In this post, Hedda associate Jens Jungblut examines current developments with the German university alliances. Jens is working at the University of Oslo where he is writing his doctoral dissertation on the relationship between shifts in governments and changes in higher education policy.
Institutional differentiation is something rather new to the German university landscape. While classically German universities were, and to a large extend still are, characterized by equality of funding and reputation, different recent activities aimed at creating more diversification in the system. The first and most influential of these activities was the excellence initiative by the federal and Länder governments. In a parallel process several universities formed alliances and associations, following the British example of the Russell-Group, to cooperate in a situation of growing competition for funding and students (see also an earlier article on this issue).
Open letter from a rector criticizing university alliances
Recently the debate around the differentiation of the German university system entered a new round. Ulrich Radtke, the rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen, published an open letter to the German rectors’ conference, in which he criticized the decision of his colleagues to form university alliances.
The University of Duisburg-Essen is the youngest universities in Germany and not a member of any of the German university associations. It is the result of a recent merger of two smaller universities and characterized by a relatively high percentage of students of non-traditional background.
Radtke criticizes several aspects of the newly established university alliances. He starts off by describing the university alliances as co-operations of the old and large universities against the young and smaller ones that try to enhance their position in a higher education system that is characterized by serious under-funding and student overload. For him the German higher education system offers a lot of excellent research environments but they are to be found on the departmental level and spread between many higher education institutions. For him there are maybe three or four universities in Germany that could claim to be overall stronger than the others, the rest are more or less equal.