What Does Germany’s New Government Mean for Higher Ed?

higher education in germany

Now that Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have approved the grand coalition with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party (CSU), ongoing uncertainty about Germany’s political leadership has come to an end. However, questions remain, including in the higher education sector. While German states will maintain responsibility for a significant amount of decision-making in the sector, here’s a closer look at what to expect moving forward.

An Unexpected Pick

Under the new coalition government, Germany will have six ministers. Merkel shook things up last week with the announcement of her surprising pick for one of them: The little-known Anja Karliczek as minister for education and research. Trained as a banker and employed as a hotel manager before being elected to German Parliament, Karliczek not only has no PhD, but also has limited experience with research and education policy.

Still, some say her “outside status” may be a boon. Journalist and commentator Jan-Martin Wiarda wrote on Spektrum.de, “Maybe what’s needed now is a research minister who, when she meets the science managers of this country, asks them why things have to be done the way they are done now. And whether they couldn’t be done completely differently.”

Merkel has also highlighted how Karliczek’s background — including vocational training and a distance learning MBA — makes her a good fit for the position.

Good News for Science

While the choice of Karliczek may have elicited mixed opinions, the grand coalition does promise upsides for science thanks to a pledge to increase research spending from its current 2.9 percent to 3.5 percent with a 3 percent annual increase in federal funding for research organizations. All told, the policy platform proposes an investment of 5.95 billion euros in education, research and digitalization by 2021. Concludes Science magazine, “The increase would put Germany among the world leaders in scientific investment, on par with Japan and behind only South Korea and Israel.”

The Migration Question

While the grand coalition agreement does call for a cap in migration numbers, SPD deputy Ralf Stegner spoke of its “modern and transparent immigration law” as an overall success due to provisions aimed at making it more attractive for skilled laborers to migrate to Germany.  “We can’t make progress on our issues without giving something in return,” said Stegner.

Also good news? That certain key past measures will remain untouched by this government, including free university tuition.

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