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Tuition fees hitting europe campuses { October 13 2003 }

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It is only in relatively affluent Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark that the principle of free education has not received a battering. In Sweden there are no tuition fees. Nor is there any prospect of introducing them. A succession of progressive Social Democrat governments have had the luxury of spending some of the largest tax revenues per head accrued by any government in Europe. The funding system, which dates from the early 1990s, is generous.,9959,1061716,00.html,3858,4773028-111231,00.html

Tuition fees gain allure in cash-hit European campuses
In a special report we find university administrators warming to charging students as governments cut grants

Luke Harding in Berlin
Monday October 13, 2003
The Guardian

It is not hard to find the great and the good at Berlin's Humboldt University. On the stairway of the main building is a quotation from one famous graduate, Karl Marx. "The point is not to interpret the world but to change it." On the first floor are black and white photos of the university's 29 Nobel prize winners, including Albert Einstein.

Outside, next to the neo-classical courtyard, with its grubby cherubs, is the room where Max Planck once taught; down the corridor, past the Trojan friezes, is the philosophy library, used by Hegel and Lenin.

But since its illustrious prime in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the university has fallen on hard times. These days, students who cram into its antique lecture halls are in danger of being dripped on by leaking roofs; assuming, that is, they get a seat.

Like many universities in Europe, Humboldt - founded in 1810 by the statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt - is overcrowded and under-funded. With German universities in crisis, and no help forthcoming from the government, vice-chancellors in Germany are now contemplating the previously unthinkable: tuition fees.

"We've got two choices. One of them is for Germany to become merely average. The other is for us to really invest in education and research," said Jürgen Mylnek, the Humboldt's president. "If the public sector isn't able to give us the money we need alternatives. In the mid to long-term there is no way round tuition fees."

Last month Professor Mlynek announced that he was not going to accept any more students next year after the federal state of Berlin - which is bankrupt - cut funding for Humboldt from €210m to €190m. His threat turned out to be illegal; instead Prof Mlynek is wondering whether to sack 80 professors, or chop several departments.

Five years after Britain introduced tuition fees, the rest of Europe is following suit. Holland, Austria, Italy, Spain and Portugal have all recently introduced tuition fees ranging from €600 to €1,450 a year. France has modest fees too; while in Germany a law that prevents them from being charged is now being challenged.

It is only in relatively affluent Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark that the principle of free education has not received a battering. In Sweden there are no tuition fees. Nor is there any prospect of introducing them. A succession of progressive Social Democrat governments have had the luxury of spending some of the largest tax revenues per head accrued by any government in Europe. The funding system, which dates from the early 1990s, is generous.

The right and left in Sweden agree that tuition fees are a bad idea. "There may be some good arguments for having such a system but it is not on the agenda," Hen rik von Sydow, a conservative MP said. "We don't want to have a system where students have to pay for higher education. It's not the Swedish model and it's not the way to go."

But in struggling Euro-zone countries like Germany - and to a lesser extent Holland and France - tuition fees are now on the agenda. The German economy has been teetering on the edge of recession for three years; there are 4.4 million unemployed; and the public sector is broke. Last week Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany's right-wing opposition Christian Democrats, announced that tuition fees were, in her view, inevitable.

Germany's ruling SPD/Green coalition opposes tuition fees for most students. But in Berlin - run by the Social Democrats and the Communists - the senate is planning to cut its education budget by a €200m over the next four years. "They simply told us: 'Bad luck'," Prof Mlyneck said.


The prospect of tuition fees has caused dismay among students, many of whom already work to make ends meet.Student union president Thomas Sieron said that fees would be a disaster.

The extra money would not be invested in universities; instead Berlin and other federal regions would simply cut higher education budgets even more, he said. Tuition fees would also deter students from poor backgrounds from going to university - an argument that student unions in Britain have deployed to little effect.

What, then, was his solution to the problem of university under-funding? "We don't have a perfect solution. Our perfect solution is to smash capitalism," he said. "The need to smash capitalism has become even more obvious over the past three or four years."

Supporters of tuition fees, meanwhile, argue that fees would not only generate extra revenue for the hard-pressed higher education sector, but they might also encourage students to take their studies more seriously. In France anyone with a baccalaureat - France's A-levels - can in theory attend the university course of his or her choosing. This democratic, if impractical, principal creates serious problems of overcrowding and de-motivation, and of course a sky-high dropout rate. In theory, everyone should take an initial two-year course leading to a diploma called the DEUG. This is followed by a further one-year course leading to the basic 'licence' (BA degree) and a possible fourth year for the 'maitrise', or MA degree.

In practice, however, up to 40% of students drop out without even sitting the DEUG, a qualification that counts for little with French employers.

In Italy, drop out rates are also high. Anyone who obtains the secondary school certificate - the Italian equivalent of A-levels - has a right to go to university. But only 30% of Italian students graduate. "Italians have developed a habit of 'parking' themselves in universities while they make up their minds what to do with their lives," said Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist at John Cabot University in Rome.

The problem of long-term students is especially acute in Germany, where the noble Humboldtian ideal that students should take as long as they need to discover themselves - the Bildungsideal - can be stretched. The newspaper Die Welt recently discovered a student at Berlin's Freie Universität who had been studying for 92 semesters - the equivalent of 46 years.

Most German students do not graduate until the age of 26. There are no fees, and little financial or institutional pressure for them to sit final exams; as a result, middle-aged students are commonplace.

Sitting in Humboldt's student canteen, Jana Wendering - a 22-year-old law student - said she was in favour of tuition fees, provided hard-up students could get scholarships. "Fees might be an incentive for people to work a bit harder," she mused, over a plate of goulash.

Many German vice-chancellors agree. As well as fees, they would also like the right to choose their own students, and to sack non-performing professors, who enjoy a job for life, regardless of whether they actually turn up.

The alternative to reform appears to be stagnation. In Greece "free" education is guaranteed by the constitution. But Greece allocates only 3.4% of its gross national product to education every year, less than any other EU country. As a re sult, Greece's education sector is in a near constant cash-crisis with university professors frequently going on strike.

In Britain, of course, the argument has already moved on, with the education secretary, Charles Clarke, proposing top-up fees, which would see tuition fees rise from £1,025 a year to as much as £3,000. British fees are already the highest in Europe, followed by Holland, which charges its students €1,445 (£960) a year. But student funding in Holland is fairly generous: all Dutch students are entitled to a loan of €2,640 (£1,760) a year, which automatically becomes a gift or a grant if they subsequently meet certain minimum academic criteria, which most do.


The fear, among students in European countries where education is free, is that once tuition fees are introduced the cost of education will increase. University presidents admit tuition fees of, say, €1,000 a year will not be enough in the long run.

"The figure is too low. You can't fund a world-class university on €1,000," said Dieter Lenzen, the president of Berlin's Freie Universität, which was founded in 1948 in the American sector of Berlin. "How are we expected to compete with American universities which charge up to $28,000 a year? Colombia University has recently spent $145m on multi-media computers."

With fees now a reality across much of the EU, Britain does appear, for once, to be leading in Europe. But many students believe this is a dismal trend. "Just because Europe is moving in a certain direction doesn't mean this is the right direction," Colin Töck, of Germany's national union of students, lamented.

Back at Humboldt University, meanwhile, where the ghost of Karl Marx still hovers, students yesterday pondered what had happened to his legacy. "It's good for society for people to be educated," Thomas Sieron, a 27-year-old historian, said: "Soon though education will just be for the rich."

· Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Brussels, Sophie Arie in Rome, Giles Tremlett in Madrid, Jon Henley in Paris and Helena Smith in Athens

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