As Germany’s new coalition government takes shape, there are signs that higher education may be higher on the political agenda than under the previous administration. The coalition has pledged to increase university funding by 3% per year, and the education and research budget could be increased by a quarter.
The Social-Democratic-Green-Free Democratic coalition agreement also promises to increase government spending on research and development to 3.5% of gross domestic product by 2025.
The new Federal Minister of Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, wants to increase funding for higher education and research in a number of areas. And with fellow Free Democrat Christian Lindner appointed Federal Finance Minister, Stark-Watzinger can count on solid support.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP) won the fourth largest share of the vote in recent federal polls and, following negotiations and the signing of a coalition agreement, it now holds four of the new cabinet posts. administration, alongside the five Greens. Seven of the new ministers are members of the Social Democratic Party, as is Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
While the Greens hold the two key ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economy and Climate, they have had to make major concessions to the FDP, including not introducing a maximum speed limit for motorists, leaving Germany among a handful of countries in the world without limit.
The FDP has emerged in polls as the most popular party among young people, also thanks to the emphasis on education.
Another advantage for Stark-Watzinger is that she is more familiar with the higher education and research system than her predecessor, Christian Democrat Anja Karliczek. Prior to becoming a Member of the Federal Parliament in 2017, Stark-Watzinger held a management position at the Leibniz Institute for Financial Research at Goethe University in Frankfurt, where she had studied economics.
The budget of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) could be increased by more than a quarter, or around 5 billion euros (5.6 billion dollars).
The new German Agency for Transfer and Innovation, which should promote innovation primarily from universities of applied sciences – the former Fachhochschulen – and traditional small universities in cooperation with small businesses and start-ups, could receive € 1 billion in support during the next legislature.
With an additional 1 billion euros, the government intends to support spin-offs from universities and major research institutes by setting up suitable infrastructures. And existing programs to improve studies and teaching, which currently receive € 1.9 billion per year, are expected to receive an additional € 150 million per year.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which also specializes in academic exchanges, are expected to receive additional funding.
More support for students
“What people choose to study should no longer depend on their family background,” Stark-Watzinger promised at a recent FDP congress.
She called for an increase in financial support for students based on the federal scholarship and loan program known as BAföG – Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz – as well as better prospects for middle class students to receive BAföG funding. Their parents’ income only slightly exceeds the eligibility threshold for BAföG aid.
In the medium term, the new minister would also like to see the loan portion of BAföG support reduced. The German National Association for Student Affairs (DSW) has repeatedly stressed that the risk of getting into debt has deterred many young people from studying.