How money can follow students in Europe

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26 januari 2012 | All over Europe HE-funding is hotly debated. Even the question: ‘should we pay for foreigners in our universities?’ The Dutch want so see Berlin pay, for instance. Klaus Landfried, former chairman of the German universities association, presents a solution: a contract of HE-fairness.

Why money should follow students – at least to someextent

“Higher Education provides personal advantages for individuals studying and graduating and also for the state in whichthey  will settle after leaving academia  and will contribute to the cultural and economic wealth of the respectivecountry. And everyone who went abroad for his or her studies willremember  how their mind maps became more open, their horizonbroader. That’s why we have ERASMUS in the EU, that’s why allcountries support international student exchange.

But what, when some students enter a neighboring country not(only) for those idealistic reasons, but just because theycould  not obtain an admission to the chosen study- program orto the chosen university in their homeland? And what, when thesestudents later just leave the country of their graduation in orderto return into their home country and deliver all the knowledge,all the understanding, all the competencies they had acquired thereat home?

Is it fair to have the respective host country bear all thecosts of those studies alone? Especially if between 2 countriesthere is not the least a balance in the numbers of exchangedstudents? And especially if those students have graduated inmedicine, the by far most expensive of all study programs?

Tangible personal profit

There would be, of course, a simple and also not unfair answerto these questions: students themselves should contribute to someextent to the costs of their education. At least to the extent inwhich they have a tangible personal profit from their graduation.Which may amount to some 30% or 40% of the costs incurred. Thosewho cannot afford  the tuition fees charged for this would begranted generous loans which they as medical doctors orsoftware-engineers would be able  to repay well within someyears.

But as political life in Europe has come to be coined by somestrange ideologies claiming tuition fees were ‘unjust’ and woulddiscriminate against people from low income echelons, thesefees  would  not  be well received  withvarious social circles, the media included.

And the EU-Commission ruling from Brussels with bureaucraticfervor tends to put brakes on all sorts of other solutions likenational quotas etc. Instead of thinking laterally and providing aproposal to the countries in question which I now will shortlypresent here.

A simple Swiss method

Once upon a time there were not many universities InSwitzerland. Since this country is by tradition a democratic statein which common problems are discussed commonly and then solved bysome sort of a compromise shared by all, a rather simple method wasfound to reimburse those cantons (federal  states) which hadto entertain universities also for those students coming fromcantons without a university. The principle was: money followsstudents.

Those cantons without a university, but sending students tostudy in a canton with a university paid a fair amount of money tothose which entertained the university. By this method  somesort of a balance was found. To some extent this system, now muchmore sophisticated, is still working, and well.

When this (21st) century had just begun a lot ofdebate was focusing again on the same topic, at that time widelydiscussed in Germany: how to find a fair funding for those GermanLaender (states) which ‘imported’ many more students for a highereducation than others, and which were left again by these studentsafter they had graduated.

So after some time CHE (Center for Higher Education Development)a ‘daughter’ of the Bertelsmann-Stiftung and HRK (the associationof German HE institutions) together with “Stifterverband fuer dieDeutsche Wissenschaft” (Association of Foundations to supportResearch and HE in Germany) proclaimed the slogan: “Geld folgtStudenten”, money follows students. 

Support came from many sides. Even social-democrats like JürgenZoellner, then minister of education in the state ofRhineland-Palatinate, later senator for education and science inBerlin, strongly advocated the idea. But like many common problemsin my country also this one was not solved commonly. Instead it wasforgotten. The stakeholders did not speak out loud enough.

First Austria, now Holland

The issue returned to the agenda when Austrianuniversities  began to be flooded by medical students fromGermany who had not obtained admission to one of the medicalstudies at home. Austria first asked for some (reasonable)financial support from Berlin.

But that seemed to have been the wrong address. In Germanyall  responsibilities for universities lie with theLaender/states. And they were reluctant even to discuss the issue.Austria reacted with a quota. The EU-commission raised theireye-brows but at least recognized there was a problem. And didnothing. So the idea was forgotten again.

Now the Netherlands is facing again a very similar problem.There are many students in its higher education from Germany whohave not obtained admission at home, or prefer the  betterteaching skills at Dutch universities. Whatever their motive: onlya few will stay on in the Netherlands and work and pay taxes aftergraduation. In the country which has paid for most of theiracademic education.

And now junior minister Halbe Zijlstra has demanded that Germanypay. Same procedure as last time with Austria. The federalgovernment claims not to be responsible- legally correct – and theLaender/states just do not take notice. Not to speak of anyaction.

What can be done?

First of all: make an international debate of it, in the EU.There are more who are touched by the issue. Mobilize student’srepresentatives. Carry the debate into European Parliament. I knowthat according to Maastricht or Lisbon treaties Education is in theresponsibility of member states.

But a DEBATE in the EU Parliament and, hopefully, publicized byall media and by hundreds of internet blogs may well help to turnthe tide and wake up the deaf – for example state ministers in oldGermany…. The final outcome should be a contract of fairnessamong EU member states modeled after the original: once upon a timeinvented in Switzerland.”

Klaus Landfried
More about the author and his positions see

Update: ESU Chairman Alan Päll agreeswith Klaus Landfried on his vision that Europe needs to debatemobility funding on an EU-level. He believes, however, that “asimple monetary transfer is too nationalist.”

“Since we do hope that education will contribute to later livesand wellbeing and working life of graduates and we do want themalso to move around. That is why I am favour of a European MobilityTreaty that would centralise some funding or as an alternative,would enable credits to be swapped or traded between HE systems orinstitutions.” Read his full feedback on Landfried and recent essayon HE-funding here on ScienceGuide.

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