    One of the first things that Mrs Thatcher did when she came to power was to make it impossible for foreigners to study in the UK unless they were very rich. In the space of about a year the UK went from being one of the cheapest countries in Europe for a non-citizen to study to being by far the most expensive. Why should British tax-payers pay to allow support foreigners to study in the UK, Mrs Thatcher and her supporters asked. The reason, well understood by less blinkered politicians in earlier times, is that there is good chance that engineers trained in the UK on British machines will go back to their home countries, and when they become important figures there they will buy British machines rather than German or French.

  8. Even with monstrous tuitions, the elite schools in the US are drowning in applicants. Admission is very competitive. How do the low/no tuition systems handle this? What fraction of applicants do they accept?

    1. The large numbers of applicants to private universities are a bit of an artifact of the competition between them. These schools try hard to get more and more applicants, so they can brag about how elite they are because they only accept 3% of applicants.

      I applied to 4 colleges in 1960. My son applied to 10 in 2010. And there are many students who apply to more. It's not clear that applying to 25 schools is necessary. If so, why not 100?

    2. In Germany there's generally a cut-off in terms of final school grade average and for some subjects you don't apply to a university, but to an agency which allocates applicants to schools. There is a legal right to study any subject, but if your final grades weren't good enough, you will generally be put on a waiting list and there is a factor applied to grades depending on how long you have been on the list. So anybody can go to law school, but if you had a C average you might get notified that you can start in 15 years... Most people reconsider, but if your waiting time is a semester, they tend to stick with their plan, often enrolling in other subjects that share some courses. It should be noted that in a lot of disciplines the percentage of applicants that actually enroll is 100%. I think the only part of the science/math faculty that doesn't reach that level are biology and geography, but if you want to study physics or soil science here, you can just enroll without prior application.

    3. Re Warren Johnson

      Even with monstrous tuitions, the elite schools in the US are drowning in applicants

      Particularly in the humanities, there appears to be a significant advantage to going to an Ivy League school. Consider that that last 4 presidents have attended Ivy League institutions (Obama, BA Columbia, LLD Harvard, Bush II BA Yale, MBA Harvard, Clinton, BA Georgetown, LLD Yale, Bush I, BA Yale). All 9 supreme court justices had law degrees from either Harvard or Yale.

  9. judmare.
    its not eny, simple or otherwise,.
    Its about moral right and wrong.
    Why should the public pay for kids to get better jobs then their own kids who don't go to university or the top ones?
    The average or poor end up paying for the rich AGAIN.
    If you get the better education, which means a better job/life, then pay for it.
    Don't ask others/poorer others to pay for it.!!
    Its an absurdity of hopelless Europe to give people special advantages.
    Taking money out of the hands of the dumber people to let smarter people have a better life by way of a better job, without paying for the education.
    SOMEBODY is paying for the education. Its not free tuition . Its just free for the upper classes. As usual.
    Thatcher also did the morally right thing in letting Brit kids get the university chance and not foreigners. Thats why Britain today is a richer nation. more Brit kids got a better education. Why in the world would a nation give foreigners their own peoples stuff! Including the native paid for the university. Where are natural rights when you need them.

    Everyone here is saying its fair and square for free education YET its not fair and square who gets the education. People prevail over others or many don't bother.
    Its like the dumber or disinterested get punished with taking their money so the winners/interested get a better education and rewards.
    Canada/America was based on people working for their own rewards. Not taking others work /money to ease a greater gain.
    Raise tutitions I say.
    While going to school they are not working like thier fellow youths.

    1. How the bloody fuck do you think free education makes the rich profit off the poor, you dimwit?

      And no, in the U.S., most people going to school have jobs because they can't fucking afford to live.

    2. The average or poor end up paying for the rich AGAIN.

      Over a lifetime, the university-educated may well earn more, but they have 3-5 years not earning plus debt to cover first. And if they do earn more, they also pay more taxes.

      In general, it strikes me that a nation is better off having the most able people in the more specialist jobs, rather than those with the richest parents.

      Alternatively, I may move to Robertopia, where I should like to pay only for those roads I use - why should I pay for streets I'm not even going to drive on? And I'm pretty healthy - why am I paying for other people's lives to be saved? Bloody Commies.

    3. Of course, the same logic applies everywhere.

      Why should I pay taxes to build roads that I personally don't drive on myself? Why should I pay taxes to finance a federal police if I have never been murdered? Why should I pay taxes to finance an army if I am a pacifist? Why should I pay taxes to finance the remuneration of parliamentarians I voted against? Why should I pay taxes to maintain a fire brigade if my apartment is not currently on fire?

      It is all so bloody unfair. We should go back to how it was before we had civilisation. Surely, we'd all wander around in isolated family groups gathering berries and roots, but at least nobody would have to pay taxes for anything that did not immediately benefit themselves personally, right?

    4. Robert's thinking is so typical of conservative ideology - based so much on knee-jerkism and the appeal to our baser inclinations.

      His prescription guarantees that education will only be available to the rich. The logical consequences would result in social circumstances he, in fact, would not like or support. But in the conservative Knee-jerkism school of thought, logical consequences are not derived, thus prevented from rising even to the level of inconvenient truths.

    5. "Its an absurdity of hopelless Europe to give people special advantages."

      Once again reflex tropes implanted by television (in effect, advertising for political viewpoints under the name of news) are so effective they short circuit any actual thought. What do you call it when you make a good education generally available to all, not just the wealthy and well connected? Why, "special advantages," of course!

    6. "Its an absurdity of hopelless Europe to give people special advantages."
      Special advantages are a US speciality, equality is Europe.

  10. Its like in evolutionary biology ideas. the wrong guys are not thinking it through.
    Everyone should pay for thier advanced education since its to give them an advantage over the other people. Results in higher wages, possibly prestige, generally funer jobs, and gains for their offspring.
    You all are having the common people pay, to their loss, for what they either never do, go to higher education, or don't do well.
    You are having the winners paid for by the losers.
    The winners, generally from more successful parents and richer, get free tuition to top schools and results.
    the losers get no such results or school or top schools BUT get to pay out of thier money otherwise they would not pay if everyone must pay for their education.
    Oh brother.
    Its dumb commie/socialism. Its not equality but advantage tro the winners.
    The winners get more out of society by thier education and so shoild pay for it themselves.
    Unless the winners pay for everyone in return for richer lives.

    i understand a sense here of getting poor people no tuition education but they should pay too.
    Your still getting hard working people to give thier money to non working students so they have a better future without the horror of a student loan.
    The loan gets in the way of thier early mansion loan.

    Its not fair. Its just. Its robbery. These middle/upper class kids getting the big educations are not suffering for thier lives.
    Modern peoples want everything free from the Canadians and French canadians who built everything and who we inherit it.
    Then they want it from the common people today also free.
    I wish they would raise tutitions relative to the rewards from the education/degrees these kids get .
    Its like you guys are saying don't tax the rich. Tax the rest.
    Its like a punishment to those who fail in education and jobs.
    The universities in North America are in a mess because of injustice toward the common man.
    Free tuition would be another kick to the head.

  11. Scotland is still part of the U.K. and we'll be keeping our policy of no tuition fees.
    It's different in the rest of the U.K. Almost half the universities in England and Wales charge the maximum allowed fee of £9,000 p.a.