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The Neoliberal Reorganization of the Universities (German translation)

"Overcrowded halls, poor counseling, too few books, limited democratic joint-determination, too few professors and chaos mark the catastrophic situation at (German) universities. The universities have been completely underfunded for decades.. While funding decreased from 1970 to 1994, the number of students doubled.."
The Neoliberal Reorganization of the Universities

By Yaak Pabst

[This article published in: Socialism From Below, Nr. 5, Winter 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.sozialismus-von-unten.de/archiv/svu5/uni-neolib.html.]

Overcrowded halls, poor counseling, too few books, limited democratic joint-determination, too few professors and chaos mark the catastrophic situation in the universities. The reason for the chaos is manifest. The universities have been completely under-financed for decades.

Education as a Civil Right

At the end of the 1960s, the universities and the education system were massively developed. These social reforms were a great step forward. They enabled more workers' children and persons from the lower social classes to begin study. Education was a civil right. A general opening of universities occurred. New structures were built, more professors were hired, student fees were reduced and student financial assistance schemes were introduced. Today we witness the exact opposite. The development of the education system corresponded to the claims of the economy that increasingly sought academic experts. The reforms were cancelled on account of the pressure of the 1968 student movement. With the 1974 economic crisis, the tide turned in educational policy.

Overstrain becomes the Normal Condition

In 1977 the cornerstone for the chronic under-financing of universities was laid. The so-called double resolution guaranteed keeping universities open for all prospective students while simultaneously freezing the financing of universities. Thus the share of university spending in the German gross domestic product fell from 1.3% in the middle of the 1970s to 0.9% at the beginning of the 1990s. For years, universities and the education system altogether were financially dried up. While expenditures fell from 4.3 billion German marks in 1970 to 3.9 billion German marks in 1994, the number of students doubled in this time period. Thus twice as many students and the additional universities through reunification had to be financed with a lower budget.

Neoliberal Offensive

The miserable situation of the education system and the unbearable conditions at the universities offer modernizers a welcome point of attack for their project. A new structure following the interests of the majority of students is not their goal. Rather the universities should be made into pure "outside suppliers" for the economy. To realize this goal, the men from the executive floors do not directly intervene in educational policy. With the help of different institutions, so-called think tanks, the concepts of industry are channeled into the decision-making groups for educational policy. The European Roundtable of Industrials (ERT) and the Center for University Development (CUD) are two very important think tanks. These lobby associations torpedo the general public with meetings, congresses and position papers on all crucial questions from curriculum reform to student fees.

Acting in the Commission of the Bosses

In the interim report of the ERT on reorganizing European education, we read: "Children should be confronted from the first grade with competition and learn rivalry for social privileges. A successful school in the year 2000 must be guided by successful winners... "

Human Capital

Industry will prevail. To draw even economically in the catch-up race with the US and win in the competition, industry increases pressure on the government and university groups. What is central for the bosses? Stefan Baron, editor-in-chief of the German technical journal "Wirtschaftswoche" formulated this very clearly: Vocational training is the beginning of human development. The way to the ideal person leads through the usable person. The cynicism hidden behind this statement expresses a nearly inhuman picture of society. Only the "person optimally commercialized for industry" has the right to education. For the "high lords", the universities are nothing but production factories of "human capital" produced as cheaply as possible and operationalized as quickly as possible. According to the will of the economy, a highly trained elite, the "technical intelligentsia", face a largely "disqualified" mass of cheap workers who no longer see education as absolutely necessary for later activity. The curriculum should no longer be determined by industry as in the past. Private investors should gradually assume the costs for education.

Neoliberal Reorganization

So this project can take root, competition must be anchored in the inner structure of the universities as a control principle for regulating the relationship of the university and the state. Thus competition should completely penetrate the structures of inner and outer university activity. This will obviously happen under the guise of the stronger "autonomy" of the universities. However according to the model of the US, the goal is transforming universities through competition for state funds into service enterprises that orient their "commodity" education according to capitalist commercialization interests. Like a corporation, universities should assert themselves in competition with other universities for the science market. In the journal "Forschung und Lehre 2000" (Research and Education 2000), professor Priddat describes this vision of future universities:

"The (past) organization form of universities has dissolved. New market possibilities are drawn up for education enterprises. Corporations like Disney, Bertelsmann, Warner etc. join in the education market. The former universities obviously continue but are marginalized by education enterprises, removed from `high-level education' and offered as an education institute to steer its development as `investment in personal human capital'." (B.P. Priddat, Universities on markets - Twelve theses, in: Zeitschrift fur Forschung und Lehre 2000)

The Way to the Education Corporation

The regional conversion of this vision takes place on several planes. One desired effect of autonomy is a differentiation of the university landscape. To compete with one another, the individual universities must be distinguished and profiled from one another. The universities should concentrate on particular technical areas and develop these areas into their trademarks. Evaluation of achievement in university research and education is central as in the so-called rankings of the universities published in Spiegel and other journals.

The incentive of universities to increased efficiency caused indirectly by evaluation and success comparison should be enhanced through the performance-oriented allocation of funds. In January 1996, the ministry for education and cultural affairs agreed on criteria for awarding funds: number of entering students, number of students who will graduate in the regular course of study, number of examinations and sales of publications. The success and failure of a university according to these standards are translated into financial incentives or sanctions.

The University Council

An external university supervisory council complements this competitive organization. This idea comes from the private university system of the US. "Through this organ, the private supporters of universities control the institutions that they finance." (4) The decision-making authority on developing universities lies with a third party, for example "experts from science, the economy and
Management", not with the state, students or professors. (5) According to Detlev Miller-Boling, "a university council in the sense of a supervisory council collaborates in the strategic leadership of the universities." (6) No participation of students is provided in these councils, only representatives of industry. From there, they can exercise a direct influenced on the policy of the schools. In its paper, the scientific advisory council encourages a far-reaching transfer of political responsibility to the universities. The university council can determine all essential changes from approval of the basic structure of the university to the establishment of institutes. This dismantling of democratic rights goes hand in hand with the goal of completely privatizing the universities. "A university council facilitates a change of the legal form of the university, for example its transfer into an endowment or foundation." (7) This will be implemented in Berlin at the Free University. The president of Hamburg University has played around with this idea for some time.

Student Fees

Student fees are the door opener for the neoliberal reorganization of the universities. Not without reason business associations and politicians urge the introduction of permanent student fees. Social selection is only one effect among many.

The aspect of university financing is crucial. However the political understanding of the university as a service enterprise is also vital. The introduction of student fees in the context of present university reform, the performance-oriented allocation of funds and the dismantling of democratic rights go another step in the direction of competition as a controlling principle. The universities or their subdivisions must compete for the purchasing power of student customers who decide over their university education according to quality- and cost-criteria. As CHE head Detlev Muller-Boling said, " a competition for students is waged through competitive curriculums and attractive study conditions."

The University of the Corporations

These different particular measures collaborate insidiously. The division of study in bachelor- and master-programs causes the desired "disqualification" of the masses and elite education for the minority of students. Student fees and a performance-oriented payment of professors intensify the selection and increase the pressure. Financing through private sponsorships and so-called third-parties increase indirectly. The new university councils directly enlarge the influence of industry on the curriculum and policy of the universities. Spiegel describes how this concept affected the universities in Holland: "Lecturers have lost their academic freedom. Possibilities for personal development hardly exist in a rigid work quota of integrated students." Pressure to perform, competition, selection, egoism and disqualification are the marks of the "modern" university according to the tastes of the economic bosses.


The German Red-Green government does nothing to oppose the concept of the economy instead of being oriented in the needs and desires of students and the social-democratic value of equal opportunities.

Rather the Red-Green government is a supporting part of the whole. German chancellor Schroeder is certain that we need an "elite" and urges more flexibility and performance-orientation as well as a stronger position of German universities in the international competition. Democracy, joint-determination with students and human development are sacrificed on the altar of the economy.

Democracy, Occupation and Strike

We must organize resistance to oppose the neoliberal policy. At the end of the 2000 summer semester, the action alliance against student fees (AAS) mobilized 12,000 students who demonstrated for "unconditionally free of charge study." This should only be the beginning.

Ultimately we must raise resistance to a higher level. The goal must be a nation-wide strike and occupation of all universities. The experiences of the 1997 strike are important. Red-Green did not give the promised eight billion to the universities. A lucky strike will not be repeated a second time. The coming strike will be an angry strike.

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